When I teach Sociological Theory Dramaturgy, by Ervin Goffman, is always a big hit with my students. At its basic (if you are a fellow sociologist reading this blog–don’t judge me for the lack of theoretical clarity here), Dramaturgy argues that human interaction is based on time, place and those who we are with (in other words, our audience). Or, another way of looking at it is that our interactions are a performance of roles. For obvious reasons, students are drawn to this idea of how we “perform” in everyday life. Two of their favorite concepts from this theory are front stage and backstage. Front stage is the way we want people to see us and hence we act in accordance with how we want to be perceived. When we are able to accomplish this we can view it as a successful performance. The backstage is where we can let our hair down and are not so concerned with adhering to the norms of a specific role.
Now, my home is where I do not have to be Dr. Sociologist, 100% patient mother, smiling citizen,etc. It is in my home where J and I (occasionally) snip at each other when, say, someone leaves their tea mug half full with tea on the bathroom sink for the 20th time in one month. Or, it is the backstage (home) where I can get aggravated when Mt. Stinky Socks returns to the corner of the bedroom (SERIOUSLY, how hard is it to hit the hamper on the other side of Mt. Stinky Socks??? Ok, or take care of a tea mug). For the most part we can hide all of these things from the outside world. But, what happens when you add someone to the backstage that you have tried really, really hard to keep on the front stage?
It finally dawned on me after a really bad day last week that this frontstage/backstage is my new dilemma. Don’t get me wrong–Mom raised 2 girls. She has been married. So she knows we are dysfunctional. However, I think I’ve done a pretty damn good job of hiding our dysfunction. Even while she has lived in town I try to keep my meltdowns in private, my moments where I haven’t been exactly the most patient mother or wife, or those days when I just want to be in a bad mood so I am. But, now, Mom will be here to see our family life in all its glory and dysfunction.
She will see J and I nit pick at each other over little things. She may walk in while we are disagreeing about the big things. She will see us when we are at our wits end at the end of a long parenting day. She will be around when we want to be in bad moods for absolutely no reason and communicate with our special evil glares. All of these things that I have tried so hard to keep in the privacy of my own home–in my backstage–I will now have to allow another person to see all of this and worse yet? It’s my mother! There’s just something not pretty about being 36 and having a meltdown in front of your mom.
Mom knows my house isn’t perfectly clean all the time; yet, I find myself having these anxious moments before she gets home from work where I turn into terror mode and try to pick up whatever Munchkin had out. This is not to say we were total slobs when Mom wasn’t here, but if I wanted to go to bed without doing the dishes I didn’t care and I could kick toys under the couch and pretend they weren’t there. I could let my type A personality rest. Now, I just feel anxious to leave the dishes because what might Mom think about my housekeeping if I leave those dirty dishes. I know Mom couldn’t care less, but in my mind I am still trying to maintain a front stage performance.
And, OMG–it is stressing me out! I’ve really got to figure out how to loosen up. Heck, I need some wine after writing this blog…