Monday, November 19, 2012

I Need to Make My Own Damn Cookies

Awhile back, Laura Vanderkam had a post about the "mother stays in the picture" post that was going around at the time. The comments section included an interesting discussion of "mothers as martyrs" that I read and basically agreed with it, but felt a little uneasy about. Something was bothering me about the topic. I couldn't put my finger on it until today, when I was looking something else up on my blog (yeah, I do that a lot- it is like an external hard drive for my memory) and happened across my old post about privilege. In that post, I tried to use a parenting analogy to explain how I don't think being relatively privileged means that you have an easy time in life. The post has nothing whatsoever to do with martyrdom, but it contains this line:

Mmmm. Cookies.
"I want someone to give me a cookie and tell me I'm doing a good job... and no one does, because my husband (the most likely source of cookies and praise) is also tired and finding things hard."

Something clicked for me. The thing that has been bothering me about the martyrdom discussion is that it doesn't really acknowledge the fact that most people like to feel like their work is appreciated. And yes, motherhood involves a lot of work, some of which is hard and dirty and not a lot of fun. Motherhood also involves sacrifice, which is another thing that people generally like to have appreciated.  Our culture can pretend all it wants that motherhood only adds to your life, but I disagree. I gained a lot from becoming a mother, but I lost a lot, too. Basically, a lot of parenting comes down to subjugating my own wants to my children's needs, in large ways and small. I call that sacrifice. You may not truly understand the sacrifices you're signing up for when you decide to have a child. I certainly didn't. But that's not the kid's fault, and most parents recognize that and try to do right by their child.

The thing is, sometimes that sacrifice comes easily and you don't really mind. But sometimes, it really stings. You suck it up and do whatever it is that needs doing anyway, because that is part of the job you signed up for, and you want to raise your child "right". Most of the benefit of that accrues to the child and to the parents, but a non-negligible part of the benefit accrues to the rest of society, too. Society has a stake in us parents doing a good job and raising our children to be good citizens.

I don't think that wanting to have that work and sacrifice acknowledged and appreciated is the same as being a martyr. But if we think about it, who is going to acknowledge it? I don't expect my kids to do so yet. In fact, I don't really want them to even know about some of the biggest sacrifices I make right now. Right now they are very young, and I want them to exist in their happy little world where parents always love their children and take good care of them, and where the happiness and love that they take for granted is every child's birthright. In short, I want them to live in the world I wish we had. There is time enough as they get older for me to explain how the world really is.

Don't get me wrong: my kids occasionally give me cookies- in fact, lately, Petunia has been literally giving me candy, as she empties out her Halloween bucket. She loves opening candies, but doesn't like eating any candy except gummy bears, so she gives the candy to me. Their awarding of cookies is mostly accidental, though. I get big hugs and genuine smiles. I get the second-hand pride in seeing them learn something new and I get the warm fuzzies when Pumpkin does something to help Petunia out or Petunia gives Pumpkin an unprompted hug- but that is not the same as appreciation. They don't have the context for that yet. To be honest, I don't think I really, truly appreciated all the things my parents did for me until I had my own kids. In fact, I may still have more to learn. I suspect the teenage years will be another revelation for me. (By the way, thanks, Mom and Dad!)

So maybe my husband should acknowledge my work and sacrifice? Sure. But I also need to acknowledge his, and neither of us has any energy to award the other cookies on a regular basis just for being parents.

What about the rest of the world? Well, fat chance. Honestly, I'm happy if I just get benign neglect from the rest of the world. More likely, I'll get told I'm doing this parenting thing all wrong- sort of the opposite of giving me a cookie. The rest of the world is Swiper, coming to swipe my cookies (Swiper! No Swiping!) I think that is wrong, and wish it would change, but in actual fact it isn't going to change, so I'd be smart to not let that get me down.

So do I just have to do without cookies? I thought about this some more while I was out walking today, and I realized that Gretchen Rubin has it right in her original Happiness Project book. If I want cookies, I need to make them for myself. (She frames it as gold stars, but while those are less fattening, cookies are yummier.) I can appreciate my own hard work and sacrifices. I can acknowledge to myself that this parenting thing is hard, and then give myself the cookies I want in payment.

