“So, anyway, after they take showers I lay out their school clothes for the next day. And then….”
“Hold on right there,” “How old are your girls again?”
“Um, they’re 7 and 5,” she answered, being the 30-something mother of the girls in question. “Why?”
“I guess I need you to explain to me why you’re doing that.”
“You mean laying out their clothes the night before?”
“Yes. Why are you doing that?”
“Well, I, well, if I didn’t, I don’t know, they might pick out something inappropriate.”
“Like what? T-shirts with satanic messages on them?”
(Laughing) “Oh, no, not that! I mean like tops and bottoms that don’t match.”
“Like stripes and polka dots together? Or two shades of orange that clash?”
“Yes, something like that.”
“That’s…you used the word inappropriate…that’s inappropriate? I thought inappropriate was like punching someone in the face for no reason. Wearing stripes and polka dots is inappropriate?”
“Well, I mean, the other kids might laugh at them.”
“OK, so here’s my very important question: I seriously doubt that kids this age have a developed fashion sense, but that aside, so what if some other kid or kids did laugh?”
(Long pause) “Well, I don’t want my daughters to be made fun of.”
At this point, I had to suppress the almost irrepressible urge to tell this mother that I hadn’t been born yesterday; that I knew the real reason she picked out her daughters’ clothes every evening. The real reason is that with rare exception, today’s moms personalize everything — and I do mean EVERYTHING — that happens to their children or that their children do.
So, if a 5-year-old managed, somehow, to get by her Designated Micromanager and wore to school an outfit consisting of stripes and polka dots (I’m having memories of when I was a hippie), her DM, when she found out, would be concerned, convinced even, that people might have been talking about and laughing at HER by proxy. Furthermore, even if the child in question came home and did not complain of being mocked, mom would still be certain that someone out there is thinking that she’s one of the Bad Mommies you hear about.
Choosing and laying out a 7-year-old child’s clothes — something my mother must’ve stopped doing for me before my third birthday because I have no memory of it — is emblematic of the current state of motherhood in America. It’s why I often say to audiences hither and yon, “Raising children has become threatening to the mental health of American women.”
I mean, they worry about everything, and I do mean EVERYTHING! Every detail is important, which means, essentially, that in their minds there are no details. Everything and anything that goes wrong is potentially apocalyptic; therefore, everything must be managed. Everything even slightly off the beam is cause for reading yet another book. (Did I actually just say that?)
The mother in question came to me because she was having lots of conflicts with her daughters. Good for them, I told her. They refuse to let you tell them what foot to lead with when they begin walking. We made a list of what was really, truly important parenting stuff to which she absolutely had to attend. It was fairly short, actually.
I heard from her three months later. She’s no longer in near-constant conflict with her daughters; she’s having a much, much happier motherhood; and she’s gone back to college. Yay! I mean, YAY! You go, girl! That’s the way to do it!
Family psychologist John Rosemond: johnrosemond.com, parentguru.com.