The other day I saw a picture on social media of a little girl dressed as a “mom” for Halloween. It wasn’t a flattering depiction. The little girl had painted bags under her eyes and messy hair and she was dressed in a t-shirt covered in fake spit-up. She was dragging a baby doll behind her and she looked absolutely miserable.
Whether or not the costume was offensive is a separate issue. What bothered me most is that it wasn’t exactly realistic.
Now, you don’t have to look far through blogs and memes and other avenues of social media to believe that it is realistic. We talk and read about moms at the playground, moms at grocery stores, moms at church, moms in carpool lines— and we almost always talk about them being stressed. It’s no wonder that people are beginning to question the whole enterprise, itself. Like, sure, those kids look cute on your Christmas card, but why have them if they make you so unhappy?
I want to suggest an alternative explanation for the messy buns and yoga pants and bare faces— to the sighs in checkout lines and the impatient responses to tantrums and the jokes about needing a break or needing a drink. Moms may be stressed when we see them. But we don’t always see the whole picture.
The reality is that our modern public society is simply not very friendly to families and young children. What do I mean by this? I mean that young children like to run free and explore things and they simply can’t do this in a grocery store. I mean that young children and babies don’t do well when they’re constricted physically for long periods of time and yet many have to spend up to an hour or two a day strapped into a carseat. I mean that kids crave time outdoors and need it but many people don’t have homes with backyards and most parents don’t feel comfortable letting their kids roam the neighborhood or woods. Playgrounds are an option, but most playgrounds aren’t fenced in and cars drive by, and little kids like to run, so moms often find themselves frantically chasing. Children are naturally spiritual, but they’re also naturally noisy and need to move and many church going folk feel that they distract from the ambiance. The point is, almost anytime parents take their children out in public, they have to almost constantly chase, restrain, or reprimand them and then apologize to bystanders for relatively normal childhood behavior. This isn’t fun. It’s exhausting. And it can make it look like parenting itself is never fun and is always exhausting.
Now, I’m not suggesting that modernity is horrible for children. Modernity has brought about many wonderful advances for children (improved healthcare, sanitation, gentler parenting techniques, etc.) I’m not suggesting we totally turn back the hands of time— just that we recognize that some things about modernity are rather incompatible with childhood, not be so shocked when we see that incompatibility, and most of all, not blame children for it.
I also don’t mean to paint an opposite picture of familial perfection. Parenting, even at home, can be very exhausting and trying. The lack of sleep is real and can be pretty intense. The toddler battles are real and can also be pretty intense. Nothing has tried my patience like parenting. But there are so many joys. And I don’t just mean joys like the day the kid is born or says his first word. I mean joys many, many times throughout the day. My kids inspire me and make me laugh many more times than they make me sigh or feel discouraged. We read books and play games. We have tea parties and build forts. We explore and walk outside and take in the beauty of nature. We sing and play music. I get to watch them be filled with awe at this beautiful world they’re learning about. My point is— while there have been tough times and tough moments, it’s totally and completely worth it. But this fast-paced, widespread, adult-centered world just isn’t going to accommodate or recognize that. Except maybe on the Christmas card.
Photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/qwz/2510786526/”>qwz</a> via <a href=”http://foter.com/”>Foter.com</a> / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>CC BY-NC-SA</a>