Breaking the silence: On motherhood.

When I think about the way that our society expects us to parent, I am surprised. Surprised that there aren’t more women standing up and saying… This is hard. Seriously. It wasn’t all that long ago that we, the women, were a part of a collective, where we gathered together, raised our children together and shared in the responsibilities, the joys and the heartaches. Where motherhood was respected but parenting was not the sole responsibility of the parent, but the community banded together to help raise and grow and shape their little people. Together. It probably doesn’t surprise many of you that I believe that this is the ideal way to parent.

It comes back to the old saying it takes a village to raise a child.

But we live in virtual villages now. We live in housing estates and cities and suburbs where we don’t even know our neighbours. We live in societies where we are scared of each other. Where not being perfect, not being the *best*, is unacceptable. Where being unique or making different choices or going against the grain is not celebrated, where we are judged by men, by healthcare professionals, by teachers, by other mothers. Where we are told that we need to have the right *things* to be the right parent. Where we try so hard to show everyone that we are coping, that sometimes I think we lose ourselves in the every day shuffle of it all. I think there are a lot of women out there who are really struggling. Who aren’t actually coping with the responsibilities and the difficulties that come with the role of motherhood. Women who don’t have support networks. Or even women that do. I know some days I am that woman. I’m sure we all have days like that. But we don’t often talk about it, the true reality of the experience. Or when we do, it is downplayed not only by us (the mothers) but by the rest of society too. Like it’s a joke, good fodder for a meme. Why?

I’ve heard it called the conspiracy of silence. And I think it’s sad that a collective experience that is both as unique and as universal as motherhood is often misrepresented. Where many mothers I know (myself included) feel that they need to define themselves as something more… something more than *just* mother. Even though being a mother, once you are one, is everything. We still crave more. We still ARE more.

I think that we, as a society, put a lot of pressure on mothers to be the givers of life, to be educators, and to raise the future generations. But at the same time we, society, expect mothers to do so in isolation. Yes we have playgroups and mothers groups and support groups and baby groups and baby yoga and library sing a longs and… and… and… where we can book a thousand events for our children one after another all day long. Where mothers come together and talk about snacks and sleep schedules and nappy bags and teething and fevers and… and… and… but it isn’t very often that you hear a mother say, I’m not coping.

Society expects us as mothers to be able to raise children who are gentle and kind and compassionate and able to solve conflict without violence. We are expected to raise children who are cooperative but society allows violent programming. But when a child behaves inappropriately, we place the entirety of the blame on the parent.

We expect women to raise our children but we also expect them to work. We are expected to want “it all.” But having “it all” is defined by society, not by the mother herself. Because if you don’t work. Then you are just a mother. And if you are *just* a mother… are you allowed to have opinions on anything outside of the realm of baby food and burp cloths and stroller configurations?

I think a lot of these problems have arisen due to a silence. A silence about the truth of the experience of motherhood. Not the drivel that is shown on American sitcoms or reality television. Not even the sleepless nights or the stained clothes or the endless cooking and cleaning and washing and scrubbing… But the truth of the every day experience of the mother, the woman, the person. Maybe if we as a society recognised the truth in the role of the mother, there would be more acceptance, more assistance, more genuine interest in the woman behind the mother. The individual who is taking on one of the greatest most important roles she will ever play, without an ounce of training (or pay for that matter!).

Maybe then we would stop these ridiculous debates about whether a mother should breastfeed her child in public (yes, we are STILL debating this in 21st Century Australia and honestly, I’m ashamed) and we would focus more on the act of mothering from the perspective of the woman. Maybe then we would stop judging the mother in the supermarket who is saying “No” to the screaming child in front of the child-height chocolate stand… and we would make more appropriate cultural decisions on advertising and product placement. Maybe then we wouldn’t be selling juice with a baby teat attached to the top of it as a health drink for babies. Maybe then instead of being so quick to judge and we would be quick to offer help. Not advice. But help. Real help.

It’s hard to speak up, I think. To say, what I want or what I need is not in line with the societal expectation. Or even to just say, I’m not enjoying being a mother today. Or, this is the hardest job I’ve ever done… without first assuring everyone, I really love my child. Because of course you do, of course I do, we all do. I think it is rare to grow and birth a child without love and only another mother really understands that. How much you can love LOVE another person with all of your body and soul… but the role of mother, however it does change you, it does not define you, the woman.It does not make who you were before invisible. Even if society expects it to.

It’s something to think about. That’s for sure.

