In Defense of Momzilla

Do My Children Look Miserable? Exactly.

Do My Children Look Miserable? Exactly.

As new mothers learn, there are two approaches to parenting. You either emulate your own mother’s attitudes and style, or you run in the opposite direction.

My mother, God rest her soul, grew up with very little and it seemed to suck the joy from her being. She was competent and responsible, but never gave the impression that she liked the job.

So I knew when I had my own family I would write a different playbook. I would be nurturing, supportive and involved. Relentless in boosting my children’s confidence. I’d yell and punish when the situation warranted it, but I would also live for their laughter.

Did I expect an award for this unconditional love? Hardly. But I did get life’s grand prize. A son and two grown daughters who are making their mark on the world through their careers, relationships and acts of giving. Truly, I can see evidence of my investment in them and am delighted with the return.

So imagine my surprise when I was interviewed for an article in the New York Times about mothers and daughters that are very close, and it created a firestorm of criticism. Oh no! I’m worse than a Tiger Mom. I’m a Momzilla!

At least according to the snarky haters and sanctimonious experts who mouth off on the Internet: #digitaldouches.

It started innocently. The article was intended as a fun look at moms who are so attached to their adult daughters, they hope/expect to be invited to their bachelorette parties.

So happens I did tease my daughter, Alex, about joining her bridal party and friends in Bloomington, IN when she  celebrated last fall. I am an IU alumni, too, as is my younger daughter, and it is just my happy place. But truly had she chosen Vegas or the Bahamas, it would never have occurred to me to be there. I’m not a drinker or a party girl and a big night out is when I can stay up past eleven.

They left without me? Yes!

They left without me? Yes!

So I repeat. My being on the guest list was never a real consideration, just something we joked about. And unlike the other mother featured in the article, who not only went to Vegas, but planned the whole weekend, I stayed home and stalked Facebook photos. Not to pine for the party that got away. To enjoy my daughter’s happiness.

Toasting Alex with Coffee is How I Roll

Toasting Alex with Coffee is How I Roll

But in my heart, I understood why the possibility appealed to me.

I got married at 22 without any wedding fanfare. In fact, barely a wedding at all. My parents were unhappy with my choice of mate (“Oy! He’s a New Yorker. A shanda!”) and bet on my divorcing him as soon as I realized my huge mistake. That’s why they were only willing to spring for a garden ceremony in the courtyard of our family synagogue along with a small backyard reception. Somewhere there are pictures.

And were they right? Thankfully not. Lee and I will be celebrating our 38th wedding anniversary this month and have a made a wonderful life together that remains strong and vibrant. We count ourselves among the lucky who made it this far and still enjoy each others company. Not every day, but that’s for a different post.

Meanwhile, I shared with the NY Times writer that when my daughter got engaged, unlike my mother who wanted no part of the festivities, I was beyond excited and happy. A child’s marriage is a milestone for the parents, too. Proof that you raised ’em right because they can love another human being, maybe even more than themselves.

Not so according to the haters. Though the article has yet to appear in print (it will run in this Sunday’s Style Section), the digital version was posted two days ago and has resulted in a massive pileup of finger-pointing. It also spawned a second article/attack on Jezebel, mostly towards me.

The consensus? I am a horrible, overbearing, pushy mother who can’t back off or let my daughter live her own life. Clearly I will have to take responsibility when her marriage ends because I have imposed my demands. Also, I need to get past my own wedding disappointment and stop living vicariously through her. And on and on.

Not buying it. Alex and I adore each other. Laugh together. Shop together. Talk about life, love, jobs, sports, movies, books, music, celebrities and hair, but of course we don’t share everything. There are boundaries and we’ve never been confused about our roles. We are neither friends nor sisters. We are a mother and daughter who honor, respect and love each other for who we are.

Our relationship, and the ones I enjoy with her brother and sister, have far exceeded my expectations of motherhood. And while I wish that I’d enjoyed a similar relationship with my own mother, I came to appreciate that she did the best she could. She loved and respected me, thought I was the funniest person on earth, and though we didn’t pal around, she honored me most by letting me be me.

My hope for the haters who are certain that they will define motherhood differently, is that one day they will be as blessed as me. Plus, I can go back to Bloomington with my daughters any time. Maybe they’ll even buy me a drink at Nicks.


Want to read the NY Times article and weigh in?



Lorraine Devon Wilke says:

Saralee, that article and the snarky response of some really poked a snake for me. But then again, those online who seem to find something to troll about no matter what the topic are, I’ve learned, only to be ignored. I did, however, leave a comment at the NYTimes I thought you might enjoy it… (and rock on, sister, don’t ever let the trolls get to you):

“Like everything else in our pugilistic 2.0 world, parenting is as divisive and contentious for some as politics and religion, proven by the spectrum of comments here and online. No one, I repeat, NO ONE, has the quintessential playbook on how anyone else (besides them) should parent. Stereotypes and generalities have no bearing on the individual relationships that evolve within a family. Not every parent who is close to an adult child is a “helicopter parent,” a snarky label thrown around like the latest hashtag. Nor is their motivation necessarily “to prove they’re still young” (how condescending, Ms. Gilbert!). Perhaps it’s just that they enjoy that adult child as they would any person to whom they’re close..and happen to like a good party!

“Amongst feeling, sentient adults, it’s no more “ugh” for sisters 20 years apart to be friends than a parent and adult child who happen to click as compatriots. The idea that anyone– parent or otherwise — has to “step away” or “behave” a certain way based on age or generational differences is nothing more than good old creaky ageism. And certainly something that should have no bearing on social and familial choices.

“How about we leave judgment and presumption to the trolls on social media, and allow that every person, every family, has their own dynamics? And even, perhaps, celebrate that SOME parents and children have transcended the weary cliches to emerge as very good friends. That seems something to aspire to, not denigrate.”

Arlene Shaw says:

I could not agree more with the well written comments of Lorraine Wilke. I wrote a long cathartic reply and realized I was reinventing the wheel. Whether life, politics, weddings, whatever, too many people these days have an opinion and are very quick to judge and criticize the actions and opinions of others. I have learned to ignore the flood of judgments and opinions (especially political ones!) What a different world ours would be if judging others were to stop. I want a bumper sticker that says, “Your way is not the only way.” Keep writing.. I enjoy your talent!

Harriet says:

Wanting to be a parent was important to me and so my infertility was devastating. I was elated with the adoption of our 2 children. Do they sometimes feel a disconnect? Absolutely! And so do bio children. But we are very close and they know that I will do anything for them at any time. Their friends appreciate me for who I am for all of them. They know they can always come to me for advice, good or bad. And, so for those who think they know better, sorry, no one knows better and that includes friends and family who have no children and love to give parenting advice. Enough said. xxxooo

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