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.


  1. I love you. And that idea grosses me out. But I would not have been nearly so articulate as to why!

  2. You go girl. I keep hearing the ad for Vista Print on Pandora and I cringe every single time they mention mommy cards. Partially because, as you noted, they don't also mention daddy cards... It kills me.
    Thanks for taking this one on. It saves me having to write the rant, and I must say you are so much nicer than me. Not a single f bomb in the whole piece. I must learn your super power...

  3. I admit I made some cards a while back for two reasons. 1) I was an organizer of a moms group (very helpful when you are at home with small children) and 2) so I could enter contests at restaurants and such where you drop your business card in to win a free meal. I figured I was just as worth winning even if I didn't currently have a for-pay job.

    I haven't made more because I haven't had a need, but there are good reasons. Even as a stay at home parent, I have an identity. I'm way much more than "mommy", and having a card that reflects that was nice.

    One thing I have discovered, because I do carry a pen and paper in my purse, is that it is very easy to write something poorly, especially email addresses, such that you can't read them when you get home. I have run into that not just with exchanging information with other parents. Having something pre-printed can be extremely useful (hence why business people have business cards).

    I have to say I agree with the ridiculous "preggers". I'm not as anti-"mommy" since I am home with a 3 year old and a 5 year old. I do like when things are referred to by their correct names, though.

  4. Meagan: I can see how cards would be a huge help in those situations & many more. If the cards would make my life much easier as in your case, I'd certainly throw up my hands & print out a batch. Regarding poor handwriting et cetera: I'm admittedly someone with a huge fondness for the handwritten word in all its forms, in spite of & sometimes because of the many quirks & inconsistencies involved. I wish we'd all use pen & paper more often. Either way, I wish I had the option of using printed cards & so many other parenting tools without having to opt into a cutesy version of motherhood. I appreciate your comment!