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Motherhood – Smarter or More Anxious?

So Which Is It?

By Ann Zeise

Two books have come out recently just in time for Mother’s Day 2005. One claims that motherhood makes us to be more anxious and the other claims motherhood makes us women smarter. Does one necessarily preclude the other?

I have finished Perfect Madness and am about a third of the way through The Mommy Brain, but as Mother’s Day is tomorrow, I was anxious to appear smart and get this essay up online! Where does homeschooling fit into The New Motherhood?Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety

We know too much now about the effects of good and bad parenting, things I didn’t know when raising my children, and things my mother certainly didn’t know. She smoked through her pregnancies and as she was raising us. Me, I was just told in the 70s if I spent “quality time” with my children, that would be enough.

There was lots more support for mothers when I was raising my first child in the 70s. There was a Montessori preschool nearby where I could drop off Sara for two mornings a week. They didn’t even offer full-time childcare! It gave her 5 hours a week to be in a safe educational situation and gave me 5 hours to do something for myself!

We bought our first home for about $18,000 with a mortgage through the veterans, as my first husband had been in the Air Force – before Vietnam! Our house payments equaled a quarter of his take home pay, so there was plenty left over for other things. It was about $175 a month. It had three bedrooms, one bath, a living room with a kitchen and dining space connected to it. It had a garage, and we turned the end of it into a playroom. There were plenty of other mothers of young children in the neighborhood, and we would freely pop in and out of each other’s homes.

In Perfect Madness, Judith Warner points out that there is far less support for American families than ever before, in spite of all the rhetoric to the contrary. The average home is out of reach for most young families, especially those of veterans. Often both parents must work, and so no one gets their needs taken care of: not the parents or the kids. Fights about who gets some time for themselves for self-improvement are common. It is a rather depressing book. If you weren’t anxious before reading it, you would be afterwards!

Homeschool moms are definitely on her list of anxious mothers. Right up there with the breast feeders. Such attention to children must mean we’re anxious that doing the opposite would be somehow “wrong.” We spend too much time bickering over details when the big political battles are being lost. Politically, we’ve been losing. Many families are without sick leave or vacation time. When companies downsize, those who are left just have to pick up the slack and work not only their own job, but the laid off worker’s job as well. Now they really have no time for their kids! work 80 hours a week, or you’ll be next to get the ax! Warner seems at times to want more government programs but also to realize that intrusions into our lives is also not a good thing. Just making it easier to spend more time with each other, raising good kids, seems to be her main point.

Now, The Mommy Brain is for those not intimidated by such statements as…

“When I held my first baby in my arms, my hypothalamus told me This is why you are here!” Quoting Marian Diamond, mother of four and a respected neuroanatomist.

If you can relate to that proclamation, you’ll love this book. Funny, yet ultimately scientific. Katherine Ellison helps us understand ourselves. She points out how hard it is to even do such studies, as it is not politically correct to admit even the possibility that parenthood can affect a woman’s brain.

One test was done on women the day they gave birth, and they didn’t do too well on the intelligence test. Well, DUH! says Ellison, the mothers obviously had more important things to attend to than some silly intelligence test! Motherhood from Day 1 changes the chemical balance in our heads! It forces measurable changes to help us to focus on the needs of our infants.

So, how do you explain how forgetful you seem? It isn’t that you are more forgetful, only that you are better at remembering that your forgot than women who have not had children. They forget things, too, only they forget that they forgot!

She compares a study done with monks and mothers regarding their social intelligence. Both groups routinely exercise positive emotions, such as love and compassion. Your love for your child cultivates “smart” emotional and social behavior. Mothers really can be compared to saints at times!

Motherhood teaches us how to be extremely efficient experts at time management. Every once in awhile our Chamber of Commerce will have some speaker come in to talk about how to motivate sales. I’m sitting their thinking, “Well, DUH! This is no different than selling a reluctant teenager on studying algebra!”

Homeschool moms tell me all the time that they learn so much! They may have started homeschooling wondering how they’ll ever teach their kids the “hard stuff,” but then wind up in the habit of just staying a chapter ahead all along, so that when the time comes for quadratic equations or physics, it is “no problemo!” Desperate to find resources for their young, homeshcool moms were probably the first women to use the internet extensively. I started this site in 1994, having to learn how to set up a First Class BBS system first. There are those who even pre-date this!

Motherhood teaches us to multitask, and homeschooling moms often find themselves not only taking full responsibility for educating their children, but often also running a home business, and suddenly finding themselves leading some kind of homeschool resource such as a website, a support group, a newsletter or message group. Then they find themselves to be speakers and authors, or managing conferences to which a thousand people attend! Motherhood made them competent and smart. Homeschooling gave them the venue to give back!

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