That's a question which came my way today from someone who heard me speak about maternal depression earlier this week at Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C. (in connection with my new book, The Ghost in the House: Motherhood, Raising Chioldren and Struggling with Depression). It was a skeptical question, posed by a friend who is a member of my parents' generation, and it came in response to my contention that mothers today are swimming in a sea of stress that exceeds anything their own mothers had to put up with. Here's what I told him:
"Harder in some ways, not as hard in others. My mother's generation (yours and Eda's generation) worried about polio, or how in the world they'd possibly earn enough money to support the kids if hubby got run over by a Mack truck, since the only jobs they could easily get were teacher, nurse or secretary. Mothers of my day don't have to worry about stuff like that (well, money worries spring eternal)--but on the other
hand we do have to worry about what their kids are going to encounter on the Internet, whether they will stop giving multiple choice tests in school long enough for the kids to actually learn anything, and how to get it through their boss' concrete-block head that children are NOT A HOBBY and that real human beings of any gender should not be expected to put in 60-plus hours a week under the threat of having their jobs exported to some guy in Bangladesh named Raju. They also can't shoo their kids outside to play and go put their feet up for half an hour sans guilt, the way my mother did, either. The local Motherhood Committee would be on them like a duck on a Junebug for not spending 'quality time' with their kids. I am already on the "watch" list for the local Motherhood Committee for forcing--forcing!--my kids to walk to school. If they ever find out that I'm actually in here smokin' weed all
day, I'm done for."
Well, okay, I was joking about the weed (actually, I wish I had some) but that's about as well as I can put it. I'd be interested in seeing what other people think. I don't mean to portray the past as idyllic--my mother had plenty of worries, and her mother had even more, if you consider the fact that she lived in the days before penicillin and was, in fact, killed by a simple case of influenza which turned into pneumonia. So everything is relative.
But in terms of social pressure, the feeling that the standards of being a "good mother" have been racheted up and up and up over the years....yeah, I'd say today's moms face unprecedented pressure. Thoughts, anybody?