Stay-at-Home Mom Is Not a Command
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because Mom’s Night Out shouldn’t be such a rare occasion. (So, please, leave your guilt at home with your kids.)
A couple of weeks ago I spent a night—a Wednesday night—boogying till 1a.m. at a Footloose Dance-Along event at a club. I drank champagne out of a can. With a straw. I sang Kenny Loggins lyrics at the top of my lungs. A few nights later, I was smashed chest-to-back at Maya Rudolph’s Prince cover band’s show. I wore sequins and danced until my hair dripped.
I am a 40-something mother of two. I am a mom who likes to go out. And I don’t apologize for it.
When I do manage to lure my mom friends out on the town (and just so we’re clear, most of the time we’re talking about a once-a-week dinner and a movie, not sequins and sweating), much of the conversation is about what a treat it is to be out. Over their single glass of white wine, each of the moms will make some sort of statement about how she never gets out at night. And it’s supposed to sound like a lament, but it’s really a boast. It’s the new fangled mom version of, “I hate being this skinny, but I eat and eat and I still can’t gain any weight.”
In this world of mother martyrdom, moms are entitled to a girl’s night out every once in a while. (Like, say, once a month.) But, according to the Laws of Perfect Parenting, they should spend most of it feeling exceptionally lucky and just a little bit guilty. And, like the teenage daughters they will someday have, they definitely should never be out past 10 on a school night.
Anything more than this Chili’s commercial version of a social life needs to be qualified and apologized for.
I get it, I really do. For one, we are a tired group. We work, we parent, we want to sleep above almost everything else. And then there’s the price of childcare. Most of the time, my husband and I trade off nights out so there’s no sitter involved. But if we want to be together, we sometimes spend as much as $20 an hour for the privilege.
And, of course, a balance has to be found. No parent should be out so often they know the bartender’s break schedule. And there are just some people who truly hate to leave the house. I am not advocating that moms who want to stay home scrapbooking or watching Modern Family leap off the couch and go paint the town red.
I am simply tired of hearing all the self-congratulations disguised as apology. “Oh, I never get to go out. I mean, we have the family bed and little junior really just likes to know I’m there for him.”
The new good-mom status symbol is an utter lack of a social life independent of your children. Staying home night after night to cook and play trains and oversee homework and read bedtime stories and build dioramas is what we’re supposed to do. It’s what good parents who love their kids and care about their futures do.
As Jennifer Senior, author of All Joy and No Fun wrote in her original New York Magazine article of the same name, “While children deepen your emotional life, they shrink your outer world to the size of a teacup, at least for a while.”
That’s true, they do. But that doesn’t mean you should accept your teacup serving of the outer world if you don’t want to. Motherhood doesn’t have to mean a shrunken life.
All these claims about withered social lives are part a reflection of reality and also part reassurance. It’s moms telling themselves that they must be doing a decent job because they’ve sacrificed all fun that doesn’t involve Disney or an aquarium. Like the pastor in Footloose, they’ve mistaken giving up music and dancing (or even being out after the sun goes down) with being a good person.
So, moms, please stop apologizing. You are not a bad mother because you skip jammy time once a week to have drinks with friends. And you are not a good mother because you haven’t seen the inside of a restaurant with tablecloths for five years.
Besides, according to Changing Rhythms of American Family Life (which Senior also quotes in her article) “all parents spend more time today with their children than they did in 1975. Yet 85 percent of all parents still—still!—think they don’t spend enough time with their children.”
So, you can’t win. You may as well go have a good time. Leave the mea culpas for when you really mess up.