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Is modern motherhood oppressive?

April 7, 2010

Photo/ boston.com

 

Radiohead’s Thom Yorke once described their song “Fitter, Happier” as a checklist of slogans for the ’90s. If it was re-written for the modern mom, the checklist might look something like this (you’ll have to imagine the computerized voice on your own): 

plenty of folic acid / prenatal vitamins / no negative thoughts or actions / regular exercise / eating well (plenty of protein and no more junk food) / no longer smokes or drinks / regular doctor visits / no prescription or over-the-counter drugs / sleeping well / stays away from microwaves / avoids caffeine / will not sit in hot tubs or clean the cat’s litter box / calm / no painkillers in childbirth / will breastfeed or pump (BPA-free bottles) / cloth diapers / make baby food at home (natural and organic) / concerned / one-on-one parent-to-baby contact (never watching television) / will not pass on bad habits / enjoy outdoor activities / plays an active role in baby’s learning process / patient (never raising your voice) / a good mother 

According to French author and feminist, Elisabeth Batinder, this list (of which I’ve only scratched the surface) is part of a contemporary feminist movement that sees motherhood as women’s sole reason for being, and it prevents women from having lives outside of their children. She says: 

‘Good motherhood’ imposes new duties that weigh heavily on those who do not keep to them. It contravenes the model we have worked for until now [and] which makes equality of the sexes impossible and women’s freedom irrelevant. It is a step backwards. 

Batinder’s views on modern motherhood have drawn fierce criticism from ecologists, contemporary feminists, pediatricians and breastfeeding activists – all of whom she blames for adding items to the ‘good mom’ checklist. Her critics claim she is out of touch with today’s women, who seek fulfillment in both their careers AND motherhood. 

It’s easy to be distracted by Batinder’s statements about smoking and drinking while pregnant, or shipping your children off to boarding school, but I know several new moms who identify with Batinder’s broader point about the struggle to find a balance between being a mother and a woman. These women want to make healthy choices for their babies, but the pressure to be supermoms can be overwhelming and lead to feelings of guilt or failure. While I agree that many women want to have a career and a family, and so choose to wash diapers and cook organic vegetables, our ever-expanding checklists will inevitably force women to sacrifice one role or the other – or run ragged trying to do both. And, like Batinder, I worry that the women of tomorrow will stay at home. 

So what will make it easier for modern mothers to find balance? Instead of switching to powdered milk and disposable diapers, as Batinder advocates, I think the answer lies in asking dads to take on a larger share of that checklist. After all, men are perfectly capable of washing diapers and making baby food – breastfeeding is just about the only thing they can’t do. 

You can be a good mother and a woman too, but you need support. And while the meaning of fatherhood is changing,  men and women still need to be encouraged to share childcare responsibilities. It doesn’t mean that every couple should share responsibilities in exactly the same way, or that the division of labour can’t change over time, but dividing up that checklist will give both parents time to be people too.

18 Comments
  1. April 7, 2010 2:13 pm

    As a working mum I frequently feel inadequate, failing in the most fundamental task for women, being a good mother. My first child was breastfed, ate only homemade food (wore disposable diapers, I have my limits), but broadly speaking I was there with her all the time, until I went back to work 6 months after her birth. My second child has missed out on much of that. She was bottle fed pretty early on, has jars (albeit organic, to make me feel less guilty) and with a toddler to take up so much attention, she lacks that too. I had to have a pretty ‘grown up’ chat with my husband about the division of parental labour in our house as this constant feeling of failure made me very depressed. He stepped up to the plate, mainly because he had no choice. But he enjoys it too I think. I’ll never get him making their food, but he does do his share of nappies and activities with the girls.

    I think there’s a bigger societal issue here about acceptance of men as co-hands on parents. Not just a parent, but a parent who gets involved. It’s vital in a family where the mother works (and is the main breadwinner as is my case), but if more men did it, and more importantly more men talked about it with pride, it would become the norm.

    Sorry for a rather long comment, but it’s a subject close to my heart.

  2. Arthur permalink
    April 7, 2010 2:14 pm

    I hardly see how evolving scientific research regarding nutrition, child development, pathology, psychology et al in any way oppresses mothers in a unique way. Most of the new ‘slogans’ aforementioned are applicable to anyone who wants to lead a healthier, happier life – and all members of contemporary society face pressure to abide by them.

