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It Takes Over a Village: Calling Out American 'Mommyism'

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This essay originally appeared in StepMom magazine and is excerpted from "Small Things Considered: Moments from Manliness to Manilow".
 

"Excuse me," the mommy said, tapping my sister-in-law Jessica just below her shoulder tattoo. They were in a trendy frozen yogurt shop called Let's Yo! which was packed to the gills with sticky-faced children and stroller-pushing parents.

Jessica was sitting in a small cushioned chair, minding her own low-fat mango mix. The mommy was holding the hand of a small child who coughed frequently into a cup piled high with gummi worms.

"Would you mind..." the mommy started saying, her tone clearly implying "We both know you shouldn't mind..."

"...giving up your seat so my son can sit next to his friend?"

Jessica (who's been through a scrape or two in her life) looked at the boy to her left. He wore a chocolate-stained expression that clearly said: "Why is this taking so long?"

Jessica then turned back to the mommy.

"Yes," she said.

"Yes?"

"Yes, I do mind," Jessica said, loudly enough for everyone in the store to hear.

Jessica got every stank eye in the place, but if there's one thing my sister-in-law does incomparably well, it's stick up for herself.

The last time I looked, no rule of law expressly grants a child or mommy higher-class rights. But we live in a world where mommies -- specifically, mothers of school-aged children -- are a coveted subclass, particularly in suburbia.

The coveters include advertisers, politicians, salespeople, media executives, marketers, schools, supermarkets, movie theaters, restaurants, toy stores, shopping malls, focus groups, local newspapers, TV characters, fellow mommies, complete strangers and anyone who's made way for a stroller.

Mommies are also the dominant female model in the eyes of children, sending a strong message that motherhood is vital to womanhood, and that mommies make the world go 'round.

To some -- mommies, mostly -- those are hardly controversial suggestions. But I want my daughters to grow up feeling vital and empowered based on what's inside them, not on what comes out. I want my son to recognize women as inherently whole and complete, without regard to their present or potential offspring.

The two childless stepmothers in my kids' lives provide their only real-life models for such wider thinking. But women who are stepmoms get short shrift, including a label that -- more than anything -- makes it abundantly clear what they are NOT. Why does a father's new wife need to be contextualized in relation to the mother at all? It not only forcefully applies a comparison, but instantly declares a winner.

To be clear, I have nothing against mothers. My mom was one, I was married to one, and there are a number of them in my close and extended family. But mommyism -- the exercise and expectation of mommy glorification -- is something else, for which a bit of resistance is sometimes required.

So I applaud what Jessica did. Not only that, I posted it on Facebook. It garnered five comments -- three were strongly on her side, one said I'm anti-family and one simply said he hates frozen yogurt.

Raising children may "take a village," but it may also threaten to take one over. In the end, parenthood is a private, singular sacrifice. We didn't all have your baby, so we owe it -- and you -- nothing. When bystanders do nice things for kids and mommies, they're favors, not requirements.

To those adults who put their own lives and happiness before parenthood, this father says: More power to you. You too deserve stick-figure enshrinement on a minivan's back window.

To parents who feel entitled to step ahead of the child-free - at the frozen yogurt store or anywhere else -- I offer this hard-and-fast rule from your own childhood. Surely, you remember it:

"No cutting!"

 
A nationally-published essayist, Joel Schwartzberg is the remarried father of a 15-year-old son and twin 12-year-old girls, and the author of the award-winning "The 40-Year-Old Version: Humoirs of a Divorced Dad" and the just-released "Small Things Considered: Moments from Manliness to Manilow".