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A Mother Load of Parenting Choices

Tuesday, March 15, 2005; Page A22

Hanna Rosin's March 7 Style article on Judith Warner's book "Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety" left me wondering why I have never seen a book published by a man lamenting his failure to be the perfect business partner/father/husband/community volunteer.

My husband naps on the couch while the kids run around eating whatever they want. His behavior is viewed by my friends as lame but acceptable, being just one of the many dad styles out there to choose from.

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The women described in the article recognize only one mothering style: perfect at all times. This obligates them to be ever-vigilant -- seeing, intervening in and "fixing" the short-term uncertainties faced by their children so that they won't experience any suffering. This role is tough to maintain because it doesn't allow for faith in children's competence and pride in their struggle to grow and mature.

The tendency toward maternal hyper-perfection is not going to disappear until mothers grant themselves a long view of their children's progress toward adulthood and stop feeling required to provide a risk-free, scripted life.



Like Judith Warner, I am an American who gave birth in Paris. I stayed in the hospital for a week after each of my children's births. My toddler daughter attended a wonderful nursery school subsidized by the French government. My husband easily took long summer vacations.

Now I am a full-time Washington lawyer, and you know what? I attend cookie meetings at 8 p.m. because, as a Brownie troop leader, that is what one does. At my troop's most recent meeting, we celebrated March as Women's History Month. I taught the girls about the achievements of famous American women and the history of the 19th Amendment, and the girls played "career charades" and thought up businesses to run (lemonade stand was a popular choice). We also prepared for our cookie sale booth outside a supermarket.

Believe it or not, we all had fun.

I'd hate to ruin Ms. Warner's stereotype about those of us who love to help sell Trefoils (or Samoas, whatever your pleasure), but I also "date" my husband and have been known to wear Dior and even a spritz of perfume.

I agree with her call for better family policies. But, really, can you imagine a world without Thin Mints?



Hanna Rosin's Style profile of Judith Warner, an angst-ridden Northwest mother, offered a striking contrast to Manny Fernandez's Metro story of the same day recounting the trials of James Hall, an 18-year-old senior at Ballou High School who is struggling to raise his nearly 2-year-old daughter.

I also am a resident of the District and am a full-time working mother of a 3-year-old in day care. And I found Mr. Hall's challenges more compelling.

His story made me realize that the self-doubt that accompanies many of the choices modern mothers face -- staying at home vs. working and keeping children stimulated with activities rather than letting them develop their own interests -- is unproductive and unnecessary. What is important is a parent's love and charity -- both of which Mr. Hall exhibits in abundance.



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