I've been stroller-free for over a year now.
No, this is not some weird new parenting movement (free-range lite!) or statement of superiority. I’m not comparing my stroller-free life to anyone else, just saying that we don’t need one anymore. The kids are big, and, whether they like it or not, they walk. (Ok, except when I break down and pick up the little one when he whines just loud enough. But then he gets too heavy and down again he goes.)
This morning, looking at moms pushing their babies in strollers, it hit me how far away I am from that. From having a baby, from needing a stroller, from being seen as a comrade to moms with tiny babies.
I remember smiling sympathetically at other moms with strollers and receiving those bolstering smiles in return. It doesn’t really happen to me anymore. It’s a kind of radar, picking up on the presence of another mom of similar aged offspring.
The new moms know I’m not one of them.
When I’m home with my kids now, I usually have a four year old with me—already old by today’s stay-at-home mom standards, but I’m also the mom of an almost seven-year-old, which makes me ancient in middle-of-the-day-mom years.
Being a stay-at-home mom with an infant is a world apart from staying at home when your kids hit preschool. The herd thins as the kids grow older. More and more moms go back to work with every passing year.
(Do I really have to say something in support of working moms here? And then say something in support of stay-at-home moms, too? Can we just assume I did that?)
There's an arguably strong culture of moms with babies who don't hold jobs, but it's a culture that's not sure what to do about moms of older kids.
It’s lonelier when the kids get older. I wonder what I’m still doing here. Feminist crises of confidence happen with regularity. Despite that, I have chosen to be home for one more year, to send my littlest off to kindergarten before finding another job, and I’m good with that.
But sometimes I miss the days when my first was a baby and I had a whole posse of mom-friends at-home with me. We were mostly first-time moms, but there were two moms who had second kids who were about 5-years-old at the time. Now that every one of those posse moms has had a second baby, we’ve looked back at the things we talked about, obsessed over, worried about, waxed poetic about… and thanked those two moms profusely for how merciful they were with us. We must have sounded so insufferable sometimes, thinking we had any idea what we were doing.
Aside from being mercifully quiet when we were insufferable, they were also a font of wisdom.
New moms have so many anxieties that can be vanished in an instant with a few words by moms who have been there, done that. Everything from breastfeeding advice to the reassurance that all children do eventually sleep better than newborns to saying out loud that it being a mom doesn't make every fiber of your being glow, we need to hear it.
And I don’t know how to say this without it sounding like a swan song to the days when fewer women worked, though I really wish I could figure out how to do that, because I don’t mean it that way at all, but…
It’s hard not to feel like we’re missing our village elders.
New moms are great for other new moms for those “yes, me too” moments, but sometimes it would be nice to see the view of a wider horizon. The horizon can be so small when you’re all new to everything. It’s not just that moms with little kids are working a lot more than a generation or two ago, but those little kids' grandmothers are working, too. So, they aren't around to be old moms either.
Or maybe it’s more than that. Maybe there’s a sense from our moms that today's grandmothers can’t share their wisdom, can't tell us what to do, in the same way that their mothers may have felt more comfortable. Moms of the Greatest Generation—it’s in the name!—seem to have had a stronger sense that there was *a way* to be a mom. It seems like they would have, for better and worse, taught that to their daughters, along with the breastfeeding and sleeping and the rest.
Of course, their daughters were among the first generation of moms not to listen, to look beyond tradition, for different ways to be a mom. It’s easy to see how it might not be in the Baby Boomer grandparent DNA to tell their daughters how to raise kids in the same way as it would have been for post-depression era parents, who had less doubt about passing along the “right way” to do things.
This is all really good stuff—the loss of one right way to be a mom, to be a woman. No one is arguing for a way-back-machine for motherhood. It just has this side-effect of lonely "old" moms and of new moms living with anxieties that could be lifted with more support from other moms.
After my second kid was born and I had to admit something was seriously wrong, I started going to a postpartum depression moms group. I remember the first time I went, telling my story, sharing what I felt like were confessions that I was a total failure as a mom, crying my eyes out. A few years later, I still go to that group, because moms with depression and anxiety need support and that’s where I found it.
There’s a group of women who are called “veteran moms” in the group who sit and listen to those crying new moms on their first visit. And this will sound like an exaggeration, but I have seen it enough times now to know it’s true. When they tell their story, and the veteran moms echo them, “Yup. Been there. Done that,” I swear you could do a scientific study: 50% of the weight is lifted. You can see it in their faces, hear it in their breathing—they are not alone. And the hard work of mothering is easier when we do it together.
Old moms are good like that. So, how do we rebuild a village of old moms, one that works for this world today? This world where women have more options and we’re glad for it, but also this world where parents have more anxiety and we need to do something about it?