I could go further. There are other things I do that involve work and/or sacrifice on my part, but which I do because I think they are the right thing to do or because I think that doing them will in some small way make the world a better place. No one else is likely to give me cookies for a lot of those things, either.  I may never even know if they do, in fact, make the world a better place. I can acknowledge the effort to myself, though, and that should be enough.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't appreciate other people's sacrifices and acknowledge that they are making the world better. In fact, this line of thought made me more conscious of the things that other people do for which I'm grateful but rarely acknowledge. Thank you, garbage men, for taking my stinky trash away. Sorry about the diaper smell. Thank you, roadworkers, for clearing the debris to the side of the road so that no one runs over it and has an accident. Thank you, office cleaners, for removing the dust that makes me sneeze. Thank you, police officers, for dealing with the ugliness in the world so that I can mostly ignore it. Thank you, admins at work, for handling all that crappy paperwork.

I'll be happier, though, if I can find a way to let go of my desire to have someone else appreciate the things I do, and just appreciate them myself. I need to make my own damn cookies.

23 comments:

  1. Very nicely written.. i will try to rember this on hard and trying days that being-a-parent brings often to u. :)

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    1. I've been dating my girl for 5 years and we have just broke up because she told me she likes someone else but she say she still loves me... the next week she left the house and said she needs to find herself??? and i wanted her to be with me by living were i live, forget about her ex's, having a good job and being in a healthy relationship which leads to marriage and kids. but she was planning to leave me since and when i knew about her plan i gave her space maybe she will come back?? but if she didn't then i had to find help, a spell caster to help me bring her back so i did contacted i was giving this usa number +15036626930 and this email address dr.marnish@yahoo.com after 3 days of casting his spell my girlfriend returned back to crying to me that she will never make a step without me again, that she will always love me till death. i am still surprised how dr.marnish did the love spell
      Tremeeka from France

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  2. I love Gretchen Rubin's "The Happiness Project," too. She nailed it - her ideas have really stuck with me, particularly what I think is Rubin's main unstated premise: we're all responsible for our own happiness. Which is in sharp contrast, of course, to the whole notion of the unfortunate "martyr" label, where it seems like we're saying it's wrong for mothers try to somehow make their children and spouses responsible for the mother's own personal sense of happiness.

    I confess I'm of two minds about this. As a feminist, calling another woman out for being a "martyr" feels uncomfortable for me. I also struggle with the fact that the term "martyr" is usually left undefined.

    By "mother as martyr" I think we mean a mother who makes a sacrifice that was not absolutely necessary: i.e. the mother chose to give up something of herself, perhaps in order to subconsciously prove the point that the work she's doing as a mother has value - against the backdrop of a society that devalues mothering yet paradoxically holds mothers accountable for anything child-related that could possibly go wrong. So the martyr acts out, instead of using a healthier coping strategy like verbalizing her understandable desire for some validation (that you have so well articulated here and that I believe most mothers feel).

    I probably do believe the popular narrative that when mothers truly give up something big, unnecessarily, for their kids, the end result can be damage (and it's the potential damage to the kids that concerns us most as a society, right?). Is the real test the necessity of the sacrifice?

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    1. I guess the hard thing is figuring out what's necessary. Something that seems frivolous/pointless to me may turn out to be essential to some other mother's method for making her kids feel secure and loved. And I know that there are things I do that seem important to me but that other parents think are silly. Maybe we just need to work at challenging our own assumptions about what we need to do, so that when we make a sacrifice at least WE are sure that it is a necessary one. I don't know.

      On Rubin- there is something in her style of writing that makes me think I only sort of liked her books, but like you, I find that the ideas are sticking with me, which is the more important test.

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    2. My training is all about maximizing individual utility functions subject to budget constraints (with all sorts of detail like warm glow or time inconsistent preferences etc.)... so these big break through books by folks like Rubin or Vanderkam are kind of old news to me. I didn't know there was any other way I was supposed to live. On the other hand, The Paradox of Choice made a huge difference in my happiness because it explained how satisficing can be optimal. And Our Babies Our Selves showed me that there are many paths to optimality and a lot of room for slip-ups.

      Rubin's discussion of her home life in The Happiness Project made me uncomfortable, but #2 on the blog says that's just me (and a function of my husband being who he is).

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  3. No comments on this post in general... but DH and DC1 made cookies last night. :)

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    1. Christmas time is the time of the year that my husband makes his awesome Ginger Crunch (a NZ bar cookie). So he'll be making me cookies soon, too!

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  4. Thanks for this post. I think it hits on what I've needed the last four months too (since number 2 was born). For me number 2 is so different. With 1 I was still able to get "cookies" from my husband. With two even when he's home we are both still busy with a child. There's no way for either of us to do things for each other or even compliment one another. That's been a tough adjustment for me. I've got to realize that at this point we are both working our butts off and at the end of the day if we've made it unscathed, that's our cookie for now.

