Battle Hymn of the Tired Mother
Who knew that Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother was written as a comic memoir? A quick visit to Amy Chua’s website reveals she wrote Tiger Mother as a self deprecating confessional of just how utterly she failed at raising her kids in the same strict, no-nonsense Chinese way her immigrant parents raised her.
But when the book was released, something was lost in translation. So many mothers were infuriated by Battle Hymn of The Tiger Mother that Chua was unilaterally stir-fried for her attempts to push her daughters beyond socially acceptable levels of extreme parenting. The virulent scorn heaped on Chua’s parenting choices makes Kris Jenner look like Carol Brady by comparison.
What confuses me is how much the anti-Tiger moms swear they can’t be that strict with their kids — yet they hover so intently over every waking moment of their children’s lives that they are unable to let their kids do anything on their own, like just letting them just be kids.
Until I became one, I had no idea how much moms sweatily eye each other — we furtively clock who’s pulling it all off versus who’s fucking it all up. My kid doesn’t stress me out nearly as much as what I think other moms think of me.
More exhausting is how many moms feel pressured to create the most well-rounded, over-scheduled, & over-exposed humans who still poop themselves.
After hearing yet another parent go on and on about their 8 month old’s synchronized swimming-based, Mandarin-infused Waldorfian daycare, I was convinced I’d already missed the boat of successful future-hood for my 2 year old. My husband broke the news to me.
CANADA: We just might have to settle for having a regular kid.
Since rearing a regular kid in Los Angeles is beyond unacceptable, I caught MAMAFOMO fever and chased down but was wait-listed for toddler cello, baby capoeira, and sing-along sacro-cranial massage. We had to settle for Dutch soccer school in the park and swimming (in chlorine!) at the YMCA.
MAMAFOMO, or Mama’s Fear Of Missing Out, is code for moms who think they have ruined their toddler’s chance at a brilliant adulthood because their kid hasn’t thrown a sensory overload tantrum in the Infinity Room at the Broad or taken a yoga/pole dancing class under the Hollywood sign on the first gibbous moon of the Vernal Equinox. MAMAFOMOs are determined to pack as many meaningful, documentary-worthy, maximized bandwith moments & vision-quest experiences long before their children will ever remember any of them.
After yet another family returned from an eco-spiritu-zipline-tour of Machu Picchu and a Nepali monastery with their 2 year old in training to be the next reincarnation of the Lama, I started playing the audiobook of The Power of Now sung by Bjork in Icelandic and English simultaneously while Clem was sleeping. She woke up still needing pull ups and only speaking English, but I soldiered on.
Occasionally, Clem resisted Dutch soccer because she wanted to watch profoundly politically incorrect Bugs Bunny cartoons.
CLEM: I don’t want to go to soccer.
Imagining what Earl Woods might have said to little Tiger when he didn’t want to give up his Game Boy, or prostitute, in order to practice swings, I became the oldest living in captivity Tiger Mother.
ME: You have to go to soccer or all bunny rabbits will be crucified. If you don’t go, the US Women’s Soccer Team will be used as a harem for Kim Jon Un. Even worse, what will the other soccer moms say about ME?
I forced her to tolerate soccer. I dragged her out of daycare naps for gymnastics. She was in swim classes at 6 months. When I’d heard a friend’s kid could write her name at age one I was absolutely furious I didn’t name my child Ann.
My MAMAFOMO metastasized when Clem went to preschool and I realized I would have to pack her 167 lunches a year until I’m found dead with my head stuck in our Tupperware cabinet. More concerned of what her teachers would think of my lunchbox skills, than if Clem would eat what I made, I Googled school lunch ideas. When I found this — -
and this —
…something in me just snapped like a gluten free pretzel stick made from conflict-free, triple-organic, locavore sesame seeds.
I do admire the hell out of these BPA-free, Planet Box organic moms. Go for it, chicken-raising, baby-massaging Moms. Find your grass-fed, bartering bliss and rub my nose in it. But I’m not waking up at 4am to shape rice balls into Olaf. Ever.
