Rahna Reiko Rizzuto Is Selfish, Not a Bad Mom

In the US it seems like talking about motherhood almost always inevitably leads to a cacophony of platitudes and outright lies. We moms say that these are the "best" years of our lives and that our children are our top priorities. We almost always say that nothing is more important than motherhood. And for the vast majority of us, that may be true.

But that is not true for everyone. So when someone like writer Rahna Reiko Rizzuto comes along with the piece she wrote for Salon this week, we should stand up and take notice. To be honest, it's one of the most important pieces on motherhood I have read in a long time.


Not because I think she was right or even because I necessarily agree with her view of motherhood. No, I think it's important because it's brave. We need mothers to be able to be honest and real and say the things they know everyone will vilify them for thinking.

In the piece, Rizzuto talks about leaving her children to go to Japan for six months to work. In that time, her marriage falls apart and she and her husband must decide how to split custody, which for her becomes obvious:

It raised a little issue for me that I have neglected to mention: I never wanted to be a mother.

She goes on to say that her husband had really wanted to be the parent and so she gives up custody to him. She moves down the street and she parents the only way she can -- from a distance. The children come to see her and she is very involved in their lives, but Donna Reed, she is not.

The commenters (predictably) have had a field day, calling her everything from selfish to evil to narcissistic and beyond. I say she is something else: ridiculously, unequivocally brave.

Guess what? Not all moms feel exactly the same way about motherhood. We aren't all handed some identical set of emotions and feelings and ways to deal with our children, and quite frankly, some of us are better at certain aspects than others. Some men are better suited for the role of primary parent. Is that really so wrong? Rizzuto says:

I had to leave my children to find them. In my part-time motherhood, I get concentrated blocks of time when I can be that 1950s mother we idealize who was waiting in an apron with fresh cookies when we got off the school bus and wasn't too busy for anything we needed until we went to bed. I go to every parent-teacher conference; I am there for performances and baseball games. My former husband is there too.

In this society, we are so quick to call a woman selfish for wanting a space of her own, for pursuing her own desires, and for not always choosing her children first. We have exalted mothers as these bastions of selflessness and we hold them to these standards that would make even Mother Teresa quake beneath her robes. Mothers must never have any desire for themselves, they must never (gasp!) choose their own needs over their child's.

I call BS. I call BS because mothers are people, too. We are not all saints and we all have different ways of expressing ourselves, and that individuality is accepted in almost every other arena BUT motherhood. Was Rizzuto selfish? Maybe. A little. But so what? Why is "selfish" such a bad thing?

As she says:

My problem was not with my children, but with how we think about motherhood. About how a male full-time caretaker is a "saint," and how a female full-time caretaker is a "mother." It is an equation we do not question; in fact we insist on it. And we punish the very idea that there are other ways to be a mother.

I would argue that being overly selfless is its own hell, too. Life is short and love matters, but so do we. Why is it so wrong to say it? In the end, Rizzuto is a mother to her children in the best way she can be. She doesn't abandon them or walk out the door. She just acknowledges her weaknesses and gives them what she is able. That isn't selfish. That is strength. That is what I would like to model for my children. Strength and courage are more important that "selflessness" any day.

Do you think she was selfish? Do you think moms shouldn't be selfish?


Image via emmamccleary/Flickr

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