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Do You Feel Like a Mouse in a Maze?

Must-Have Parent

I sometimes feel as though we are all mice in a giant experimental maze, scurrying around frantically, trying to find our way through. But maybe there's a good historical reason for all this overwhelming confusion. We don't have centuries of educated, autonomous female role models to imitate here (there were no women quite like us until very recently), so nobody has given us a map. As a result, we each race forth blindly into this new maze of limitless options. And the risks are steep. We make mistakes. We take sharp turns, hoping to stumble on an open path, only to bump into dead-end walls and have to back up and start all over again. We push mysterious levers, hoping to earn a reward, only to learn -- whoops, that was a suffering button! -- Elizabeth Gilbert

No one has ever done this before.

Read that again, and let it sink in.

No one has ever done this -- this style of adulthood -- before. That's why our lives can seem so stinkin' hard; why we all question our decisions. And criticize everyone else's.

We have no mentors, no role models, no road maps.

We are maturing and parenting without a net. And we're doing it in front of hundreds or thousands -- potentially millions -- of judges, who weigh in on our decisions on social media.

Of course, aspects of our experience have existed forever. Human history is filled with accounts of dual-working couples. Having one parent devote the majority of the day to parenting is a relatively modern luxury. Up until the last century, and all of its new-fangled appliances, even an at-home parent was too occupied by chores to organize a craft or a play date.

We're a bit luckier as Must-Have Parents because, actually, lots of parents have done this before, going back to the beginning of time.

Must-Have Parent cavewomen would stay back to protect the cave and the family while the cavemen went off to hunt wooly mammoths or something.

Must-Have Parent Spartans, Celts, Khans, Zulus, Vikings, Incans and all the others, had to step up to man the homefront when the warriors left on a campaign.

But then Must-Have Parenting skipped a few hundred years. The sexual revolution happened, and the economy and expectations changed in the meantime, and now we don't have mentors.

So here we are, solo parenting during a time when both parents are expected to work AND be fully present for the children. A time when our parenting decisions are subject to public debate -- and sometimes even legal intervention.

We are expected to Lean In AND be at every soccer practice, dance class and music lesson, as well as participate in the Dr. Seuss' birthday, Pi Day and 100th day of school festivities. And while we do that, we're also supposed to monitor our children's every test score, from the APGAR to the LSAT.

I grew up as a latchkey kid. After school, I sat at the kitchen table and did my homework (after I heated up some pizza rolls or helped myself to a Snack Pack) while I waited for my mom to get home from work. There were people in our world who scorned her for that work, who pitied her "poor little kids" who didn't have anyone greeting us at the door with fresh-baked cookies.

(We all turned out fine, by the way.)

By the time I became a mom, the prevailing wisdom was that someone should stay home with the kids if the family was financially able to swing that. "It's best for the kids," people told me, again and again, when I told them that was my plan. "You have your whole life to build a career," they said, nodding their approval.

My sister, who built a successful company, got tsk'd for her efforts. Her husband, who stayed home with their kids, got criticized, too.

Scorned, scorned, scorned.

We're damned if we do, damned if we don't. We're "helicopters" if we dedicate ourselves to parenting, but we're "negligent" if we don't.

And so, with no paths out of this maze, we just keep running through it, crashing into walls and getting frustrated by all the dead ends.

But imagine what might happen if all of us mice worked together? Some of us could boost others up and over those walls.

Or -- with all of our combined strength -- we could knock down the walls entirely.

As we head into this next decade, can we draft a joint resolution to drop the crazy-making expectation that we must all be perfect friends and perfect mothers and perfect workers and perfect lovers with perfect bodies who dedicate ourselves to charity and grow our own organic vegetables, at the same time that we run corporations and stand on our heads while playing the guitar with our feet?-- Elizabeth Gilbert

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Rebekah Sanderlin Military Parenting

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Contributor

Rebekah Sanderlin is an Army wife, a mother of three and a professional writer. Her work has been published numerous places, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, National Public Radio, CNN, and in Self and Maxim magazines. She currently serves on the advisory boards of the Military Family Advisory Network and Blue Star Families.

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