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  5. Cloud, I disagree. I think that society benefits more from our children than the parents. Like I wrote in Insufficient Margin:
    http://badmomgoodmom.blogspot.com/2008/01/insufficient-margin.html
    I am out of the office this morning with a sick future tax-payer; I will reply to your email as soon as I can. Rather than thank me when you collect Social Security and Medicare, please give me your help and understanding now

    Also, http://badmomgoodmom.blogspot.com/2009/04/pet-or-national-treasure.html
    If society benefits from well-educated taxpayers, then who should shoulder the burden of paying for education? What about health and disability insurance and pensions for parents (mostly mothers) who reduce their market work to take on the extra family work? Do we owe them something, too?

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    1. badmomgoodmom, I could totally kiss you for this comment. :)

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    2. I think it depends on whether or not you include "biological success" (i.e., having your genes represented in future generations) as part of the benefit the parents get.

      From a standpoint of immediate "value" (for lack of better term), I agree, society as a whole generally comes out way ahead. But I think the biological urge to propagate our genes is a reasonable part of what drives most of us to have kids, and that "benefit" is purely selfish.

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    3. I don't know if I'd describe fulfilling the biological urge as selfish. I get what you're saying about biological success, but that's not a level of success most of us experience on a conscious level. I don't care at all about the survival of my genes, and I think many people don't. I mean, it is something we do for no reason other than to fulfill it, sure, but it's a deep compulsion, beyond reason, choice, or even pleasure in some cases. (Meaning, we don't do it to be made happy, we do it because we must.) I remember being in my late 20s and I felt *taken over* by the desire to have a baby. It seemed to come from outside myself. I agree this is why everyone has a baby ultimately - we can pretty it up with other reasons, but at the end of the day, we procreate for the same reasons we breath, eat, have sex, feel, think, connect with each other - it's part of being human (which isn't to suggest that *not* feeling the biological urge isn't human, it's all within the range of normal. It's just that most of us do feel it).

      I've never cared for the future taxpayer argument. I think it's simpler - society benefits when we support families because the fewer people that fall into poverty, crimes, and despair, the better for everyone. We all succeed or fail together. That's what being in a society means, fundamentally, and humans are always going to be social animals. We need each other. We will procreate. Ergo, we nee to create policies that support families, whatever shape they take.

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  6. Hmmm. I'm currently rereading "Don't Shoot the Dog" (which I recommend), therefore find myself thinking that what we need is not cookies, but tiny dog treats (mom treats, in this case) delivered at the optimal moment (but somewhat randomly, i.e., not 100% of the time) for positive reinforcement. Along with some other stuff relating to appropriately timed reinforcement of all sorts. Now to figure out how to ensure their delivery.

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  7. Actually, I think occasional reinforcement from one's partner is important, and pretty simple to provide. We've developed a habit of saying "thank you for making dinner" (and it can be a really basic dinner!) or "thank you for giving me a break while you read with Monkey" or whatever. It totally makes a difference to me, and it reminds me that we're both making efforts to parent in ways we believe in/maintain household routines in ways we believe in (like eating dinner together)... and it's work! Simple acknowledgements don't have to take "too much energy." And one's parenting partner is possibly the one other person best positioned to recognize the effort involved. But yes, it can't be the only way to get cookies.

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    1. Reading this post, I was thinking along the same lines - if we need "cookies", why not ask our partner to give them to us and, in turn, make sure we appreciate them as well. I have the "Five Love Languages" book in my To Be Read pile - I think that knowing what type of appreciation would speak most to you and your partner could be helpful as well.

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  8. Have thought a lot about this post, because I really did not identify with it but wasn't sure why. I do not feel the need for additional outside praise. But is that because I'm internally motivated, or because I get plenty of praise at home (having trained both husband and oldest child in the art of "thank-yous"). Would I do laundry or cook dinner without praise? Would I be satisfied with the fruits of my creation my self?

    I want to say I would... but my revealed preference says something else. When I haven't been praised yet, I will announce, "I did the laundry" or ask "How was dinner?" Thus fishing for praise. Obviously it drives my ability to do mundane chores (and my one form of artistry-- cooking). But I have no shame in demanding cookies from my family.

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    1. I had the same reaction! I was reading and thinking, Huh, I don't relate to this, and I tried to figure out why for a long time. I'm not afraid to demand cookies, but for me, I'm just internally motivated. The cookies that I get are from the experience of managing my life well - I'm not yelling at the kids, we are calm and happy, I am parenting the way I want, I get to see their faces light up. My house is clean and orderly. Warm pretzel rolls cooling on a rack. That's where I get my pleasure and self-satisfaction. I think ultimately that I don't really crave praise that much. (Then again, I know how much my husband appreciates me, and he tells me so every once and a while.I couldn't do it feeling totally unsupported.)

