Thursday, March 18, 2010

Self-Censored

I go to a book club once a month. It is one of the few non-work, non-child related things I still manage to do, and I generally look forward to the meetings. For reasons that don't really matter to anyone outside of the book club, we need to seriously cut back on talk about babies, birth, mothering, and all that. Now, my book club knows about this blog, and some of them even read it occasionally, so I want to be really clear that I think this is a very good idea. In fact, I was the one who suggested it.

But. (You knew there had to be a "but", didn't you?)

But it makes my heart hurt a little to think about this. There are several mothers in the club (hence the need for the change). The other mothers seem to have done a better job than I have of keeping parts of their pre-baby lives. They watch TV shows and movies, and read books other than those we've chosen for our club. I marvel at this. By the time we get our kids in bed and our chores done, Hubby and I are usually too exhausted to do much more than crawl into bed ourselves. Our book club does actually discuss the books we read, but we also talk about other things. And frankly, if I stop talking about my kids and motherhood, and don't talk about my job (which no one in the club really wants to hear about)- well, there is not much left. Except for my opinions on health care reform, I suppose, but even those are informed by my experience as a mother.

To be honest, I don't think the hurt comes from the restrictions on topics at book club so much as the general restrictions on how I interact with the rest of the world when it comes to motherhood. I must not talk about the difficulties of being a parent because no one forced me to have kids. I must not wish out loud for a more flexible work place because the accommodations made for working families are so unfair to those who don't have kids. I must not wish for better government support for working parents because we already get so many tax breaks and that is unfair to single people. If I go out in public with my children (except maybe to a park), I must be hyper vigilant to ensure that they do not disturb anyone else, because other people have a right to enjoy public spaces without being bothered by noisy little kids. And most of all, I must not imply that having children is a good thing to do, because the planet is already overcrowded.

My husband wonders why I care so much what other people think. I don't really know, but I suspect it is because I used to be "child free", too. I remember how other people's kids weren't that interesting to me, and how I wished for an adults only day at the zoo. (Really! I did. In retrospect, this was a bit silly, but I really believed it at the time.) I know that there is no way to describe how motherhood has made me a better, less selfish person without somehow implying that people without children are shallow and selfish. I certainly do not believe this to be true, so I choose instead to avoid trying to describe how transformative motherhood has been for me. And I would never tell someone that they can't truly understand something because they do not have kids (especially if in my heart of hearts I think it is true).

This self-censorship is exhausting, and more than a little isolating. I find myself wanting to spend more time with other mothers, or with the few old friends I have with whom self-censorship is entirely unnecessary. The isolation I feel is one of the reasons I read (and write) blogs. I think that this self-censorship and the concomitant search for other people who are just like me is a sad thing, not just for me and my small little social life, but because it is indicative of a larger problem in society. Thanks to technology (like blogs....) we now have the ability to choose to talk with only those people whose views will not challenge our own. This is far bigger than parents and non-parents, although I don't think that this divide is as trivial as it may seem at first. (What would happen if we worked together to bring about true flexibility in the work place? I had true flex time at my previous job, and I loved it from the beginning, long before I had kids. I loved being able to arrange my work week so that I could leave early on a Friday for a long weekend getaway.) It is also Democrats and Republicans, Tea Partiers and Progressives. When was the last time you had a political conversation with someone whose views are different from your own? Or do you politely change the topic when it becomes clear you do not agree? We have lost the ability to politely disagree with someone, but to still listen and really try to understand their point of view.

I don't know the solution. I can try to listen, but it takes two to have a true conversation, and I'm afraid to talk.

-----------------------------------------
I almost deleted this post as a little too whiny and self-absorbed. But then I decided that if I can't navel-gaze on my blog, where can I do it? (Hey! Look at all that lint!) And I really wanted to get this out of my system. Besides, self-censoring a post on self-censorship just seems wrong.

18 comments:

  1. I am a scientist whose only dependent is a golden retriever, and yet I can relate to this. Thanks for sharing, and I wish you great good luck finding the places where you are comfortable sharing your whole self. I am still looking for them myself...

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  2. Definitely thanks for sharing - I feel the same way a lot of the time. I've even found myself self-censoring my blog at times (although I do include the "whiny" posts from time to time. ;-)

    I think some of the self-censorship is due to understanding where someone else is coming from, and respecting them enough to not change who they are. This is good to a point, but I do think we could all use a bit more interaction with those we disagree with. When the energy just isn't there, however, I'm glad I have a place to go to vent - it's my own personal form of therapy, with people who cheer me on, or correct me when I'm wrong.

