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Clapping for Mila Kunis' No-Nanny Decision Sends Wrong Message

Dear 'Ellen' Audience Members Who Clapped for Mila Kunis,

I confess I’ve never been a member of a studio audience, though it’s on my bucket list to attend a live taping of 'Wheel of Fortune,' 'Saturday Night Live' or 'Judge Judy.' I have no idea if they give you directions about when to clap and cheer the guests on the show. For all I know, the producers flashed a neon “Clap Now” sign when Mila Kunis started talking about how she and Ashton Kutcher have opted not to hire any outside help while they navigate their new life as parents to daughter, Wyatt Isabelle Kutcher.

My question: Why are you clapping for that? Because you are “proud” of her for sidestepping the usual celebrity set-up that involves a fleet of round-the-clock nannies and cooks? Because “real” mothers do it all themselves?

RELATED: An Open Letter to Moms Who Won't Ask for Help

Here’s why your unabashed cheering for Kunis’ decision to not have help is problematic. Those cheers reinforce the pernicious belief that mothers who are strong enough not to need help—even if they can afford it—are better mothers than those of us who needed help during early motherhood.

No one cheered when Kunis mentioned that upon her return to “17-hour work days” she would get some help since she can’t possibly do it all. Where were the hoots and applause for the admission that when she steps back to a demanding job with long hours she will enlist the help of hired caregivers? (Presumably, Kunis won’t need any help until her workdays cover 75 percent of the hours in a single day.)

Getting “help” in the form of a doula to take a night shift or someone to watch the baby while I slept felt like diva behavior at best, and neglectful parenting at worst. Good mothers don’t need that, I insisted.

Before I became a mother, I probably would have clapped too. I mean, look at Kunis: She’s beautiful, she’s married to a hunky Hollywood star who adores her and fatherhood (he even changes diapers, that Prince!). She could afford a real-life Mary Poppins or two to come in and give her a break, but she doesn’t want it.

I used to think that kind of self-sacrificing, all-consuming love was what motherhood was supposed to be.

And I couldn’t do it. By week three, I was so devastatingly tired that I couldn’t enjoy my beautiful baby. I couldn’t see straight, much less cherish my wee-hours-of-the-morning feedings. A dark cloud of postpartum depression hovered over me. I needed help but resisted. Getting “help” in the form of a doula to take a night shift or someone to watch the baby while I slept felt like diva behavior at best, and neglectful parenting at worst. Good mothers don’t need that, I insisted.

It felt like a failure not to be able to do it myself.

So, I get your clapping. I get that the cultural message ingrained into mothers is that the best of us don’t get overwhelmed, don’t need a break and don’t hire help because they simply adore every single second of motherhood.

For me that message was a myth that I had to debunk. I wasn’t less of a mother because once a week for four weeks I hired a doula to handle the night shifts so my husband and I get a five-hour stretch of sleep together. I was lucky I had other mothers cheering me on, not for “doing it all myself” but for being strong enough to ask for help in spite of the cultural messages that needing it made me less of a mother.

RELATED: I Was a Better Nanny Than I Am a Mom

I’m all for cheering mothers and their decisions, both those that involve outside help and those that don’t. Let’s clap for all of those, not just the ones that reinforce what is a unrealistic ideal for many mothers.

Sincerely,

A mother who couldn’t do it all by herself

Image via EllenTube

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