As Carl Jung famously said, nothing is more influential in a child’s life than the unlived life of the parent. My mother’s unlived life ricochets inside my life. My mom is an ardent reader — it’s probably no coincidence that my brother is a book editor and I make my living with words. And like her, I have children — but I wanted mine.
In this anxious inheritance from my mother and my grandmother, I’ve both under- and overcorrected. Most of what I provide to my kids is nurturance, care and a soft lap before bed. I have excellent paid help to address many of their practical needs. I indulge them a lot. They participate in zero extracurriculars and do not have great table manners. I have no clue whether they’ll go to college, much less a good one. I devalued what my mother gave me — structure, scaffolding — to give my children what I didn’t receive: the unrelenting insistence that they are wanted.
I once thought my desperation to prove and claim being a “good mother” was a hangover from a performative childhood. But as I’ve grown further into motherhood, weighing my own identity against my mom’s, I recognize that her ambivalence is not only a familial trait but also a cultural one: I carry it, too. You can love your kids deeply and hate being a mom. You can hold your children to the bone and still proclaim how sucky it is to be a female parent, in America at least, with our lack of paid family leave or high-quality day care and the cultural insistence that “good women” should stake their entire lives on the opportunity. [Continue reading…]