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  3. Aubergine Kenobi7:07 AM

    I love introspective posts because they make me think about things I would'nt normally think about, so please do not stop yourself!
    I am sorry to hear you feel your self-censoring is isolating you, but, like Dr. O, I believe interacting with those who disagree with us (in a respecful and civilized way) can only enrich us. It may not change our point of view, but hopefully it'll broaden our horizons, since there always are smart people on both sides of an argument. Anonymous blogs have the wonderful quality of allowing us to do this, without us having to engage in an argument (at least as long as you don't comment in them), and sometimes reading the comments section of certain blogs is like eavesdroping on interesting conversations.

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  4. And, when they reach retirement age, they shouldn't get social security because they didn't contribute to raising the people paying into the system to support them.

    http://badmomgoodmom.blogspot.com/2008/01/insufficient-margin.html

    Re the book club:
    How many of the women work at demanding full-time jobs like yours? How much household help do they buy? We get biweekly house cleaning help, but really need it every 1.5 weeks. You get it only monthly. Those hours do add up.

    How much exercise do they get? Do they cook from scratch as often? So many confounding variables...

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  5. Amen Mamma (and sistah)!

    I find the bloggy world is practically the only place I can find other moms who share similar basic philosophies/outlooks. I don't think this is self-limiting as much as it is self-preservation.

    If you are in a situation where there is no or little support, why would you hang out on blogs that would put you down, cause you even more self-doubt, or go against your instincts and gut feelings with parenthood? It's not being wimpy, it's about wanting to get what you think would be sound guidance in a very perplexing field (parenthood!)

    IRL I have always dealt with and been friends with people I do not agree with on major issues and I like that variety. I'm very opinionated and I'm a good listener so I love a good debate. There is some coincidental element that ties us together (same neighborhood, same poli sci class, same train commute) and yet we can be civil and chat and rant and feel the spice of life.

    But there are times in your life you need "birds of a feather" (when you're feeling vulnerable let's say) to get the reassurance and respect we all deserve.

    So I totally get your being afraid to talk. People do seem more sensitive and easily offended these days, lord I've stuck my foot in it a LOT.

    Something that has helped me branch out and get up-to-date on issues that are beyond my limited sphere (kids, work, hubby) is listening to podcasts at night while I put the kids to sleep or before I zonk off. I can choose all sorts of topics and views and I have learned so much cool stuff!! Also I make an effort to have a conversation with hubby when we are not limp with exhaustion and find out about his projects, what's going on in Italy etc...

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  6. Even though I do not currently have kids, I enjoy reading your blog because I think I might one day have kids, and I think we are rather alike in personalities. You raise issues that are not an issue for me now, but it's nice knowing ahead of time what may become an issue.

    Child Free as I am, I do wish zoos had an Adult-only day or time. The Long Beach Aquarium sets aside a few hours once or twice a year that are Adults-only, and that was one of the primary reasons I became a member. It annoys me when I'm trying to enjoy an exhibit and kids are pushing me aside or running into me, especially when their parents are nearby and watching and do not say anything to their child. I wonder, do parents assume that when they are in a child-frequented place that it is a place where they can stop being a parent and let their child run wild? There are parents who do teach their children to be polite and say, "Excuse Me," when they'd like to get a closer look at an exhibit, and if the world was full of those parents and children, I feel I would not desire an Adults-only time at zoos.

    I don't dislike children in general, it's just poorly behaved ones I have a problem with. Perhaps my opinion of what "poorly behaved" is will change when I'm a parent.

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  7. Hi, Autumn! I am very glad you still read (I still follow you on Twitter). You know, I still think that some "adults only" time and attractions would be a good idea, but having been on the other side of this now, I can't see how they could make it work financially. Families are the ones who buy the overpriced food (because we need to feed our kids NOW or risk a meltdown...) and buy memberships because we need to come back often (because we only get an hour or two each visit). So now the idea seems a little silly to me. But I guess if the LB aquarium can make it work, maybe it could work?

    Anyway, I definitely found that my idea of what constitutes a well-behaved kid has changed since I had kids. I have become more aware of what sort of behavior is reasonable to expect. I don't ever let Pumpkin run wild (I hope!) but I'm sure I let some behavior slide that child-free me would have rolled her eyes at. I try not to take my kids places where their behavior will be inappropriate, but yeah, the zoo is one of the places we go. She's still too little and shy to push an adult out of the way, though! I hope by the time she is old enough to do that we will have managed to teach her some manners.

    Having said all that, I still sometimes silently seethe at the behavior I see from some other kids. I guess the difference is that now I tend to assume the parents are good until I see evidence to the contrary, whereas before I had kids I was a little quicker to judge the parents.