    Granted, I haven’t read Ms. Batinder, but the claim that the increasingly long list of health guidelines we as a society are encouraged to follow is somehow symptomatic of an oppression that aims to keep women from having lives outside of their children is utterly, completely ridiculous.

    If there is greater pressure placed on pregnant women or new mothers to follow such imperatives, it has nothing to do with the rights or freedoms of women. Insofar as there is such a thing as progress, it is measured on a metric of inter-generational justice – and that means creating the optimal conditions for the next generation to thrive and live lives better than our own. That starts with children’s health – and that starts with pregnant mothers. If men were the ones with the uteri, society would pressure them to not smoke during pregnancy, to avoid caffeine, to not use bottles made with BPA, to use cloth diapers etc. That is not oppression anymore than telling children to look both ways is oppression. As someone who works closely with children and sees more and more men taking the primary caregiver role in the lives of their children, men face the exact same pressures to make healthy choices for their children and themselves. Recommending that children not watch hours or television is hardly a misogynistic tactic.

    Batinder places inordinate emphasis on the strive for personal autonomy and leisure within a family. Its exactly this kind of short-sighted philosophy that Batinder is whining on about that is jeopardizing the sustainability of our planet and the future of our species. Disposable diapers? Powdered milk? Really? That is utterly batshitinsane. Our moral obligations to our children and our planet – which include not throwing away things with non-disposable alternatives and making healthy choices for our children when they are too young to make choices for themselves – are completely undermined by Batinder’s bullshit.

    Part of the problem here is that we as a culture still seem to view parenthood – devoting oneself, or a large part of oneself, to raising healthy kids – as a somehow less ambitious or lofty goal then climbing the corporate latter, when in reality this could not be farther from the truth. So many of the problems we are dedicated to solving through our professional lives – be it political organizing or product development or whatever – could be eradicated simply by investing real resources in education – and a part of education, perhaps the most important part, is early childhood development, which is generally the responsibility solely of the parents. Of course, we judge success and value according to nothing but one’s paycheck, and unfortunately this has severely skewed our priorities, to our own future detriment.

    One of the main issues here is that we have become accustomed as a culture to not having to make tough choices when it comes to our own lives and goals. Having two parents who work full time at successful careers while trying to raise a family (and have cocktails with friends and participate in community things and write a blog, etc) is simply becoming unfeasible. The general condition of things will continue along this path at an even greater – and exponential – rate, and men and women alike are going to have to make tough choices about what roles they can fill in a meaningful way. You say you fear that women in the future will stay at home – but this is an anti-feminist sentiment. The problem isn’t women staying at home – the problem is that the attitude among feminists is that that pursuit is less worthy than professional success, and this stigma is hindering true feminism – whose goal should be to create free and fair choice for women without any stigmas attached. Both men and women can belong in the workplace or at home – but the selfish notion that both parents should pursue a profession and parenting in an equal fashion when the costs are things like the environment (ahem, disposable diapers) or the health of our children (ahem, powdered milk, etc) is absurd.

    • April 7, 2010 2:21 pm

      Valid. But tell me in what way powdered milk is actually bad for a child’s health? Sorry did I miss something here? I was under the impression that if a woman couldn’t breastfeed, for whatever reason, let’s not forget a healthy, happy mother creates a calm environment in which to bring up children, then the only alternative was powdered milk. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe we should be getting our milk from breast milk banks. I don’t know, you’re the expert, you tell me.

    • April 7, 2010 3:04 pm

      Arthur, how much pressure do men really face to take certain vitamins or not drink as much because it might one day have an effect on their offspring? That’s part of what’s at issue here: the treatment of women as pre-pregnant. So tell me again how we all face the same pressures? What’s also at issue is that a lot of these recommendations which have become ironclad social mores are actually not scientifically supported. Half a glass of wine in the third trimester isn’t going to poison a fetus, but you’d think it would the way a visibly pregnant woman is treated if she drinks alcohol. Moreover, having a uterus does not make women better qualified to choose baby bottles or change and wash diapers. So please try again with the explaining of why the pressure falls on women.

      In doing so, maybe you could stick to ideas and avoid name calling that invokes the stigma of mental illness (“batshitinsane”) too.

      Progress being measured intergenerationally should not be an excuse to ignore issues of inequality in the here and now, and objecting to social trends which make women feel more pressured to stay at home is not anti-feminist by any stretch.

