Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Here's My Mommy Card. Give me a call!

My sister just sent me this article from The Globe & Mail (Canadian newspaper) about "mommy cards"  Here's an excerpt:

In the past few years, "mom cards" of all descriptions have been showing up at baby groups, soccer fields and playgrounds.  Some are printed with cutesy one-liners ("Get your mommy to call my mommy") while others are emblazoned with damask or leopard prints.  But the basic information is the same: the mother's name, phone number and a job title such as Rugrat Wrangler or Annabelle's Mom.

A second-wave feminist may bristle at the notion of a woman labelling herself solely as a caregiver. But the women who use them say the modern-day calling cards celebrate a new identity.
I have thought about getting a "mommy card". Part of me thinks it is definitely a useful tool. I show up at a playgroup, meet some other moms and rather than forcing another mother to pull out her mobile phone with one hand while she balances the baby in the other arm, I just hand her my "mom card".

The other part of me would feel like an idiot handing them out. "My name is Caroline and I'm a mom. That's what I do."

Hmmm. This would go down especially strange with the French mamans who I meet here all the time. They are expatriates who have come to Madagascar owing to their husband's work and, although (generally) they are not working at the moment, I think the idea of a mommy card would make them cringe. I understand their point of view. Being a mother is something that I AM, whether I am working in an office, teaching English, or with my kids. It is not something that I DO. It is not my profession, or my hobby, or my side job. I wouldn't give myself the professional title of "mom" anymore than I would call myself "wife to the Frenchman", "Canadian", "woman" or even "human being".

Which brings me to an interesting cultural difference in parenting and identity. If you ask a North American stay-at-home mom what she does for a living, her response may well be "I'm a mom". Anglo-saxons women don't seem to have a problem with having their maternal role usurping their entire identity, at least temporarily.

The French (and I might add, the Germans and the Italians) would find the response "I'm a mom" to the question of what they do bizzarre because, as I have already noted, you are a mother whether or not you decide to stay at home to look after your children. (How many working dads respond "I'm a dad" when asked what they "do"?). Also, in saying that you are "a mom" to the question of what you "do", you are necessarily describing yourself exclusively in relation to someone else - your children - as if your role in life depended on that. If I answered, "I'm the Frenchman's wife", to the same question, it would seem seem strange and even archaic. Should it not seem equally odd identifying what I do by my status as a mother?

If you ask a French stay-at-home mom (and there aren't that many of them) "what do you do?", she may answer "I have chosen to stay home and look after our children" or "I'm on parental leave" (they get up to three years of unpaid congé parental - not bad) - an accurate description of what she does with her day. But I have never heard the line "je suis mére" to the question of what a French mom does.

So I am ambivalent about getting a mommy card.  The concept goes against my feminist sensibilities but hey, their practicality may outweigh the philosophical considerations.