Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Mommy Card Phenomenon

My friend sent this link to me the other day along with a request that I write about the Mommy Card phenomenon. Have you heard of these things? The idea is that it's challenging for parents of small children to exchange contact information at, say, the playground or swim lessons or whatever, and that it's even harder to keep track of the names and faces of parents and kids, much less which ones go together and whose number you found in the pocket of your coat. Mommy Cards are basically business cards printed with the names of parent and child (for instance: Jane Doe, John's mom), contact information, and often a photograph of the child for further ease of identification.

I have a problem with two things right off the bat. First of all, I cringe at most uses of the term "mommy." It's just one of my things. I'm fine with accidental cute. The kitten at the pet store yesterday that kept batting at my daughter's pigtail? Purely, intensely, ridiculously cute. But I cannot abide contrived cute. The faux-word "preggers," for instance, is a big problem for me. "Mommy," while somewhat passable when uttered innocently by a small child, makes my skin crawl as soon as adults start applying it to things. 

Mommy Cards. Perhaps I'd be less prone to the immediate eye-roll if they were known as Family Cards, which brings me to problem number two. Since the name specifies that this product is for mothers, it encourages the assumption that fathers have no use for such a tool and thereby perpetuates our culture's dysfunctional overfeminization of parenting.

But if you make it beyond the default terminology of Mommy Cards, there are in fact all sorts of subcategories such as Daddy Cards and Family Cards and Grandparent Cards. So, for the sake of argument, let's just pretend that I renamed this phenomenon and they are hereby all referred to as Family Cards. Do I still cringe at their existence?

Not as much as I once would. Now that I'm a full-time parent, I absolutely understand how these cards are useful. Many parents are eager to socialize with other parents and foster community among families. It's not always possible to scrounge up a pen and paper and exchange contact information while your toddler is running towards the street or throwing a holy fit. It's also true that keeping track of multiple acquaintances and their children can be mind-boggling. 

That was my nonjudgmental, diplomatic, mature response. Did you like it? Because I'll admit that my natural response to Mommy Cards is dismissal tinged with disgust. I like pen and paper and generally carry them with me. I don't give out my contact information nearly enough to warrant a printed card. I choose my friends carefully and don't feel the need to hang out with someone just because our kids are the same age. If we get along well enough to exchange information, I won't need prompts to clarify my impression of you. 

And while those are all actual, personal reasons why I'll never be a Mommy Card carrier, I believe there's a more insidious, sexist juxtaposition at play that makes them an easy target of disdain. The conceit behind Mommy Cards is that they merge elements of business culture and stay-at-home motherhood, but the cutesy name suggests a narrative more along these lines: Someone cute - a mommy - is handing out business cards as if she were a professional, which is simultaneously adorable in its precociousness and pathetic in its pretense. It's a set-up. Even if these cards are a good idea in their purest form, their marketing relies on the stereotype of infantilized stay-at-home "mommy" desperate to participate in the grown-up world despite her lack of professional life. 

I really wish they had caught on as Parent Cards or Family Cards. I still wouldn't use them, but at least there would be one less thing in the world that promotes referencing mothers and motherhood in a manner that should be reserved for children and fuzzy animals. Negotiating the implications and judgments of stay-at-home motherhood is already spectacularly complicated. The last thing I need is to be baited into rolling my eyes at myself.