    • Amelia DeMarco permalink
      April 8, 2010 10:49 am

      My fear that the women of tomorrow will stay at home is not an anti-feminist statement. If the pressure placed on women to be supermoms is not addressed, my fear is that women’s choice will be reduced to “either, or” when it comes to having families and careers. In my opinion, that is not a “free and fair” choice, since many women – like men – want to have families AND careers. My point is that if men and women share responsibility for childcare, it will help both parents have lives outside of their children – be it a career, time spent with friends, involvement in the community, or just a hobby – without comprimising their commitment to the environment or the health and well-being of their children. Women should not have to give up their lives in order to be moms and this is true for all women, whether they have a career in the home or outside of it.

    • Laura Simko permalink
      April 8, 2010 1:16 pm

      While I agree with your idea that men and women who are parents(hey, there was never any mention of same sex couples….) can be equally responsible for making healthy personal choices leading up to starting a family, nurturing that life in utero and teaching that child how to live a healthy and environmentally friendly lifestyle, I must comment that this debate is just part of a much larger one involving the power struggle that exists between partners, be they heterosexual or same sex.
      The power struggle in relationships underlies all decisions, actions and outcomes and until couples are able to treat eachother with the empathy, respect and dignity they themselves want ( I think we call this ‘ ‘The Golden Rule’), there will always be the me/my/mine quest for self preservation.
      I agree with Amelia that partners must learn to communicate their expectations for equally sharing and enjoying the nuturing of their children, thus modeling for future generations that shared responsiblity is not only possible, but preferable because it will enrich and
      deepen the meaning of their lives.
      The years spent ‘doing it all,’ career, family, social and community life pass quickly and are memories to be shared and cherished. There is nothing more fulfilling than the unconditional love from a child, which is fleeting. It will be given to both partners who give themselves the gift of parenthood by engaging in it together as fully as possible.

  3. April 7, 2010 2:50 pm

    For many women with disabilities and who aren’t middle class or above, these standards of motherhood aren’t just oppressive: they’re impossible.

  4. April 7, 2010 2:59 pm

    Batinder is rather extreme, but a thought provoking voice nonetheless.

    I think you have a great point about the changing roles of fathers.

    I could not do what I do (work full time and parent two small children) without the support of my husband. My advice to a woman who wants to continue in her career after becoming a mother (I know not all do, but some of us genuinely want to have both a career and have children,) is to choose a father for your kids who believes wholeheartedly that a woman’s career is just as important as a mans career.

    He packs their lunches and drops them at daycare, I pick them up and make their dinner.
    We trade off staying home if they are sick. Divide and conquer is the rule in our house.

    Interestingly people often say to me (admiringly) “I don’t know how you do it”, but they don’t say that to him. People still assume a working father of two has a wife taking care of everything. Perception needs to change.

  5. Arthur permalink
    April 7, 2010 4:37 pm

    I fear that the above rebuttals have missed my general points in favor of pedantic counter examples that serve only the purpose of exploiting phantom disagreements and generating vitriol that is unnecessary. I don’t think I’m in any sort of disagreement with any of you.

    First, forgive me for I did not mean to imply that powdered milk was inherently harmful to a child’s health, especially if the mother can’t breastfeed. I was simply using the example cited in the OP. I’m not going to get into the breastfed v. otherwise debate, as I’m really not qualified to comment and it isn’t really relevant. I was only noting that if the reason one would use powdered milk as opposed to breast milk was for the convenience factor – and that such a thing would help women to have a life outside of their children – is silly.

    Elizabeth –

    I think you’ve misunderstood me on a couple points. I was not saying that, because men are not child bearers, that they can’t choose safe products for their children, or whatever. What I was saying was that, because men don’t bear children, they won’t be subject to the same pressures to treat their bodies in a certain way while pregnant. What the original post seemed to imply was that by asking women to abstain from certain things (like smoking) while pregnant was somehow oppressive to women – when in fact to NOT abstain from such things shown to be harmful to a fetus would be oppressive to the child. Men have the same responsibility to ensure health for their child – but in practice this responsibility really only starts after the child is born, e.g. men cannot give children fetal alcohol syndrome. Each parent has the same moral imperative to do right by their child – but this will necessarily manifest itself in different ways for each, as, for better or for worse, evolution has unfolded in such a way as to give only women the ability to grow a child. So no – the pressures themselves aren’t the same, but the force behind them is. To say, “why should a woman be pressured to lead a healthy life during pregnancy when men don’t have to” is absurd. Certainly one could argue that if a man wants to drink a lot then that could one day evolve into harming his children – but not in the same direct sense that drinking copiously while pregnant would have.

