Desperate moms

James Lileks, house husband,father, columnist and blogger, mocks — one might almost says “fisks” — Newsweek’s story about supermoms driving themselves and their children crazy. The story complains that women must be control freaks “because they are unsupported, because their children are not taken care of, in any meaningful way, by society at large.” Lileks writes:

Imagine that. You have to take the responsibility of your children on yourselves. The day I expect “society” to take care of my child in a meaningful way is the day I give society the right to take her away and do a better job if I don’t schedule daily flash-card phonics sessions. I suspect that we are talking about two different groups – those mothers who genuinely need help because they made some horrible decisions and find themselves with many children and no fathers, and those who can’t quite strike the perfect balance between Corporate Warrior Princess and UberSuperPerfectRoleModelLove-GusherMom, and hence get, well, excessive and control-freakish. I think the former group needs our help, and the second group needs a big frosty glass of chill-the-hell-out with a kicky pastel umbrella. Proof of the horrors of modern American life follows:
As I write this, I have an image fresh in my mind: the face of a friend, the mother of a first-grader, who I ran into one morning right before Christmas.

She was in the midst of organizing a class party. This meant shopping. Color-coordinating paper goods. Piecework, pre-gluing of arts-and-crafts projects. Uniformity of felt textures. Of buttons and beads. There were the phone calls, too. From other parents. With criticism and “constructive” comments that had her up at night, playing over conversations in her mind. “I can’t take it anymore,” she said to me. “I hate everyone and everything. I am going insane.”

Well. It’s too bad Amazon cannot overnight a sense of perspective, because there are, in truth, tougher situations to find yourself in. I’d like to reserve “hating everyone and everything and going insane” for the moment when I’m fleeing the attack helicopters that have come to wipe out my tribe.

Lileks, admittedly a guy, doesn’t think small children require color-coordinated paper goods or uniformity of felt textures. As a woman, let me add: cupcakes. Bring chocolate cupcakes for the party and all will be well. Chocolate chip cookies work too. If someone else is in charge of cleaning up, let the kids have construction paper, glue and glitter.

About Joanne


  1. This is so right. The worst year of my life was when I stayed home with my school-age kids 24/7 and helped out at school. The Moms frightened me. I don’t glue or bake. I buy “store-bought” cookies (horrors!). I never hosted a “themed” birthday party for my kids at home, with everything matching the Harry Potter books or something. I always take everyone to Skate Country or pottery painting.

    When I started grad school, on the first day of class I sat next to a woman about my age with four kids. She was a third-year student and I asked her how she managed. She looked at me quizzically and said, “You’ll manage, as long as you don’t think you’ll spend a lot of time putting snapshots in photo albums, and stuff like that.”

    Wonderful. I knew I was in the right place. Nothing in my life has been glue or color-coordinated since. But I see my kids everyday after school, I’m busy and satisfied, and I don’t have a nanny.

  2. Half Canadian says:

    As an adult male, I also think colour-coordination is overated. Chocolate-chip cookies are definitely more important.
    I help run a cub scout pack, and we had a banquet recently. Some of the moms fussed over the decorations, the plate colors, etc. My son’s reaction? The best part was the pinata, the food (hot dogs and chips), and the activities.
    Kids only care about decorations because we tell them to.

  3. Steve LaBonne says:

    The fussy moms are trying to impress other moms; it has nothing whatever to do with the kids.

  4. I thought Lilek’s take on it was perfect. Themed parties and perfectly coordinated decorations are no substitute for true parenting, yet some parents seem perfectly willing to believe that being “responsible” for your kids entails giving them absolutely every material good life has to offer.

  5. Forget the chocolate chip cookies or cupcakes in Texas!

    There is now a state law that says that no “non-nutricious food” can be brought to school for kids to share with their classmates. No more bringing brownies for my kid’s birthday!

    Can we rain any more on the parade??

  6. Can we rain any more on the parade??

    Probably, but it doesn’t matter, anymore: the parade known as “childhood” was cancelled long ago…

  7. Hey Jill!

    Texas actually had to pass another law so that you can still bring those cute little cupcakes to birthday parties.

    I’m a laid-back-stay-at-home-super-mom 🙂 I volunteer to bring ONE THING to each party.

  8. greeneyeshade says:

    i seem to remember phyllis mcginley made a very similar point in ‘sixpence in her shoe’ _ must be 40 years ago by now.
    when we held our younger daughter’s bat mitzvah about a year and a half ago, for various reasons we had to pack what i understand is normally 12 to 18 months’ planning into that many weeks. we had services on thanksgiving day, a party the following sunday in a hall we’d found with a d.j., put some streamers on the walls and ceiling and people seemed to have a fine time. some of the stuff i’ve seen her friends’ and classmates’ families put on makes me think of the old joke about the destitute vaudevillian who suggests killing himself on stage: ‘what,’ the manager says, ‘are you gonna do for an encore?’