In that moment, my MAMAFOMO of being the best mother (at least in the eyes of everyone other than my child), sputtered out. I am never going to be a Mega Mom. I’m too busy being Menopause Mom- one hot flash away from spontaneous combustion.
Now I aim for the Bronze of Momming. My personal best is finding new ways to LOWER the BAR without shame. I’m competitive enough to be jealous of the moms who do less than me.
But now my kid is as fiercely competitive as Hillary Clinton in a three way tie with Martha Stewart and Megyn Kelly. So I’m bribing her with Silly Putty to just stay put.
ME: How about no soccer this morning? Please? It’s raining (she sees it isn’t raining.) It’s raining where soccer class is. (I’m lying. She doesn’t know that.)
Please don’t get me wrong. I can throw down with the artsy-craftsy DIY moms breaking the Pinisphere. Sometimes I will go right fucking to THERE. I’ll wrap a kid’s present (that I bought. In a store.) in Liberty of London wrapping paper, embellished with the child’s name cut out in contrasting Liberty of London wrapping paper with double-stick tape.
Now I preach a new gospel. It’s called Detachment Parenting. Now that I’ve lost my mom, I appreciate her mothering. She’d insist, “Go out and play and don’t come back til the street lights come on.” Or if we couldn’t find our Girl Scout sash, she’d reply, “If I find it, can I hit you with it?”
Back then, surviving childhood meant actual survival- like making sure they didn’t forget you at a vacation rest stop. Nowadays, surviving childhood means escaping your parents’ unrelenting clutches. Never leaving your child’s side might make you feel your child is safe, but you are also teaching them that they are incapable of surviving on their own.
Before, I needed to be perceived as a perfect Mom. Now, “She survived” is a perfectly acceptable answer to what we did on Spring Break. “Sugar happens” Is the answer when a mom asks me if they can give my kid candy.
A lovely friend who I should call out for looking too damn good to have two kids- inspired me with her own Bronze Mom moment of clarity. Cate was a Rockette, so she knows the fierce tiger discipline required to be a professional dancer. Cate didn’t realize she was pressuring her 4 year-old to take classes in everything she liked until the day her kid calmly uttered-
DAUGHTER: Why do I have to get better at things I already like to do?
Cate had no answer. Cate stopped pushing. Cate’s kids are awesome. Cate looks great. Case closed.
Recently Clem was invited to a costume birthday party. Granted, my mom had died a month before so costume hunting was not high on my list. There was no list. Life happened in sweats and slippers. I was so immobilized that I cut off my underpants just so I wouldn’t have to take off my sweatpants to change my underwear.
The morning of the party I asked Clem if we should re-wear old Halloween costumes, still hanging in her closet. Clem demanded to be Catboy. I Googled Catboy — and found some slightly unnerving cat-like boys in whiskers and tails.
Freaking out, I texted an in-the-know mom and learned Catboy is in fact a character in an completely innocent cartoon, PJ Masks.
Once I found the right Catboy, I realized I already am a 1970s mom. Clem has passions I know nothing about. It was scary that she’s seen show I hadn’t vetted, but then it made me happy she has secrets. After all, her life isn’t mine. It’s hers.
Once I knew what to Google, I learned there are no ready-made Catboy costumes in existence. Then I was mom-slapped by the Mega Moms who’ve already designed, built and created free downloadable Catboy patterns to print onto iron-on fabric, to glue onto a dark blue sweat suit from WalMart- and it will end up costing you $17.89. Cheaper than a store. Of course you have to quit your job and farm out your child to make this costume at 1am a week before the party, but hey.
I stood there in my grubby sweats in my grubby kitchen, blinking at the brilliance of organized, thrifty, crafty moms, as my minutes of downloadable-onto-fabric time quickly evaporated, wondering… do people still have irons? Really?
So, I made a cape out of a baby blanket, cut eye holes out of my sleep mask and let Clem take a black Sharpie to her blue pajamas- She LOVED drawing CatBoy-ish fur marks on herself.