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  • January 23, 2013 - 5:34 am

    lecinda @ bohemian beautiful - I love this! I don’t have kids yet, but I can see how isolating and lonely it can get for some of my friends with children, and it worries me! Thanks for sharing!! :) ReplyCancel

  • January 23, 2013 - 5:38 am

    Lila Wolff - Beautifully written Sash, it is an awful truth that people are expected to be so perfect even if they can get help they are often too ashamed to admit they need it. I’m grateful every day that I have friends that I can show my weaknesses to.ReplyCancel

  • January 23, 2013 - 5:44 am

    mrsmummymacJen - Beautiful Sash…so honest and true. xReplyCancel

    • January 23, 2013 - 6:47 am

      Sash - <3 Thanks Jen.ReplyCancel

  • January 23, 2013 - 6:24 am

    Cherie - So beautiful and true Sash. I honestly feel that I struggle on a daily basis and apart from the virtual world I really have no one to tell. My family like to think my life is perfect, I don’t want my husband to think I’m not coping and as for mother’s groups/playgroups etc I’ve never come across such a competitive ‘sport’ as motherhood in those environments :( Thank God for our wonderful online community.ReplyCancel

    • January 23, 2013 - 6:47 am

      Sash - Absolutely! thank god indeed. xoxReplyCancel

  • January 23, 2013 - 6:38 am

    Jess - Very true. Although I have to disagree slightly with the end bit about loving our children – don’t think of me as a monster but there were times in the very beginning where I didn’t love my son. I didn’t have that amazing moment as soon as he was born but that’s ok.

    I’m happy that I had a child at this time because my mil told me that if she was to say the things I was saying (which she felt because my husband was exactly like his son) she would be judged as a horrible mother.

    Thankfully most of our generation isn’t scared to speak out about how we feel but we do still have a long way to go! Maybe it is more a blogger thing though because I know I don’t hear these things spoken about a lot in the ‘real world’.ReplyCancel

    • January 23, 2013 - 6:46 am

      Sash - Thank you for sharing your experience Jess. I guess I can’t talk about that because I have not experienced it. I bonded quickly with Bo, but that’s not to say if I have another child one day that the experience will be the same. Every experience is absolutely valid and important and deserves a voice in the real world… not only online. But how to bridge that gap? I’m not sure, I try to talk the way I write, to tell the honest truth face to face as well as online – but is that enough? Is there more we could do?ReplyCancel

      • January 28, 2013 - 4:53 pm

        Jess - I think you’re doing an amazing job! It’s so important to have people like yourself creating spaces like this and voicing opinions! There is always more we can do but you have to start somewhere and just make sure you follow through – which I know I struggle with but speaking up is one of my aims for 2013.ReplyCancel

        • January 28, 2013 - 9:02 pm

          Sash - Thanks Jess! If we all *just* spoke up, imagine the noise we could make! :) ReplyCancel

  • January 23, 2013 - 6:50 am

    aims__love - absolutely what i needed to read today, right now x
    so thankful for your honesty!ReplyCancel

  • January 23, 2013 - 7:11 am

    Bettina - I could have written this post, though maybe not as well as you. I especially hate the silence that surrounds birth and the very early days. why does no one tell you about how much pain you will be in for weeks after? Why does no one say you will feel exhaustion that will make you think ‘what have I done’. And yet like you said even though you feel these things you still love them with everything you are. I think we need share these stories so at least we know we are not aloneReplyCancel

  • January 23, 2013 - 7:11 am

    Emma - I have felt exactly the same since I became a mother all those years ago. This is the truth and its good for other mums to share their truth. I know I try to. I hate the unreal expectations mums put on themselves (me includes) but if we just had the honesty of it all, maybe it would help.ReplyCancel

  • January 23, 2013 - 9:42 am

    Lisa - AMEN sister! I love this post so much. Thank you for writing this.
    <3lisa
    http://www.mummascorner.comReplyCancel

  • January 23, 2013 - 10:26 am

    Lilybett - Two friends of mine are thinking of joining the baby bandwagon soon and asked me recently how I was finding motherhood. I think alarm bells started ringing in my head, urging me to lie (or at least withhold) and say it’s the best and most rewarding thing I’ve ever done – you know, THAT old chestnut? I honestly can’t figure out if it was an internal urge (survival! let them suffer too! guilt!) or something I’d developed because of external, social pressures.

    But I figured I may as well tell them the truth.

