Want to know the worst thing I ever did as a mom? Walk out of the house and fly off to Bermuda for the first vacation my husband and I had alone together in seven years just as my younger son was coming out in some large, suspicious-looking red spots. Chicken pox! Yep, he had it. Then my older son got it. And, finally, my husband got it. And, of course, worrying about my son spoiled our pink-cottage-on-the-sand vacation and, besides, my husband was already beginning to feel a little strange.
My younger son is also the one who managed to fall out of the top shelf of a closet when my husband and I were at a party on a boat cruising around Manhattan. Needless to say, it was the only time we ever were at a party on a boat cruising around Manhattan! I think he was looking for the "blankie" that we had squirreled away when he hit second grade. He was knocked out and taken to a hospital. It was in those prehistoric pre-cell-phone days though, so we could not be reached to give permission for a CAT scan. Yes, he did recover and got his blankie returned with my abject and tearful apologies the next day.
He also managed to get bitten by a dog — the dog, happily, had his shots — tear a finger playing with a large Tonka toy, and get pushed against a glass table by his older brother. At least that last time I was around for the emergency-room visit where his eyebrow was stitched up. And I am not even going to tell your how and why he cracked the bone in his ankle not once but twice during high school.
But should I still feel guilt, guilt, guilt about these mishaps, lo, these many years later? Should I have even felt agonizingly guilty at the time? Not according to Paula Spencer, the wise and witty author of new book called "Momfidence!" subtitled "An Oreo Never Killed Anybody and Other Secrets of Happy Parenting." It is Paula's theory — and I feel since she is a girl after my own heart, I can call her Paula — that mothers today feel too much guilt about too many things. Paula, who has four kids, admits cheerfully that she lost one of her daughters at Disney World. Several times. She always got her back.
She also believes that nowadays mothering has become much too hard. "Today's diligent mom can't just do the weekly marketing and drop food down hungry gullets. She must buy fresh and scan labels for lethal trans fats and the many disguises of 'white poison,' the staple formerly known a sugar, in order to prevent diabetes and heart attacks in her children forty years down the road. She must maintain vigilance against random toxins and schools with lousy test scores. And she can't swat an errant bottom for fear of bruising a tender psyche (or of being arrested.)"
And she's right. Moms today are full of worries about the fact that their toddlers can't read, their eight-year-old won't get into Harvard, or that their ten-year-olds aren't on enough sports teams. "All this makes a parent's job so much harder," says Paula who admits to a whole series of mothering no-no's — feeding her kids cookies, letting them watch TV, and playing with Barbie dolls and toy guns . She has even stopped sending her kids to summer-enrichment programs. "They didn't want to be enriched," she says. "They said there was just no time to play."
"I think moms should just wing it more and rely on instinct and common sense. Parents get so much advice from experts. But how may of these experts really live with kids who snarf Scooby-Doo Fruit Roll-Rups? What parents hear about in the media are really bad moms with big problems who need help. Or obsessive moms who are super organized and are trying to raise perfect kids. Neither are good examples. We just don't hear enough about ordinary, mainstream moms who are doing fine."
Paula lives in Chapel Hill where her two nearest supermarkets, Whole Food and Earth Fare, don't stock Oreos, and where cars have bumper stickers that read "Proud Parent of a Baby who Can Sign 200 words." She writes a column for Woman's Day where editors are pretty vigilant about editing out her belief that there is little danger if kids eat raw cookie dough. No wonder she wrote this book "I want to help moms relax, be more confident and have more fun with their kids," she writes. And the book really is both helpful and funny. What is the reaction she wants from the readers?
"All I want," she says "is a sigh of relief."
Myrna Blyth, long-time editor of Ladies Home Journal and founding editor of More, is author of "Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness — and Liberalism — to the Women of America." She is also an NRO contributor.
By Myrna Blyth
Reprinted with permission from National Review Online