I Wish I Had a Wife by Maureen Eich VanWalleghan
What’s on my mind right now? Julie Powers Schenecker, Andrea Yates, Susan Smith and the approximately 200 other mothers who annually kill their children. As blogger at a website devoted to mothers I keep asking myself “How are the mothers around me doing?” So often I have a sense of loneliness in Mommyville. I stand alone—though with my husband—in bulk of my days as I teach, work on projects, write for this blog and attend to my daughter’s and my family’s needs. I am busy and so the isolation feels less intense, but connecting to other women in the intimate way I once did rarely happens. I know that many women do have mommy friends and this site is a forum for connecting, but the immediate intimacy of being around women is mostly gone from my life.
How have we come so far in the feminist realm of work and yet as women so few of our needs are met? Particularly the need for connection. As I am doing research for a documentary film about the families of murderers I find myself drawn to the stories of mothers who have done the unspeakable. Is there a connection to the lonely existence of mothers and mothers who snap? Many would say no. No one wants to consider their dark place and even if they know it’s there, there is no room for that conversation.
Anthropologically, what is the basic structure that is most conducive to making healthy moms? The conversation is often what makes for happy children. I wager a happy mom makes for happy kids. I know my own experience trying to do little things for myself paid off in the area of self care. At some point when my daughter was little, I realized one thing I really wanted was my old habit of a long shower in the morning. That made me happy. When we moved to Prescott, I fell in love with the bathroom, which was big and carpeted. I used to bring my daughter’s toys in there for her to play with while I took my 20-30 minute shower. Every time I would get into the shower I’d say: “A clean mama is a happy mama...” My daughter says it for me now. I wish there was a similar maxim for all the other needs women have in their lives.
I think the greatest disservice mothers live with is not having a collective family structure that supports the individual woman in the day to day bustle of life. I once read an article about a polygamist relationship where one wife said that she wouldn’t have been able to go to college if it weren’t for the help of the other wives. Kind of a wild thought. My own mother definitely made it possible for me to go to school. When she comes for a visit and to watch my daughter she cleans up and generally does anything she can to help me in my mommy and wifely duties. I know this born of empathy from her own experience as a wife and mother. I am lucky to have her physical support. So many women don’t have that. It is different than childcare in that the familial relationship is easy for me to support emotionally. Thinking of polygamy it’s possible to see how women could support this kind of family structure.
I think my biggest question is this: does the nuclear family really support mothers or is there a pressure cooker situation that most of us survive? Right now I am reading The Mask of Motherhood by Susan Maushart and will shortly reread Naomi Wolf’s Misconceptions. My questions are not new. So how do we as women fundamentally change the structure of our lives to better meet our biological imperative to have babies?