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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 24, 2007

'Beta Moms' drop the juggling act

By Sharon Jayson
USA Today

Self-described Beta Mom Kathleen Falk, 35, plays with her son Andrew, right, and daughter Lauren in their St. Louis home.

Tim A. Parker, Gannett News Service

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Rene Syler, author of "Good-Enough Mother," says you know the "good enough" label fits when you have:

  • Bought something from the grocery store, removed the plastic wrapping and passed it off as your own at the school bake sale.

  • Used a stapler to hem your daughter's pants as she's walking out the door for school.

    Anne Dunnewold, author of "Even June Cleaver Would Forget the Juice Box," offers these mama mantras:

  • Parenting is not a contest.

  • There are no perfect mothers.

  • I can live with this.

  • So what?

    A blogger who calls herself Beta Mom says you know you're one if:

  • You have lost all copies of your school directory.

  • Ditto, child's report card before signing it.

  • Ditto, karate uniform.

  • Ditto, credit card.

  • Three or more of the props you made for the fifth grade's Walk Through the American Revolution have been rejected or redone because they were not authentic enough.

  • You are reading this after 3 a.m.


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    There's a backlash brewing among the Other Mothers. They, too, love their kids and want to raise them right.

    But unlike the much-hyped Alpha Moms, whose desire to be The Perfect Mom sometimes leads them to excess in the name of excellence, the laid-back mothers are gaining ground.

    "It's a different version of the Mommy Wars," says Sharon Hays, a sociology professor at the University of Southern California-Los Angeles.

    The original Mommy Wars focused on the ideological battle between stay-at-home mothers and mothers in the work force. This newest skirmish is more about personal parenting styles.

    Alphas are educated, can-do types whose organizational skills bring a corporate mentality to their parenting and a technological agility to their problem-solving.

    But sociologists, including Melinda Forthofer of the Institute for Families in Society at the University of South Carolina-Columbia, say there's no evidence Alphas are actually better mothers.

    And now an anti-Alpha movement is taking hold. Those moms have it together sometimes. They may forget to send back permission slips or lose track of their turn for team snacks. Some call themselves Beta Moms or even Slacker Moms as they urge their peers to chill.

    Some, including former CBS TV news anchor Rene Syler, have written books advising the Alphas to lighten up.

    "Our children are people not projects," says Syler, 44, of Westchester County, N.Y. "Motherhood is not a contest."

    "We get to the finish line. It's OK to ... let your kids be independent, and individuals, and revel in who they are," says Syler, author of "Good-Enough Mother: The Perfectly Imperfect Book of Parenting," with Karen Moline (Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2007, $22.95).


    Amy Nobile, 38, of Kentfield, Calif., co-author of "I Was a Really Good Mom Before I Had Kids," with Trisha Ashworth (Chronicle, 2007, $18.95) says interviews with more than 100 mothers nationwide for the book found women are "really judging themselves very harshly."

    "We heard this over and over again. It didn't matter what state, whether they were a stay-home or working mom and had one child or five," says Nobile, the mother of two preschoolers.

    Psychologists say mothering styles are a product of social pressures interacting with a woman's own personality, so that some can resist these cultural prescriptions, while others accede to them.

    Daphne de Marneffe, a clinical psychologist from Corte Madera, Calif., says some people handle parental anxiety by becoming very task-oriented.

    "There's an illusion that you can control who your child will become if you do all the right things, but that's a problematic illusion because parenting is about discovering who your child is and fostering their growth and development as an individual."


    Ann Dunnewold, a counseling psychologist in Dallas, says she has heard all kinds of stories about how extreme parenting makes moms feel like they just don't measure up. She tries to calm their fears in her book "Even June Cleaver Would Forget the Juice Box" (HCI, 2007, $1495).

    Betsy Christian, 39, has a 6-year-old daughter, 4-year-old son and two stepdaughters, ages 18 and 20. A legislative public relations consultant from Austin, Texas, Christian counts herself as an Alpha Mom on the road to recovery.

    "The first time I realized it was just way too out of control was when Kathryn, 6, was a year old and went to Mother's Day Out for an hour once a week," she says. "The kids were supposed to exchange valentines. I had some handmade paper, and I stayed up late at night making these valentines. I realized I was making handmade valentines for babies."

    Christian has been so annoyed at finding herself trying too hard ("I'm a good worker," she says) that she started a parenting blog at www.valuewit.com to vent about her Alpha-leanings.

    Katie Allison Granju, 39, an online producer for a television station in Knoxville, Tenn., is pregnant with her fourth child.

    She says it's easy for women to get caught up in wanting feedback on their parenting.

    "We're a very high-achieving generation of women, and we're used to being able to do things in a quantifiable way on the job," says Granju, author of "Let Them Run With Scissors: How Over-Parenting Hurts Children, Parents and Society," to be published by Soft Skull Press later this year.

    "Every year, we get a performance review and see how other people think we're doing. When you try to translate that to raising little human beings, it can be very frustrating."