Working Moms or Not: Is Your Child "the Best Thing You've Ever Done"?
Nancy Hass of Elle, a mother of one, recently wrote a scathing article called "Die, Mommy, Die!" in which she contends successful women should shut up already about their kids at work. Is she right? Is childbirth an accomplishment as much as a phenomenal presentation is?
Hass writes of interviewing a successful CEO who begins their interview about work by insisting her child is the best thing she's ever done. (Editor's Note: I'm having trouble linking the article because it contains a "!" Here's the link: http://www.elle.com/Living/Career/Die-Mommy-Die! You may have to type in the "!" at the end of the URL to get to the article.) Hass, asked about her own child, writes:
But I have never once thought of her as the best thing I’ve ever done. Perhaps that’s a function of having had a better-than average work life, but it’s also because I’m loath to take credit for my daughter as an accomplishment. Reproducing, even for me, who had to go to such lengths to become a mother, doesn’t feel like a personal achievement; it’s just a natural part of the human cycle.
While I don't always practice what I preach, I do think working moms should keep a lid on the public kid talk when nonparents comprise the group at the office. In my cubicle group at work, I was the only mother for years. I've seen the faces of my child-free co-workers fall when a new mom rushes over to my cube for a 30-minute session on the first drive to work after maternity leave. While I will always support another new working mom -- God, I know, I know! -- I try not to wax on when it's not a private conversation. Whether or not to talk about your kids at work is not nearly as interesting as whether or not your child is your best accomplishment, though. Am I wrong?
There is certainly no dearth of celebrity mothers who think motherhood is the best thing they've ever done, from Baby Spice to conservative talk radio host Laura Ingraham. In the blogosphere, teen single mom Jess writes that her son Justin is the best thing she's ever done, and BlogHer Linda Lowen writes on her profile that she believes her two girls are her greatest accomplishment, although she also writes about women's issues for About.com.
On the flip side, there are those who are really tired of hearing how we mothers weren't alive until we procreated. Kate from Childfree Clique writes:
Ahhh...the joys of being a mother.
That is ALL we EVER hear.
Like a broken goddamn record of propaganda.
MOTHERHOOD IS THE BEST THING I'VE EVER DONE!
MY LIFE WASN'T HAPPY, FULFILLING OR COMPLETE UNTIL I HAD KIDS!
YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT REAL LOVE IS UNTIL YOU'VE HAD A BABY!
BECOMING A MOM MADE ME A BETTER PERSON!
Yada, yada, yada.
Perhaps what Kate and Hass are both getting at is that children aren't really an accomplishment. Or are they?
When my daughter was first born and people complimented her, I would say, "Thank you." When she was first born, she still seemed like such a natural extension of me. I mean, she'd been literally inside me just months before. So at that point, I did feel like she was the best thing I'd ever done.
When she started talking, I realized almost overnight I'd been wrong: She wasn't part of me at all. At least, not anymore. It's hard, this break, to wrap your head around. Parenting is a job, and it's something you do, but perhaps your parenting is your accomplishment, not your child. As my daughter's personality emerged, I stepped farther and farther away from taking credit for her. I can mold her a bit, but she's pure HER, regardless of my efforts. She is taking her own compliments these days while I stand beside her, yes, beaming with pride, but not for me, for her.
I no longer think my daughter is the best thing I've ever done. I now think that she is the best thing that ever happened to me.