    @badmomgoodmom- everyone in the book club has a full time job. And the fact that some of them find time to make delicious food (from scratch) to bring to book club is another thing I marvel at.... I think the big difference is Pumpkin's sleep issues. Most of the other moms have kids who go to sleep easily, whereas I still spend 30-60 minutes a night lying in bed with Pumpkin helping her go to sleep.

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  8. I had a conversation with a friend of mine that was having trouble with her transition from professional to mom. (She stayed at home for a long time) and she felt she struggled to NOT be defined as mom -- that there's still an individual in there, dammit!

    And yet, being a mom influences so much of what she does that it's hard to compartmentalize the hip non-mom and proto-suburban mom from one another.

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  9. I'm really glad you posted this. It is not at all "whiny or self-absorbed" - far from it, Cloud! You're not alone. In fact, I am blown away by the fact that we both blogged about the same topic, on the same day, without even realizing it. Wow.

    You are so brave to share this with people who know you IRL. I wish I had the guts to do that.

    "We have lost the ability to politely disagree with someone, but to still listen and really try to understand their point of view." That truly is the main problem with America today.

    But is it really *your* problem?

    It seems to me, Cloud, that you have internalized certain absolutes about being a mother, and having a career, and whatever the dominant opinions out there may or may not be on these issues. There are a lot of other people's perceived opinions and agendas living rent free in your head right now. Do you truly want them there?

    In my experience, we have a choice. We can be authentic or not. Or we can sit somewhere on the continuum between authenticity and inauthenticity. We can change where we are on that continuum as the situation demands. It need not be a permanent condition. And the truth is, most people probably don't even notice where we're sitting. They are too consumed with worrying about what other people think of them, just as we are.

    If you think you need a break, you need a break. It's all good.

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  10. I loved the post. Thank you for writing it. Honest self-reflection is tough enough much less writing it for the world to see. I love my child to the point of distraction. He's never far from my thoughts. I write my congress people about issues I never thought about before. I'm okay with this new slant on my world view. I think I'm a better person for it. I do NOT think that automatically means everyone who has children is better for it or that people who don't are lacking. It's just been really good for me and I don't mind saying so and anyone who finds that offensive or boring can roll their eyes and we can all go on about our lives. It's hard to find people to connect with in general I think. Cooking, entertainment, hobbies are pretty surface things to discuss. Probably easier to find a larger group willing to have those sorts of conversations.
    Re time to feel more well-rounded. I don't cook often, much less bake from scratch. But I play with Tate some awesome games of tickle wrestle and painted his face like a tiger for him this morning before school just because. I'll never have it/be it all, but I can decide what is important and embrace those things. You have a new baby Cloud. Two very little girls, one with sleep issues as you pointed out. I think the fact that you do anything other than work and care for your two girls is amazing. Tate still takes an hour to fall asleep and even though I'm never up more than once a night with him I often fall asleep with him, I'm so beat doing nothing but school and caring for him. You'll have more free time soon. Hang in there! :)

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  11. Oh, one more thing about people who seem to be able to do more fun/time-intensive things and raise small children: they are lucky mofos. I'm NOT among them. A good friend of mine's daughter is so much easier than my same-aged son that I want to curse the gods for effing us up so much. IT'S SO UNFAIR!!!! It hurts to see all of the relative freedom they get to enjoy in their house with their 2 year old girl who goes to sleep through the whole night without a struggle, every damn night, at 7pm. Meanwhile I am on the verge of tears on a near daily basis over something DS has gleefully spilled, thrown, shattered, upset, ruined, drawn on, or broken. She asks if I have time to sew? Are you fucking insane? They totally don't get it. Love them but they totally don't get it.

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  12. Thanks for all of the nice comments, everyone. This is what I love about blogging. Every single comment on this post.

    @SteveB- how old is your friend's baby? I found the initial adjustment to being a mom to be very hard. It was like I had to remake my entire identity. I don't think I really felt comfortable in my skin again until Pumpkin was almost a year old. I really like @Geeks in Rome's suggestion of podcasts. I miss Marketplace. I am not in the car when it is on anymore, and even if I were... I'd be listening to Pumpkin's favorite CD.

    @hush- you have given me some things to think about. Thanks!

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  13. Like you, my oldest is a difficult sleeper. The impact on my life and my husband's life is just... just... incalculable (is that a word? You know what I mean, right?). For a LONG time (let's say about three years), I felt the same way as you. But in the last few months, amazingly, I'm starting to have some interest in and (more importantly) time to think about things outside work, kids and house. I really truly believe it's because we are finally having easier evenings and nights.

