messy. crazy. amazing. joyful.

We're not all officially ADHD. Dad's unofficial. Our ten-year-old twins have ADHD. Our seven-year old wants to have it because everyone is always talking about it. Our three year old has ADHD--just because she's three. And me, Mom, I think it's contagious. Who can remain untouched in a house where shoes seem to be lost every morning, instructions are routinely thrown aside, and fights erupt over which continent capybaras come from?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Isolation, Guilt, and Judgment

Here are a few highlights from a communications paper that I wrote on social media and mothering children with ADHD. The paper is 20ish pages long, and no one in their right mind would probably want to read it. (Even I can't read it anymore.) But my research helped me understand why I often feel isolated, guilty, and judged as a mother, especially as a mother of children with ADHD. So here are some  excepts that might be helpful

The Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 80 percent of Internet users search the Web for health information, and a majority of these participants access user-generated health information (Fox and Jones, 2009). People looking for health information do not want just facts and figures from experts but also want to hear about the experiences of others in similar situations. They want to know what others say about medication and treatment, they want to get emotional support, and they want to build awareness around a disease or cause (Sarasohn-Kahn, 2008). This is likely the kind of ADHD information users are seeking when they go to A Mom’s View blog or ADHD Moms.

ADHD is an ideal vehicle for a contemporary rhetorical analysis because of its cultural implications, including its ambiguity and recent detection by the medical community. According to Malacrida, “It is a diagnosis that, since its discovery in the early-to-mid 20th century has engendered considerable controversy regarding its nature and treatment” (2004). Conrad and Schneider tie its legitimacy not to medical research but to “aggressive pharmaceutical marketing strategies” (cited in Malacrida, 2004). Because ADHD in children often manifests itself in behavioral rather than physical problems, the question arises, Is the child misbehaved or suffering from ADHD? The behavioral problems then reflect not only on the child but also on the parents and their inability to control or discipline the child. Malacrida notes that ADHD, “because of its cultural and historical ambiguity, brings mothers into conflict with discourses of good motherhood” (2001).

Motherhood is the final element in this triad of contemporary culture. Though we may think of good motherhood as a static ideal, Medina and Magnuson stated, “The standards for mothering are socially determined and have changed over the past century” (2009). Sharon Hays found that since the 1980s, the standards for good mothering have been escalating into what she calls “intensive mothering.” Intensive mothering is “expert guided, emotionally absorbing, and labor intensive” (1996). Susan Douglas extended this term for the 21st century, defining “new momism,” and said that unlike today’s moms, a mom in previous decades was not expected “to pipe Mozart near her womb so this perfectly tuned child came out, or drill him with flash cards…or expect him to read The Iliad by the time he was four” (cited in Peterson, 2004). If the average mom in today’s culture feels pressure to be a perfect mother, then the mother of an ADHD child feels even more pressure. On top of the demands of new momism, she must find ways to help improve her child’s erratic behavior, do extra work with school and health professionals, make treatment decisions, and create an accommodating environment at home, among other tasks. Moreover, she must shoulder these additional burdens on behalf a child who may not appear to have special needs, and thus, the child’s behavior is unlikely to prompt empathy for the mother, but rather harsh judgment.

But there is a backlash against this ideal of perfect mothering, some of which has been generated through the “mommy blogging” community. Lopez noted that mommy bloggers create a “different picture of motherhood to what we see in the mainstream media.” Through their realistic descriptions of life, “we see women who are frazzled by the demands of their newborn baby, who have no clue what to do when their child gets sick, who suffer from postpartum depression, and whose hormones rage uncontrollably” (2009). These are not the June Cleaver moms of the 1950s, nor are they of the Thelma and Louise extreme ilk. These women fall somewhere in between, trying to be good mothers but acknowledging the realities and difficulties of their role. I compare this to the heroes portrayed in current films. Superman and his superhuman, shiny, happy, persona is not currently quite as popular as the more human, flawed, Batman, whose weaknesses make him more rounded and believable. While the appeal to being a supermom still works as a rhetorical strategy the most up-to-date appeal comes from the realistic, mulitfaceted supermom.
Lopez described the format of blogs as having “the potential to capture this multifaceted portrait” of mothering “in a way that no other medium has been able to accomplish thus far” (2009). Lopez described how mommy blogs show that “motherhood can be overwhelming and exhausting, hilarious and exuberant, dirty and disruptive, all at once.” Mommy blogs differ from other discourse on the web in that they are self-expressive, cathartic, creative, and influenced by the community. Williams’s A Mom’s View blog likely appealled to online moms because it incorporated these elements, in essence, she spoke their language. She likely appealed specifically to ADHD moms because her discourse reflected a concept of mothering that they can relate to: the authentic mom who makes extraordinary efforts but also extraordinary mistakes.

The mommy blogging ideal of the perfect mother does not mean perfect in the sense of flawless but authentic and unapologetic of her role. Lopez noted, “Showing the ugly side of motherhood has the potential to be liberating and beneficial for all women” (2009). This new definition of motherhood is intended to inspire mothers to be their best but free them from the impossible demands of ideal mothering myths. The appeal of this new concept of mothering is especially attractive to mothers of children with ADHD because of the added demands on them and because others may see their child’s problems as an indicator of unacceptable weakness in them (Malacrida, 2004).

Subjects such as ADHD are relevant to current rhetorical theory because they reflect cultural currents. What effect does the $250-billion drug industry have on the legitimacy of this recently discovered condition? Can drug companies and other businesses create an acceptable place on a social networking site? The implications of new concepts of motherhood also relate to ADHD mothers.  Will the ideal of authentic mothering created by mommy bloggers relieve ADHD moms of their guilt, empowering them to make independent healthcare decisions for their children?

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