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  9. From reading these comments, it has become clear I should have made this post even longer, and given examples of the sorts of things I think I need to just thank myself for.

    My husband and I do thank each other for a lot of the things: "thanks for cleaning up the front yard, it looks really nice." "Thanks for picking up the kids so I could work late." "Thanks for folding the laundry." Etc. And my kids do say thanks for the things my husband and I do, when they are the sorts of things kids notice.

    But there is another level of sacrifice that I absolutely do not want my kids to know about, and that it is more awkward to acknowledge with a quick thanks. For instance:

    I am heavier and less healthy than I want to be, because fitting the amount of exercise I should get into our schedules has proved to be logistically challenging. There are solutions to that, and we're working to find ones that will work. But when push came to shove, I postponed my long term needs to meet the short term needs of my kids. I do not want my kids to know that (talk about a guilt trip!) and my husband has done the same thing. I guess we could thank each other for getting out of shape, but that wouldn't really be adequate. It is more that we each appreciate the priority the other one places on giving the kids the time and attention they need.

    Another example: Petunia is in an extreme mommy phase at bedtime. This is hard on me, because her bedtime can eat up my entire evening. This is hard on my husband, because he really, really wishes he could get more Petunia snuggles. I thank him for always doing the dishes (since I'm always finishing Petunia's bedtime). He thanks me for doing the bedtimes. But those thanks are a bit hollow- they don't get at the real sacrifices being made. We both would prefer to just fix the problem. Unfortunately for us, the fix that is consistent with our parenting values is to work slowly on changing Petunia's preferences and to just wait for the phase to end.

    Switching to work: my team doesn't work long hours, and we still get a lot done. A lot of people have a hand in this- not the least, my excellent team, whom I thank frequently. But it is also made possible by the fact that I put a lot of effort into planning our projects. I also absorb the last minute panic requests from my less organized upper management as much as I can. I rarely get any thanks me for this. You could argue that my cookies are my paychecks, and to an extent, you'd be right. But the project planning is only a part of my job, and a lot of other middle managers at the same level as I do don't do it, and they seem to get the same rewards. So I don't do it because I get paid. I do it because I think it is the right way to be a manager. But I need to just accept that actual cookies for doing this work- some of which is not fun at all- are only going to come from me.

    I don't know if that explains things better or not. @Erin and @Nicoleandmaggie- it is great that you are already to the place I need to get to!

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    1. Given those examples, I think I am both more lazy and more selfish than you are.

      With or without kids, I'm just not going to put a lot of effort into exercising. With kids my eating is healthier than without.

      I am not a happy camper when sleep-deprived and I think my family can sense danger when they get me past a tipping point. Suddenly mommy isn't necessary anymore.

      Also: it sounds like it is time for you to ask for a raise.

      My husband is highly feedback motivated and includes praise under feedback. That need for feedback may be part of being human. At work I'm not particularly praise motivated, but that is because I have external benchmarks. It doesn't matter if students love me so long as they learn the material. Editors don't have to praise my work so long as they publish it. And I have my own internal views about which papers are good and which are not.

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    2. I like to exercise! Or at least I do when the exercise fits into certain parameters. The problem of late has been fitting my exercise to those parameters as well as the other parameters enforced by the logistics of the rest of my life

      The work issue goes deeper than money, I think. But I also think the full story of that will have to stay unblogged.

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  10. I think most people are divided into 2 camps, though obviously there is a huge gray area and depends on situations as well, but some people really enjoy/need praise and some people are uncomfortable with it.

    I'm fairly internally motivated when it comes to my goals but I also do appreciate praise. Right now, I'm kind of "making my own damn cookies" because I have to, but I admit it's nicer for someone else to show me some appreciation!

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  11. In the last few years, I have literally thanked my mom and dad for all that they did to raise me. Now that I'm a parent, I realize how hard this gig is and how much I appreciate what my parents did for me.

    Sometimes I need cookies from someone other than my kids and hubby. Sometimes I need sympathetic, understanding, comisserating and appreciation. For that, I usually call my friend and we do this for each other. Just this morning, I told her that Moxie would say (and I agree) that she is a good mom, etc., and then she told me the same. It really did help after a rough morning.

    Actually, I think this is part of why many of us love Ask Moxie. She will regularly reinforce that we are good parents to our kids, she freely gives out verbal cookies to parents who need to hear thanks for making the hard sacrifices and dealing with difficult situations that we often don't want to talk about with our kids or even partners.

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