    Obviously any claim that is not scientifically supported should be ignored. Many of the mentioned pressures in the OP do in fact have scientific grounding (i.e. don’t expose your kid to microwaves, don’t get wasted every weekend while pregnant, don’t use products made with BPA, don’t eat crap). If a woman wants a bit of wine in the third trimester and she gets strange looks from folks around her, well, then we should try our best to correct their ignorance – but this does not at all undermine the more general advice about maintaining a healthy lifestyle during pregnancy.

    Regarding disabled or low-income mothers: of course they cannot meet the list of demands in the OP. But it has nothing to do with the fact that they are mothers. The list in the OP represents what is almost the sine qua non of the contemporary yuppie class. Poor people face barriers to making healthy choices at every level – nutrition, health care, living environments, education etc. The fact that buying a pepper costs more than a cheeseburger is a symptom of a much larger systemic issue that needs serious and immediate attention. But singling out the plight of mothers in this regard will put us right back in the position of solving gradual problems for small groups of people as they arise rather then catalyzing long-term, systemic change. Of course, whether one should be allowed to have a child if you do not have the means to feed it healthy foods and provide it with healthy, safe environments is a good question. Children should have the right to health.

    Of course inter-generational justice should not be an excuse to ignore inequity in the present; however, inter-generational justice should not be sacrificed so that everyone can have everything they feel entitled to. That attitude is largely what has brought about so many of the problems we face – financial, environmental, political. Look – women should absolutely not feel pressure to stay at home. But the pendulum can swing too far the other direction to a point where mothers feel undue pressure to pursue professional careers. Climbing the corporate ladder is not equality. Being able to choose to climb the corporate ladder or not is. My point was greatly twisted in the responses: feminism should aim to create free choice for women with as few external pressures as possible – and that includes freedom to choose raising children at home without feeling as though you are negatively impacting the cause of equality. Men should have the same freedom – and many, many men are now stay at home dads, especially as the number of people who are able to work from home dramatically rises. I feel strongly that the ostensibly polarized roles of parents in contemporary families is not actual reality. I think it’s important for every family to have a certain amount of division of duties, just for practicality sake, and that these duties should be divided without regard to the traditional gender roles in a partnership. And to a great extent I feel tremendous progress has been made in this regard. I see father’s cooking for their kids, changing diapers, taking their kids to playgroup, feeding their kids from a bottle, etc etc all the time. Not in the same numbers as you see women in those roles, certainly, but it’s a radical improvement.

    Anyway, I’m probably not going to get anywhere here, as I’m the only voice from the other side of the chromosome divide, and confirmation bias is a powerful force. I’ll end by saying that we ALL face tremendous pressures in a number of ways – and many unique ways. Some of this pressure is positive. People should absolutely feel pressured to make healthy choices – it’s what is best not just for them but for civilization. Most people in life feel that they fall short of meeting all the expectations they face. This is part of the human condition, and a very old one at that, one that transcends the divisive factions we’ve artificially superscribed upon our culture. What we need to do is stop whining, stop lamenting all that is unfair about the society in which we live, unfairness which exceeds far beyond the gender divide, and start looking at the pragmatic ways which we can improve the situation from a fundamental level.

    If my wife and I ever have children, I fully intend to sit down with her on an ongoing basis and figure out what WE want for our kids and how WE can make that happen. Mom’s got a meeting? Great, I’ll get the kids and cook dinner. Mom’s tied up in a project? Great, I’ll go to the store and get the baby food or the diapers or whatever, and I will make good, informed decisions about what products I purchase for them – because they are my kids, not because it’s what my wife would feel pressured to do.

    Look, I consider myself as big a feminist as there ever was. But I also recognize that men face a lot of the same issues – human issues – as well as having a plight of our own. By saying that, I certainly don’t intend to undermine or belittle the myriad difficulties women face that they shouldn’t. I just think talking about these sorts of things in the same dichotomous manner that has polarized the opposite sexes for most of written history sometimes reinforces the very walls we want to tear down.

