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Why Science Makes Motherhood Impossible

June 30th, 2010  |  by  |  Published in Uncategorized  |  5 Comments


From the Times’s Motherlode blog:

Researchers at Pennsylvania State University videotaped 39 mothers while they put their infants and toddlers (ages 1 month to 24 months) to bed, and also gathered questionnaire data about how the mothers were feeling at each bedtime and how the babies slept each night.

Physical actions — holding a baby close or nursing him or her to sleep — are, essentially “going through the motions,” the study concludes, and had far less impact on sleep quality than emotional cues. When the mother did those actions while feeling warm and positive, the baby slept well, on average; when the same types of things were done by a mom who was irritable or brusque or distracted, the children were more likely to sleep poorly.

Holy shit. It’s not enough to care for your child. It’s not enough to get the little demon to go to bed. It’s not even enough to love your child despite it all. You have to be in a fricking good mood. Where are they going to find a mother who is, on some level, not “irritated or brusque or distracted”? Tell me. I’d like to find her.

By the way, the article notes that fathers weren’t included in this study because the amount of time we spend putting our children to bed was “statistically insignificant.” Living on my own with JP, I do put him to bed, and we have our little routine, which is usually fun and pleasant—bath, brush teeth, bathroom, in bed, book, song, see ya later—but if I were held to the non-brusque, non-irritated, or undistracted standard, well, I certainly wouldn’t pass muster. And I’ve yet to encounter the mother who would, either.

Of late, I’ve been trying to determine in my head what are some of the common threads that run through the posts on this blog. One of them, it seems clear to me, is an exploration of a motif in the popular culture in which utterly unattainable parenting standards are set, left unmet, and then guilt over said failure is manufactured. I don’t really know where it comes from. Is it a reaction to a two-working-parent society in which children get less time with their parents? An outcropping of our litigious society in which every action has to be contingency-planned, and if something goes wrong, someone has to be held accountable? Or is it just that we don’t have anything better to do with our time than to pick each other apart?


  1. Tim says:

    June 30th, 2010at 10:14 am(#)

    Hmm… pretty much every father I know puts the kids to bed. That’s dad time. The number of times my wife has put the kids to bed is statistically insignificant.

    But I did figure out pretty early that parenting is a great use for my theater degree. It’s a constant game of acting.

    I completely agree with the study, although I don’t agree with the conclusion. I found if I was grumpy and wanted the baby to go to sleep it would never happen. Never. If I controlled my breathing and acted very cheerful and calm (even if I wasn’t) the kid would go to sleep. Acting!

  2. Daddy Files says:

    June 30th, 2010at 11:28 am(#)

    This is bullshit.

    Last night my kid was a train wreck. He was screaming, wouldn’t tell me what he wanted and there was no calming him down. After 25 minutes of craziness I simply left him in his room to tire himself out. Within 5 minutes he was dead to the world.

    Being a parent is not always enjoyable. Some days are great and warm and fuzzy, but other days you just have to do what you gotta do to get by.

    This reminds me of the scene in The Break Up when Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn are arguing, and she says it’s not enough that he does the dishes, he has to WANT to do the dishes. No one WANTS to do dishes, we do them because they have to be done. And that should be enough.

  3. dadwagon says:

    June 30th, 2010at 11:37 am(#)

    Daddyfiles–I agree, although I’m not sure how I feel about the Jennifer Aniston reference. Just saying. –Theodore.

  4. MAtt says:

    July 1st, 2010at 8:01 am(#)

    I’d pin a lot of it on the “two working parents” thing. We spend an awful lot of time intellectualizing about how there’s nothing wrong with it, but primal needs and evolution disagree. A parent should be with the child, always.

    The fact that the economics of our society have gotten so far out of whack that few can afford to have a single income family – that’s the huge problem. There’s a reason one parent staying at home is the traditional model throughout history – it works. It’s not just there for newly enlightened liberal arts majors to scoff at.


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