That Crazy Mother
by Peggy O'Mara, Publisher/Editor, Mothering
You know her. She's that woman over there with the unkempt look, the
disheveled hair, the strident voice. She's the one who's a little too
involved with her child, a little too interfering. Maybe a bit too
controlling. She's that crazy mother.
What is it about becoming a parent that turns a reasonably polite,
discreet woman into a guerrilla warrior for her child? And why is it
that no matter how righteous the cause, whenever we assert ourselves on
behalf of our children we must be prepared to do battle with the crazy
mother stereotype within ourselves and in the minds of others?
With the current prominence of the Children's Defense Fund and other
groups that help children, child advocacy is coming of age. Our
statement of purpose for the magazine includes "Mothering is
... a fierce advocate of the needs and rights of the child ... " As
a magazine, we can maintain some distance from the issues of child
advocacy that we cover, issues in which the child's side of the story
often is not well understood or not reported. As parents, however, it
takes real strength of character to be advocates for our children,
especially at times when we are either embarrassed or angered by their
behavior or at a loss to understand it.
Even when we don't understand the behavior of our children, they
still deserve respect and advocacy. Our well-meaning but sometimes
insensitive friends may confuse us and make us feel crazy when they set
standards for our children's behavior or ask repeated intimate questions
about their private habits.
Sometimes we find ourselves in social situations that require
impossible compliance by our children or are not appropriate for their
developmental stage. At these times we may appear crazy and
overprotective to others when we shield our children from experiences we
judge to be questionable.
Those of us who have been led by our children into extended
breastfeeding and family sleeping wonder how something that works so
well can be considered so crazy, and yet we feel crazy when we talk
about these things to those who don't understand. Sleep deprivation,
concerns for social deviation, and fear of child ruination are the stuff
of the new parent's initiation. We must do our own thing with our
families in order to create the definitions of a new family. We are
supposed to be crazy, to be different. As young adults we do things
differently than our parents. As new families we do things unique to our
union. Those who are willing to be unique in a culture are sometimes
looked upon as crazy.
The needs of infants and toddlers are so obvious, and they are so
innocent in their demands, that we feel confident responding to them
even if others question us. As our children get older, however, we may
not always understand their needs quite as easily, or will sometimes
have to make decisions that are unpopular with our children, and may
make us look crazy, even to them.
All parents face difficult decisions regarding infant feeding,
newborn testing, circumcision, diapers, nightwaking, sleeping,
vaccinations, and so forth. Some parents also face special medical
situations that require the courage to insist on the integrity of the
child's emotional experience in the face of necessary and sometimes
lifesaving medical procedures.
Successful advocacy rests on holding a position without being
positional. And while we don't always feel we can compromise where our
children's needs are concerned, we can develop a capacity to insist on
our position without insulting others. We can be persistent. And we can
have faith in the best possible outcome, in the biggest possible picture
for our child, and for our child's capabilities.
We join with others when we protect our children. The United Nations
Convention on the Rights of the Child says, among other things, that
"All children's opinions shall be given careful consideration, and
their best interests shall be protected."
Being crazy is not just for moms. Crazy dads follow in the same
tradition. We're crazy any time we take an unpopular position in a group
or support someone or something just because of love. We're crazy any
time we stick up for our children without any evidence. I can't always
control the events of my children's lives, but now and then I can get
all worked up over them with such righteousness that it's awesome. At
those times I realize how fierce and irrational my willingness to defend
my children is, how animal-like, how instinctual. One feels in this type
of attachment part of the greater good.
It's good to be a little bit crazy. A little bit crazy about your
child and willing to get crazy for him or her. I'm sure there's supposed
to be at least one, maybe two people who think you are the greatest no
matter what. Someone who rushes to defend you without knowing the whole
story. Someone who sympathizes even after knowing it. Someone who is
crazy about you. The Crazy Mother's Club is open to both men and women.
You can tell the members by the red badge of courage they wear barely
visible on the lapel. You can also tell them by a certain gleam in their
eye. They are the parents who are willing to get crazy for love.
Excerpted from: Editorial, Mothering Magazine, No. 78,
Spring 1996, Pages 6-7.
Mothering Magazine: (800) 984-8116, (505) 984-8116
Reprinted with permission.