    (lastly, batshitinsane is a fairly ubiquitous meme, and was in no way meant to degrade people suffering from mental illness. I’ll avoid the argument of descriptionist v. prescriptionist linguistics, but, insofar as language has meaning, meaning is found in use – and I did not intend to use the phrase in a derogatory manner).

    • April 7, 2010 5:43 pm

      I fear that your language inappropriately constructs valid concerns about your statements as irrational, unimportant, and vitriolic and your own arguments as objective when in fact we all have our own biases. This, like the issue of “batshitinsane”, is not a problem of prescriptivist versus descriptivist linguistics but of ethics in how one engages in discussions. Taking issue with some of your statements even if you think they’re not as important as your “larger points” is valid and not merely pedantic. You talk a good line about responsibility to the future, but perhaps you should start by taking responsibility for your own statements here and now.

      I understood very well that you meant to say that “because men don’t bear children, they won’t be subject to the same pressures to treat their bodies in a certain way while pregnant.” What I pointed out was that some of those pressures (including ones you listed) have no rational connection to who carries the child and so are deeply problematic and, yes, sexist. I also pointed out that part of the issue with idea of the Good Motherhood is that it includes social pressures that are not in fact scientifically supported, not merely ones that make sense in terms of health and sustainability which seemed to be what you were suggesting. You may consider this whining, but the simple fact of the matter is that unless we see what is wrong with society, we cannot go about addressing it.

      Women describing their lives, including unfair social pressures and practices, has been a fairly major part of feminism for at least a few decades now. Being “as big a feminist as there ever was” and being able to explain feminism in detail to several women, I would think that you would know that. You may not see the value in it, but those of us who do not see our stories told all that often, who do not take for granted the right to speak our truths, do.

    • April 8, 2010 5:16 am

      Also–and I should have caught this last night–using “the chromosome divide” as shorthand for sex or gender difference is very problematic. There are women with XY chromosomes, men with XX chromosomes, people who don’t fit the man-woman binary, and other groups that this sort of phrasing excludes.

  6. Suzanne permalink
    April 7, 2010 7:29 pm

    With respect to mothers and the labor of mothering, I agree with Batinder’s overall trajectory. That women, regardless of socioeconomic status, do the bulk of society’s emotional labor does seem to suggest that men (as a group) don’t do enough. Never have, and I doubt they ever will. It’s a manifestation of sexism, which on some accounts is growing. The division of labor in the household is one indicator; there are others.

    In the United States, it’s only going to get worse because both parents (if there are two) will be required to work, upgrade job-skills regularly, continue earning higher degrees of education, just to stay afloat to afford their children. Having a child is oppressive to women because there is lots stacked against families–we pay lip service to “family values” which itself is an interesting rhetoric. In countries where there are social services, family friendly labor laws, etc., the value of family is inherent to the social system.

    The rhetoric of “free choice and being able to have it all” is also suspect, again because of the actual labor involved. I’ve yet to see a mother who has it all and also has time for it.

  7. demeter permalink
    April 9, 2010 10:31 am

    But this assumes that you’re not a single mother.

    When my daughter was 15 months, my partner left. He had developed a very severe mental illness during my pregnancy, and part of the illness included non-compliance with medication.

    He wasn’t the only “victim” of his illness. Our daughter was. I was.

    I suppose people could just start minding their business and stop giving unwarranted advice. During pregnancy, I quickly learned to not take what most people say to heart. Those who are close to us, yes–that does matter. But strangers? When a woman suggested I might be more comfortable breastfeeding in a cramped public bathroom than wandering around the grocery store and shopping, I smiled at her and said, “I’m trying to raise her not to eat in the bathroom.” Did she need to say anything?

    So maybe we also need to raise daughters to feel more confident in their decisions to use whatever diaper THEY find best for their lifestyle. It would be too much to ask for any sort of government help or assistance for new moms, regardless of their marital status, even though countries like the Netherlands seem to have the right idea.

  8. Robin Fredericks permalink
    April 10, 2010 12:21 am

    Suggesting that you need support to be both a good mother and a woman must equal suggesting that if you don’t have that support, you might somehow not be one or the other. Well I am undeniably a mother, and I don’t think you’d find anyone to say I’m not a good one. Are you daring to say that because I wash all the diapers, make all the food, and did in fact sacrifice work, and parties and hobbies and even showers to accomplish those things, that I might somehow not deserve the distinction of woman as well?

