Down With the Mommy Modifier

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
Aug. 3 2012 8:00 AM

Down With the Mommy Modifier   

mommy beer
Not mommy juice. Beer.

Shutterstock/photomak

“Mommy” has become an adjective. This is both perplexing and troubling. I’m so sick of hearing everything get modified with mommy.

Fifty Shades of Gray is “mommy porn.” Slow-track, less-stressful jobs are mommy jobs. I’ve heard a mild cocktail referred to as a mommy drink, and a haircut, a mommy cut. Don’t even get me started on MILF and the mommy wars.

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The funniest incident, although I shouldn’t admit this, was improvised. Several years ago my husband and I were chatting with our then-three-year old about what people drink with dinner. Some like water, some like milk, or juice. I was drinking red wine with dinner at the time, and my son pointed at my glass and called it “mommy juice.”

At some blessed point, the second-class status implied by this cutesy modifier gets dropped.

Women become just parents again, or adults, or adults who happen to have children, like the majority of adults in America. This seems to happen when our children are middle school-ish. I haven’t heard the activities of a mother with high school or college-aged children referred to as “mommy” anything.

The phrase feels like someone’s patting us on the head and saying, “Oh! Look! How cute! A mommy is reading porn! Now look, a mommy is drinking!” Imagine that.

Everything we do is reduced to a stupid pet trick for mommies.

Using mommy as an adjective implies that it’s weird, odd, or otherwise noteworthy that women with children could occupy other social roles or pursue other adult activities, without it first getting filtered through mommy-dom, or converted into a mini-mommy version of itself.

You’re not like a normal human adult, who fulfills a whole variety of social roles in the course of the day, of which being a parent is one.  In other words, you’re not like a man.

I don’t hear people talk about “daddy porn,” a daddy cocktail, or daddy football, because it’s more or less assumed that a dad is an adult who has many hats to wear, including breadwinner and, in some cases, porn watcher, or partygoer.

It’s not a fascinating idiosyncrasy to think that a daddy would also want to do nonparental things, so there’s no need to make daddy adjectival. But it’s as if once you become a mother, you can only be a mother and all actions are read through that fact.

And there, in one turn of adjective, lies a soul sickness of modern parenthood.

Can we really wonder why the number of childfree marriages is on the rise—or why moms “blow off steam” in their 40s by getting bombed at parties and seeking seedy one-night stands?

Maybe they do it because they’ve been mommied-out for a good decade or more. Every aspect of their lives—as reflected in the simple over-use of mommy as an adjective—has been filtered through mommydom; they’ve been treading water in concepts of motherhood that are all-consuming.

And when their kids get older, maybe these mommies want to reclaim the rest of their lives from the cosmic pawn shop where they last remember stashing them.

I describe this in my book. But, as I also write, the last known time of unapologetic fun for my generation was most likely in college, or in our 20s, so some of us revert back to collegiate social customs. You remember—binge drinking, drug abuse, and casual sex (I'm exaggerating, of course).

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not disagreeing that parenthood is the prime directive once you have children. Of course it’s crucial. Who in their right mind disputes that? But you can’t go off the deep end with it.

Had things been more in balance all along—if the affluent classes who tend to fall deepest into the psychological pit of obsessive, perfectionist parenthood (see Judith Warner’s Perfect Madness) had a more sane, rational, humane notion of parenthood instead—and if we had a multi-faceted view of marriage and adulthood, then maybe these other yearnings in life (to be a lover, a party girl, a person with meaningful, non-parental work to do, a civic leader, a fun person who has a social life and feels desired) wouldn’t erupt so dramatically and sometimes injuriously in a mommy midlife crisis, to borrow the loathsome phrase.

So how about if we just live our lives as moms, unmodified, again? This might require some collective spine-stiffening against the nosy, judgmental, or proselytizing standards in this, the Guilted Age of parenthood, that break us down, wear us out, and keep us on a treadmill of second-guessing, anxiety, and fear that we’ve not done everything the best way. But then again, parenthood was never supposed to be a competitive sport.

A dear friend of mine speaks aptly about “adult humanity.” And if you’re too severely subordinating your adult humanity in its many facets to just the one, single facet of mommy-hood, then your adult humanity might well resurge with a vengeance on your mommy life, and kick you in the mommy butt, eventually.

And then who knows what embarrassing photos might show up on Facebook.

This essay was originally published on Big Think.

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