Once she was in our homemade Catboy costume, which took ten minutes and insta-ingenuity, we giggled with pride. The fact that she did almost all of it herself made it even more victorious.
Did she let me take a picture of her? No. Did any one know she was Catboy? No. Did it matter? No. Did I make a Pinterest/Etsy/Instagram-worthy moment? Absolutely not. Was Clem really, really happy? Yes.
I know there are other Tired mothers out there. Mothers who treat all vegetables as organic, mothers who let their kids sleep in their clothes, moms who let their kids fall down and pick themselves back up.
How to be a 1970’s mom?
1. Let kids be grubby, messy, stinky kids.
2. Stop over-scheduling kids as if they are Oprah. Boredom stimulates imagination, or drawing, or playing, or plain old day dreaming.
3. In doubt if you are a MAMAFOMO? Here’s a quick test. If you hold your urine for longer than three hours because you need to get Lazlo from rage yoga in Echo Park to booty-mind-ballet in Venice, and you have to forcefully (if non-violently) remind your child why they must do everything you think they need to do, you are over-scheduling.
4. Allow kids to be left to their own devices. Let them dress themselves. They might look like a thrift shop floor, but they’re building their own minds and self esteem. I loved drawing/painting as a kid. If my mom had signed me up so every spare moment was absorbed by someone else telling me what art is or isn’t, I’d have had less confidence in my own ability to create.
5. Instead of hiring people to keep them out of your hair, let your kids ‘help’ you. Clem loves helping us clean our cars, she beams with pride at being able to ‘pay the check’, load the dishwasher, put the ATM card in the slot, feed the dogs, and sweep the kitchen. Kids still think all this shite is fun, so take advantage of the free help.
6. A mom who did a brilliant job parenting her kids gifted me an unforgettable quote when Clem was 6 weeks old. “ Congrats on becoming a mom. You have 18 years to make yourself obsolete.” Empower your kids so they don’t become adults who constantly need you to adult for them.
7. Stop writing thank you cards. My mom is pissed off right now, but the biggest gift my fellow moms gave me was the permission to not be impeccable. I take the gift, I say thank you, give hugs and if I’m lucky, I email them to reiterate my thanks. If you write thank you cards, you’re breaking mom-code and making the rest of us look bad.
8. Find a decent if not great local public school for your kid to walk to. Imagine your kid playing with neighborhood kids that don’t require passports and actual helicopters for drop-in playdates. Imagine not having to carpool 4 hours a day for your kid to attend the most impeccable school you can’t afford. Imagine all the free time to enjoy your home and family without cursing out strangers trying to get their kids to equally unaffordable far away schools.
9. Do NOT check out parents you do not know on Instagram. It will only make you insane. Do not follow crazy-makers who use Perpetua-filtered, perfectly edited & styled photos to convince you that you are doing it all wrong and missing out on a life they aren’t even living. Unplug to live your own best life.
10. When you unplug, your kids unplug. If you hate them staring at screens all day, then you stop it first. Then go make a pillow fort. DO NOT CONSULT PINTEREST FOR HOW TO MAKE THE BEST PILLOW FORTS. Just fucking do it wrong. That’s how you make memories.
In my humble opinion, full blame for moms pushing themselves to be Pin-worthy home-mistresses belongs to Martha Stewart. The original Tiger Mother of DIY craftiness, Martha turned home-making into a sleep-deprived blood sport. Martha’s fiercely competitive home-making ‘tips’ made moms like mine feel badly that they preferred sleep and personal lives over rearing Araucana hens or making their own sauerkraut.
It’s ironic how in the 80s, as more women began balancing families and careers, Martha was shaming us into dedicating our dwindling free time to creating magazine-worthy placemats and herbal infused cupcake towers. How much time would you have to spend with your kids if you didn’t feel compelled to hand-stamp their bedroom walls with tinted, hand-carved potato chunks?
* Full disclosure. I didn’t read the book either. When it came out, I couldn’t become a mom so I didn’t care. Now that I am a mom, I don’t have time to read. I read about reading.