That Crazy Mother
by Peggy O'Mara,
You know her. She's that woman over there with the
unkempt look, the disheveled hair, the strident voice. She's the one
who's a little too involved with her child, a little too interfering.
Maybe a bit too controlling. She's that crazy mother.
What is it about becoming a parent that turns a
reasonably polite, discreet woman into a guerrilla warrior for her
child? And why is it that no matter how righteous the cause, whenever we
assert ourselves on behalf of our children we must be prepared to do
battle with the crazy mother stereotype within ourselves and in the
minds of others?
With the current prominence of the Children's
Defense Fund and other groups that help children, child advocacy is
coming of age. Our statement of purpose for the magazine includes "Mothering
is ... a fierce advocate of the needs and rights of the child ... "
As a magazine, we can maintain some distance from the issues of child
advocacy that we cover, issues in which the child's side of the story
often is not well understood or not reported. As parents, however, it
takes real strength of character to be advocates for our children,
especially at times when we are either embarrassed or angered by their
behavior or at a loss to understand it.
Even when we don't understand the behavior of our
children, they still deserve respect and advocacy. Our well-meaning but
sometimes insensitive friends may confuse us and make us feel crazy when
they set standards for our children's behavior or ask repeated intimate
questions about their private habits.
Sometimes we find ourselves in social situations
that require impossible compliance by our children or are not
appropriate for their developmental stage. At these times we may appear
crazy and overprotective to others when we shield our children from
experiences we judge to be questionable.
Those of us who have been led by our children into
extended breastfeeding and family sleeping wonder how something that
works so well can be considered so crazy, and yet we feel crazy when we
talk about these things to those who don't understand. Sleep
deprivation, concerns for social deviation, and fear of child ruination
are the stuff of the new parent's initiation. We must do our own thing
with our families in order to create the definitions of a new family. We
are supposed to be crazy, to be different. As young adults we do things
differently than our parents. As new families we do things unique to our
union. Those who are willing to be unique in a culture are sometimes
looked upon as crazy.
The needs of infants and toddlers are so obvious,
and they are so innocent in their demands, that we feel confident
responding to them even if others question us. As our children get
older, however, we may not always understand their needs quite as
easily, or will sometimes have to make decisions that are unpopular with
our children, and may make us look crazy, even to them.
All parents face difficult decisions regarding
infant feeding, newborn testing, circumcision, diapers, nightwaking,
sleeping, vaccinations, and so forth. Some parents also face special
medical situations that require the courage to insist on the integrity
of the child's emotional experience in the face of necessary and
sometimes lifesaving medical procedures.
Successful advocacy rests on holding a position
without being positional. And while we don't always feel we can
compromise where our children's needs are concerned, we can develop a
capacity to insist on our position without insulting others. We can be
persistent. And we can have faith in the best possible outcome, in the
biggest possible picture for our child, and for our child's
We join with others when we protect our children.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child says, among
other things, that "All children's opinions shall be given careful
consideration, and their best interests shall be protected."
Being crazy is not just for moms. Crazy dads
follow in the same tradition. We're crazy any time we take an unpopular
position in a group or support someone or something just because of
love. We're crazy any time we stick up for our children without any
evidence. I can't always control the events of my children's lives, but
now and then I can get all worked up over them with such righteousness
that it's awesome. At those times I realize how fierce and irrational my
willingness to defend my children is, how animal-like, how instinctual.
One feels in this type of attachment part of the greater good.
It's good to be a little bit crazy. A little bit
crazy about your child and willing to get crazy for him or her. I'm sure
there's supposed to be at least one, maybe two people who think you are
the greatest no matter what. Someone who rushes to defend you without
knowing the whole story. Someone who sympathizes even after knowing it.
Someone who is crazy about you. The Crazy Mother's Club is open to both
men and women. You can tell the members by the red badge of courage they
wear barely visible on the lapel. You can also tell them by a certain
gleam in their eye. They are the parents who are willing to get crazy
Excerpted from: Editorial, Mothering Magazine,
Spring 1996, Pages 6-7.
Mothering Magazine: (800) 984-8116, (505) 984-8116
Reprinted with permission.