-Henry, it’s time to go bed.
-No! I don’t wanna go to bed!
-Come on sweetie, it’s late already. I’ll tuck you in.
-I said I don’t wanna go to bed! Why do you always make me do things I don’t want to do?!
Boy brings out large kitchen knife he had been hiding under the bed and slashes mom with it.

Extreme? yes indeed- this is a little scene from Law and Order: SVU, and Henry is a very disturbed little boy who progresses from slashing his mom to setting his sister his sister on fire and taking his playmate as a hostage in an armed fight with NYPD. Another every day for NYPD, the stuff of horror movies and terror for us Ordinaries.

But the lines of dialogue quoted above are distressingly familiar- little snatches of conversation we recite with our kids, as line-perfect as Shakespearean actors, a thousand times a day. As my children stepped out of early infancy, and began developing their own mind and personalities, it dawned on me that the joyous world of parenting, and in particular motherhood, is one of constant ordering about and timekeeping. Now you need to do this. Now we need to do that. Now we’re going there. Ten more minutes. Five more minutes. Now we have to do this. Now eat this. No, don’t eat that. This. This all grates down your soul.

For some magical miraculous mysterious reason, men of our generation usually get a free pass on this. In past generations, fathers were usually seen as the stern one, the one who must be obeyed, the disciplinarian. Certainly in my own birth family it was like that. Somewhere along the line, we decided it would be a good idea to switch roles- fathers took on the fun role, moms became the meanies who had to order and boss everyone around. See, for cultural reference, Modern Family, Malcolm in the Middle, and each and every family you know around you.

I felt a sneaking sympathy with Henry the psychopath- after all, haven’t my own children cried out those words to me, in one form or another, pretty much constantly over the last 10 years? You’re always making us do what we don’t want to. You’re always stopping us from doing what we want to.

How did this happen? At what point did motherhood become a giant policing exercise? Where did we get all these rules and activities from which need to rigorously enforced by mothers?


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