Do you know the "Martha Stewart of parenting"? She's Isabel Kallman (aka Alpha Mom), profiled in a recent issue of New York magazine. Kallman is the grown-up version of many young women I've known, and she's definitely one of the reasons I left city life behind -- I feared I would either turn into her or wish I had.
But I do agree with her (and Hillary Clinton) about this: It takes a village to raise a child. These days, that village is electronic, like Kallman's new business model.
Unfortunately, her brand of perfectionist self-help only reinforces the frustrations it's meant to resolve:
Her [TV] channel will be like a support group or a church — the church of the immaculate perfection. Goal-oriented parents can go there and find comfort that they're not alone, that others are also struggling to grow the perfect child. They'll be told what to do and what not to do and how to do it better — discover how to boost their newborn's coordination and strength; learn massage that "can help babies eat and sleep better"; hear "research-based explanations of how children separate and attach"; and obtain guidance on "raising overachievers."
And when inevitably they're frustrated in their goals, they'll find programs for that, too: some calm high priestess of motherhood, some Oprah-meets-Martha image of perfection, coming on to absolve them for failing to be perfect today and bolstering their resolve to be more perfect tomorrow. You can do it, the message goes. You can raise "best of breed" children without ever losing your "sense of self." ...
Simply by calling herself and her network Alpha Mom, she presents an ideal and promotes the notion that perfection can be achieved. Isabel ratchets up the tension; more mothers go nuts. The work of Alpha Mom TV, like that of the church, will be to allay the fear it creates.
While I am disturbed by the message(s) she's sending, I do agree that a techno-village is helpful -- that's one of the reasons parenting blogs are so popular.
Seligman connects Waldman's writing to a trend she calls "tell-all motherhood," which owes its modern history, at least in part, to a Salon feature called Mothers Who Think, created and edited by Camille Peri and Kate Moses before blogging had penetrated the parenting world.
And, said [Kate] Moses, in a world increasingly perceived as insecure and polarized, women are looking for a way to connect with each other.
"There seems to be a need to hear voices like these," she said. "I think all the women here are struggling to keep their heads above water and be adequate."
Waldman is part of the wave, or wavelet, of women writing on motherhood, a group that encompasses the Baby Boom generation -- whose sheer numbers create a prism through which everything looks like a discovery. These writers might be more honest and fearless than others before them, but they didn't invent the genre.
The genre, Seligman writes, was created by diarists. You know diaries, they're analog blogs. Blogs are the modern diary, made public.
Ayelet Waldman is writing for Salon now. You can read her essays here.
And finally, mothers are looking not just to connect with ourselves and each other, we want to stay connected to our kids. Katy Read lets technology be the new umbilical cord. She plays video games with her 9-year-old son.
I'm sure I'm not the only parent who, struggling to keep on top of all of this but confronted with a yawning gap between what's ideal and what's practical, winds up drawing a shaky line somewhere in between and hoping for the best.
Like Read, I'm a Beta mom, testing techniques at different stages to see where we'll be at Omega.