    Yes, we can have careers, if and when we choose to, but that’s because we are people, not because we are women. If you truly believe in equality, then you must believe that we deserve and can have and are capable of those things because we are equal as human beings. However, growing a baby, bringing it into the world, nourishing it from our own bodies, those are things we alone are capable of, because we are women. It’s just silly to suggest that there is any circumstance that would mean someone who has accomplished those things, could lose her identity as a woman. The women you’re talking about might be struggling their individual sense of self, and yes perhaps they do need to sort that problem out with their significant others, but that’s a personal issue, and a relationship issue.
    You are at best overlooking, and at worst openly insulting with your fear and worry, the growing group of modern women who choose this lifestyle happily, who understand that it’s not oppression, or unfair division of labor, or the myth of supermom that forces us to sacrifice one or run ragged doing both; it’s nature. Nature forces that. Some of us aren’t fighting it. Breastfeeding might be the only thing a father technically can’t do with a baby, but there are plenty of other things a mother can do more easily, or even better than a father, and if you had children you might be aware of this. It’s sad and disturbing to me how carefully I must choose my words here in an effort not to insult any fathers, because yes, I know that many dads are taking a more active role, and I admire that in situations where it fits. But many women are happy to take on the things traditionally associated with being a mother all on our own, and we should be proud of that. We should still be allowed to be proud of that without being accused of placing pressure or guilt on the mothers who make different choices. I would no more hand over half the responsibilities of motherhood to my husband than a career woman would hand over half her job responsibilities to someone else – because they are my responsibilities, because they do fulfill me, and because I am awesome at them. Better than my husband would be (and anyway he’s pretty busy working his ass off so that our son can grow up at home). That shouldn’t be such a risky thing to say, because my intent is not to diminish fathers, it is to celebrate mothers. In general, leaving room for all alternative situations (all of which I support, as long as a baby is loved and cared for) mothers have better instincts about their babies and young children than fathers do, and are able to soothe, reassure, explain things to and understand cues from those babies more easily than fathers. Most new parents will tell you that regardless of their agreement to take turns with their crying newborn, they eventually encounter the times when that crying newborn wants his mother and will continue crying until he is placed in her arms. Sometimes this baby is hungry yes, but often, this newborn just wants the feel and smell and sound of the person he grew inside, the person his food comes from, the person that so far, as nature has designed, is the one he associates with comfort and safety. It is that feeling of security that will soon encourage him to be at ease with the other people around him. It is a fact that a mother wakes first at the sound of her baby’s cry, and any breastfeeding mother will tell you that her body responds to that sound all on its own. How I wish that we would embrace and celebrate this amazing bond more, instead of downplaying it to spare a father’s feelings, or passing it off so that we can get back to our own lives. A child and his father will have plenty of time to bond as you grow as a family, just like a mother will have plenty of time to get back to the other things she values in life. Acting as though a mother has no special skill or instinct about her babies that a father can’t equal is the worst kind of sexism. This is something that makes us unique, that men can’t get paid more for, that will always be ours. Why are so many of you trying to give that away, to get out of it, to deny it?
    And what is with this attitude that you have to choose between your career and staying at home? Our children are only going to be that young for a fraction of our lives. I wish we would stop whining about giving up our careers, and find some pride and confidence in the fact that we are perfectly capable of having both, even if we find it necessary to put one on hold while we focus on the other. We can go back to work, we can go back after 6 weeks or 12 months or 10 years. What we should be fighting for are ways to facilitate women re-entering the work force after extended absences, not ways to prevent them from leaving it in the first place. That’s a women’s issue that is worthy of attention. Perpetuating this nonsense fear that leaving your job to be a full time mom means you’ll never work again is damaging; it underestimates our abilities (abilities we’ve fought long and hard to prove we have, but seem not to actually believe in). I’m not sure what I’ll do for work when our children are older, but I don’t worry about it, because I’m an intelligent capable woman, and when I’m finished making the enormous and important contribution of raising my young children myself, I will find another worthy, satisfying way to contribute to the world. Frankly, it baffles me that most parents would die for their children, but so many moms can’t bring themselves to sacrifice a few years of a career to experience what they will therefore never know is more rewarding than any amount of money or level of promotion could be.
    Some women, many in fact, have no intention to balance career and motherhood, at least not while our children are young, and this is not because we don’t value those careers or derive satisfaction from them, it’s because we also know the value, the pleasure, the fulfillment, and the worthiness of being a mother, at home. How sad that you would worry that the women of tomorrow might come to know those things too. We have chosen this, made sacrifices to accomplish it and take pride in the enormous responsibility. We do not suffer from an identity crisis, we are people, and women, who are mothers, and we are proud to let that define us at least as much as being a teacher or lawyer or landscaper defines the people with those professions. We still have friends and social lives, we still believe in things, and we still have hobbies, even if we haven’t got the same time for them as we used to. We do not consider having to take folic acid, cook organic food, get enough exercise, avoid hot tubs and prescription drugs, or anything else on your ridiculous list to be burdens placed unfairly upon us. We are happy to make those minor adjustments to our lives for the well being of our children, and any woman who isn’t might want to reconsider her readiness for motherhood.
    I understand that your bigger concern might be for the mothers who really do want to work while their children are young, and I accept that choice the same way I expect acceptance of mine to stay home. But you have to see that relieving the guilt of mothers who do not have the time or desire to do all the things on the check list by saying there’s no need, must indicate that the mothers who do dedicate themselves to doing those things are wasting their time and missing out on something else. Mothers who choose to stay home can have everything – they can experience motherhood and their young children completely, and enjoy a career, before and after. It’s the mothers who continue working who are missing out on something.
    I am so tired of feeling like I can’t talk about the way I parent because it makes mothers around me feel guilt over the way they do. What your attitude accomplishes is oppression of Stay at Home Moms, who, by the way, I am hereby declaring should be known as Be at Home Moms, for the benefit of those of you mistaking us for Stuck at Home Moms.
    I guess I’ve lost touch with feminism somewhere along the way. What is it that we want now, to be men? Seriously, if you want to feel like mothers and women, then use your breasts, and your patience, and your instincts, and your selflessness, to be women who are mothers, as only women can be.

