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A Mom By Any Other Name

Laura McKenna wants to "reclaim 'mom' to connote cosmopolitan, worldly, publicly engaged and throw away, once and for all, the outmoded view that moms are nothing more than the emotional and nutritional providers for their children."

by
Laura McKenna

Bio

February 15, 2008 - 12:30 am

The Mommyosphere was buzzing over a recent letter to Salon over a young woman ridden with anxiety at the prospect of motherhood.

The woman wrote in her letter that she’s thinking about having kids, but is
rather frightened and somewhat “grossed out” by women who self-identify as moms – specifically, the following “icky” dialogue.

“So, Lucy, tell
us a little bit about yourself.”
“Well (giggles),
I’m a mom.”

The prospect of joining this club of self-deprecating gigglers horrifies the letter-writer.

As my friends have gotten married and started having children, I’ve heard this kind of thing coming out of their mouths. I realize that being a mother is
fun and rewarding, and all-consuming at times, but why does it have to be the
primary identifying factor in some women’s lives? I would think being a mother
is sort of a family affair, and making it your calling card, so to speak, is no
more appropriate than saying, ‘I’m a wife.’

I can identify. To a point.

I’m very happy now that toddlerhood and the preschool years are over and I’ve ended my hiatus from campus and classroom. My kids are tucked safely away in their elementary schools, and I’ve been able to spend more time at work. I like that I can tell people that I’m a professor. For some reason, our kitchen renovation
guys think it’s really funny that I’m a professor (is it the big hair?) and keep saying things like “So, professor, you really want to expose the brick on the chimney? Well, if the professor says so, we gotta do it.”

It’s kind of nice having a job description that gets a little respect. That never happened with my title of the past several years: Stay-At-Home Mom.

Sadly, the mom name tag doesn’t come with too much street cred. It’s not
fair, but that’s the way it is.

But even when I don’t have to use the “mom” name tag as my formal job title, it’s still there. Like this working mother, I spend a lot of time dealing with and worrying about my kids’ education. My older kid is coasting in school right now and need a lot of work at home. His teacher has written him off at the smart kid who likes reading and knows more than she does about history and geography. She’s not checking his work over. She’s more concerned about the girl who is punching herself in the face to get out of doing math work. So, my son is daydreaming through school and making tons of careless errors. If I don’t pay attention to my boys, nobody will.

And when I don’t have the big worries like their academic future, there are
always the smaller things that are always on my mind.

While I’m giving a lecture on Plato, I have my cell phone on just in case one
of the kids gets sick, and I have to rush out of class to pick them up.

On the way back from school, I run into Shop Rite to pick up bananas for lunch. I
don’t make spicy food for dinner, because the kids won’t eat it.

My husband and I took turns going to a Super Bowl party next door, because someone had to be home with the littlest one. We picked out the boring Corian countertop for the kitchen, so the kids wouldn’t have to worry about spilling drinks. I know exactly how many slices of bologna are needed to get us through the week of lunch boxes.

Frankly that “mom” job title doesn’t come off no matter what else I do. So sure, I can use the “professor” name tag to get attention from the kitchen workers and the cocktail party people. I’m pretty good at the professor thing and really get a kick out of the classroom performance act.

But my job as a mom is pretty enormous, too, and it does bother me that that
part of my life gets so little respect.

Aspazia, another mom-professor, posted a response to this letter in her blog,

I guess if there is one thing I want to emphasize in this post about how my worldview differs from the “Dear Cary” letter writers’ it is that being a “mom” is never just about being hermetically sealed up with your children. Children open the world to you and get you out in the world more than ever. So, the fact that being a mom has become associated with a kind of shut-inness is just plain wrong-headed.

So, let’s reclaim “mom” to connote cosmopolitan, worldly, publicly engaged and throw away, once and for all, the outmoded view that moms are nothing more than the emotional and nutritional providers for their children.”

Smart young women shouldn’t fear the mom label. It’s impossible to rip that name tag off a cardigan. And they might not want to, because whether or not it’s a resume-builder, it’s a better job than they think.

Laura McKenna is a political science professor who lives in New Jersey. She blogs at 11D.

Laura McKenna is a political science professor who lives in New Jersey. She blogs at 11D.
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