    Petunia is still so young, and you are still doing Pumpkin's bedtimes, so you really need to cut yourself some slack! Having just done a lot for my girl's birthday party this year(I baked a cake from scratch!!!), I started thinking about last year with a bit of regret. There were so many things I didn't/couldn't do for her birthday last year. But I quickly pulled myself out of those thoughts. We were in a different place. I was in a different place. But now? It's getting easier. And it will for you too.

    I relate to so much of what you've written in the post. (I'm so glad you didn't delete it.) But I am mostly okay with it all. I do seek out other mothers, especially through the internet--and even other mothers who have kids the same age, have spirited kids, have difficult sleepers, have the same parenting philosophies, etc. Instead of limiting my thoughts, I think it helps me feel less alone and less isolated. Just as those who haven't had kids don't quite get what it's like to be a parent, those who haven't had a spirited child don't quite get what it's like to parent one. I do read other blogs, too, because I do like to hear/read other perspectives. BUT I don't read people who I think are judgemental. I don't need to be judged, and I don't want to hear others being judged. We are all doing the best we can in this world, and until we've walked a mile in someone else's shoes, I think we should give them the benefit of the doubt.

    I also figure that between my family, my in laws and all my coworkers, I hear plenty of different opinions and perspectives. I pip up with mine, too, in order to let them hear my perspective. Also, I talk to others about things that interest them, so I have no qualms about talking about my kids to them. I ask one coworker about her upcoming wedding, another about her new apartment in the city, another about his college basketball team and the game he saw, another about his guys weekend on a ranch. I'm genuinly interested and listen to what they say. And then, I talk about my kids, cause that's what's important in my life. I think that's just human nature, but also manners and respect to let others talk about their interests and for us to share ours.

    @Autumn - I think having adult time at a zoo and aquariam is a great idea. Even though I have two kids, I STILL love adult swim at the pool. Kids are noisy and messy and generally reckless. They just are. And every adult could be totally understanding, but still want some time without them around. Although I will say that all sorts of opinions I had pre-kids have changed completely. That's life!

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  14. I can't believe I wrote all that and didn't even address the book club! Sorry!

    When I was finally ready to do something for myself after having the Pookie, I joined a new book club. I was amazed at the discussion. It was about books and travel and opera! And also some about kids. It was so nice for me to start thinking about other things again, but I didn't join it until I knew I was ready for that. I had be invited after having the Pumpkin, but knew that I was too focused on being a mom to be ready for it. I think it makes perfect sense for you to take a break until you are ready to go back to it.

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  15. paola9:39 AM

    Cloud, you will see that you won't even have this problem a year from now. Petunia is 5/6 months old, Pumpkin will learn to go to sleep on her own and you will be able to have your Friday night beers with your hubby again.

    When Zoe was 6 months old I was boring friends ( most of which were not parents) to death with stories of sleep training successes/failures and I enven had hubby once tell me to censure what I told as people were just not into like I was. It made me cry seeing, that is all I could talk about seeing I was SAHM with two kids under 3.

    2.5 years down the track I have heaps of other things in my life and sometimes even manage to not talk about my kids with others, 'cos there are other more interesting things to natter about.

    oh and don't know about the logisitcs, but is it ata ll possible to have an on-line book club. Italians aren't big readers.

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  16. This was great. :) It's a careful balance between censoring oneself to try to change your impulses or to fit in with social norms, and sometimes just getting to be yourself.

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  17. Cloud said: I must not talk about the difficulties of being a parent because no one forced me to have kids. I must not wish out loud for a more flexible work place because the accommodations made for working families are so unfair to those who don't have kids. I must not wish for better government support for working parents because we already get so many tax breaks and that is unfair to single people. If I go out in public with my children (except maybe to a park), I must be hyper vigilant to ensure that they do not disturb anyone else, because other people have a right to enjoy public spaces without being bothered by noisy little kids. And most of all, I must not imply that having children is a good thing to do, because the planet is already overcrowded.

    I relate really well to this. I'm glad you posted on this topic and did not delete it. I think it helps those not in your situation to understand what it is like to be in your situation. When people say you can't complain because you had a choice, I wonder why they think all options in a choice are equal and worth considering, therefore making everything a choice?

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  18. Oh man. So very true! For a while, I read a blog about infertility, because I wanted to understand. Sometimes I felt absolutely under attack, being placed firmly on the other side of the "enemy" line, even though the whole reason I was there in the first place was because I didn't want to be ignorant and insensitive about infertility!

    I too have trouble with conversations about differing viewpoints... a whiff of conflict or confrontation and I want to run. I can manage it with my hubby, because he knows how to keep it calm and respectful - and we usually have a drink or two to take the edge off, which helps too!

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