  9. CanadianDream permalink
    April 13, 2010 1:33 pm

    As a mother, as a woman, a feminist, and as a worker, I wanted to contribute my two cents.

    I was a single mother with my first son; I went to school, worked three jobs, my son was in daycare, and it was a rough existence at the best of times. Challenging, rewarding, but tough.
    Then I met my husband, got married, had a second son, and could afford to stay home with him when he was a baby. Also challenging, rewarding, but tough. There were pros and cons to both situations.

    The issue here is choice. Nothing you choose to do is oppressive. Oppression only happens when something is being forced upon you. Unfortunately, many women do not have control over their reproductive options, and then after having a baby, there are few countries that respect financially the contribution of mothers. There should be universal acceptance of both the working mother’s and the stay at home mother’s choices. Some of the comments above are exclusionary and a bit elitist in their views…walk a mile in another mother’s shoes!
    Being a good mother includes respecting yourself as an individual, and some individuals make choices that others would disagree with, but one has to respect the right to choose.

    If you feel your child would benefit from and enjoy daycare, who is to tell you that is wrong? My second son was social and loved other people, and we eventually placed him in a daycare for his benefit. I would go off and read for a few hours, which was really good for me. Which in turn was good for him, as he had a more fulfilled mom.

    If you enjoy spending time at home with your child, and don’t want to miss that due to work, there should be some sort of income subsidy on your taxes that recognizes the fact that you are raising a future worker and taxpayer, and making a necessary and valuable contribution.

    With all due respect to the scholarly interpretations above, no one view of motherhood is ever acceptable, as each mother is different. We must respect all givers of care as well – men and women.

    • Jessica Mack permalink*
      April 13, 2010 11:19 pm

      CanadianDream, I appreciate your inclusive support for mothers in all work/family situations. But your statement, “nothing you choose to do is oppressive,” makes me pause because I think what may appear a “choice” always has a number of complex contributors behind it we need to consider… For example, you can choose to submit to and have sex with a man you know will harm you and rape you if you resist. In that sense, choice can be a strategy, and not necessarily an empowering or freeing action in and of itself. There are a number of other more subtle and more culturally-weighted examples I can think of as well. While I like the “respect all caregivers” sentiment, because I do ultimately support that, I worry that it somehow lacks a space to take a really critical look at the expectations placed upon us as women…and whether we truly do have a choice in how we respond to those. If we DO have a choice, that’s great. But I think that is still the question.

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