The motherhood myth
The motherhood myth is very simple: it states that having children is a woman’s greatest achievement and most fulfilling experience.
I hear you say, “OK, what is wrong with that? If not completely true, isn’t it at least a lovely statement of intention?”.
My issue with it is this: we show an image of motherhood that is completely impossible to attain, preferably while adding “and of course women can/should also have a career at the same time” and then we sit on the sideline and watch them fail, whilst commenting “she must not have tried hard enough” or, my personal favourite, “she’s not a natural mother”.
So, let me debunk some aspects of the motherhood myth.
Pregnancy: for most of us, it doesn’t mean a lovely glow and a tiny bump; it means looking fat, green from nausea, with some form of back pain, and a bladder that requires hourly emptying, even at night.
Birth: unless you sign up for the complete package with epidural, it is the most savage experience of your life. And I use the word savage on purpose. Like an animal. And the myth stating “you’ll forget everything about it as soon as the baby is out”? Rubbish. If you had a traumatic birth, you’re more likely to not have another child. Three years down the track you still remember every single bit of it. And if you don’t, your torn perineum and leaking bladder will remind you.
Babies: they are so wonderful. If you feed them on demand, co-sleep, have a routine for their feeds, breastfeed (even if it literally kills you), use controlled crying, never leave them alone, make sure from the beginning they sleep on their own, they’ll be the wonderful beings they show you in ads. Hang on, did I just tell you to do everything and its opposite?
Yes, I did. Welcome to the world of mothering advice. You are sure to fail.
I could go on and on.
The most insidious bit being that you are told it is possible, or even “normal” to raise a perfect child and to be perfectly happy whilst doing it. Preferably whilst also holding down a job. Where you get dirty looks because you need to leave at 5pm sharp to make the crèche/preschool/after school pick up deadline.
So what is left?
Yes, motherhood can be a rewarding experience.
And some mothers thrive on it like nothing else they’ve ever experienced before. But please, let’s stop making mothers feel guilty, on top of everything else, for not falling in that small category.
Let’s stop telling them they are “unnatural” for finding it boring to play blocks with a toddler, when they have a PhD in architecture; let’s stop pointing at them when they lose their cool; in short, let’s stop judging mothers against a set of criteria that are near-impossible to match.
How about we find compassion for them?
How about we ask them, respectfully, how they experience motherhood. How about we create a space where it’s OK for them to say “yes, it’s really tough, it’s messy, no, I don’t necessarily want to give them back, but some days, I fantasise about what my life would have been like had I remained childless”?
How about we make motherhood and fatherhood an individual experience again, not to be judged against some myth, but rather understood in the context of our world today, as never before in history the demands put on parents have been so high.
We cannot have perfect children.
We cannot be perfect parents.
P.S. For a scholarly yet readable book on the history of maternal instinct through the ages, read the excellent “The myth of motherhood” by Elisabeth Badinter (translated from the French “L’amour en plus”).