    I told them that for me, motherhood is mind-numbingly monotonous and sometimes the good moments are few and far between; it’s stinky and revolting; it’s painful and tearful; it’s as clique-y and demoralising as high-school; it’s way harder than I ever imagined; it’s soul-crushingly tiring; and it’s incredibly stressful because the rules are unknown and ever-changing and if you break them, things can get serious fast. But it’s also really funny and punctuated with laughter; it’s quite inspiring; it’s unexpectedly communal and connective; it’s an awesome conversation starter; it’s made me feel a solidarity with the women in my family and the rest of the world; it’s an opportunity to see the world with fresh eyes; it’s shown me a capacity to survive and thrive I didn’t know I had; it’s made me more generous and open-hearted; and it’s always full of love (and jokes about poo).

    Even though all of that is the truth as I know it, their experience of motherhood will probably be quite different (although the poo is universal). The worst thing we do to ourselves and to others is to expect them to be more like us or for us to be more like them. If we can get over that bit, maybe we’d be better about opening up and sharing a more honest discussion about motherhood.ReplyCancel

    • January 23, 2013 - 10:38 am

      Sash - Yes. Yes! Good for you telling the truth. It’s so hard to let go of the expecting others to be like us or us to be like them, isn’t it? It’s such a strong cultural conditioning. Maybe it’s a strong human characteristic? I’m not sure. But it would be great to let go of it. I’d love to let go of it… as much as I do, it still lingers… that little voice in the back of my mind during the day… the voice of self-doubt. Where do we start?ReplyCancel

  • January 23, 2013 - 12:30 pm

    Joleen - Brilliant. So true. The last paragraph brought tears to my eyes. I’m a new mother. My son turned 8 weeks old today. I’ve written a lot about our struggles with breastfeeding on my blog and just about new motherhood in general. I always feel the need to preface it by saying, “it goes without saying that I love my son… ” and you’re right. It’s unfortunate that I even have to say that. My life is prefaced by “I love my son”. Some days are just harder than others. I’d give anything for that village.ReplyCancel

  • January 23, 2013 - 3:21 pm

    Abeer - Thanku Sash for a very true n well written post. U echoed my thoughts into words. Mothers need help all the time, I need help many times.. Even though on the face of it, i seem to have it all together, sometimes i dont, and the reason i dont come out n say this is mainly because i think noone will understand n also coz i m xpectd to have it all together.
    How can u not love ur baby, part of ur soul..!!! But we need a break too, frm being a mommy, frm so much responsibility 24/7!!ReplyCancel

  • January 23, 2013 - 4:33 pm

    Jemimah - Thank you Sash, once again, for such a wonderfully honest and accurate post. Ah it feels like a breath of fresh air.
    I resonate with what Jess said about the love not necessarily being instant. I was rushed to theatre during my labour for a forceps delivery and was so knocked out on drugs when my precious daughter was born that I told my husband I couldn’t hold her because I was shaking so much, and then just passed out for 2 hours, they had to wake me up to feed her! Those first few weeks I did think ‘what have I done?’ and had wishes of reversing events. The love definitely came, and oh boy did it come, I have never known anything so consuming as my love for my child, but in those early days, I knew I was feeling something unmentionable, something scary.
    Thankfully I am a Christian, and hold on, I know that can mean A LOT of different things depending on where you are, your experiences, your culture, but for me at least, it means community. It means that I live alongside people who are trying to recreate the village in the midst of the city. It means that I have older women who I can go to for advice, it means that I have peers who are having babies at the same time as me and we can be honest, and we can cry, and it means that we know that our identity is not in what we do or in our role as a mother, and it means that this job of ours, of being entrusted with a unique and beautiful creation of God is highly esteemed and valued. Reading this has made me realise that I am so thankful for where I am and the community that I have.
    I do feel the societal pressure too though, and I don’t know how we can create a space for mothers to be in solidarity, how can the silence be broken? What should we as women do to reach out our hands to other mothers, to change the minds of those who put this weight of expectation on us. It is so hard being strong alone, so hard to always feel on the defensive and not to hold it all in, and just pretend. There are SO MANY mothers here, everywhere you go, and so much silence! I really don’t know. Online is good because it is so much better than not having any outlet, but you can’t cry together online, you can’t hug online and you can’t just take the baby for a couple of hours. We need help.ReplyCancel

  • January 23, 2013 - 8:17 pm

    Cass - Thank you for this post Sash. It is so true, we hide our true challenges behind a joke, a giggle & a justification of “but it’s all worth it” because, of course it is. BUT when reality hits … 1 in 3 mothers experience some sort of postnatal depression or anxiety and well to be truthfully honest some of these mothers question their love for their child. Not because its not there – they know it is – but because they don’t feel it like they think they should, like society tells/shows them that they should by ‘being’ and ‘giving’ all things for their child. Parenting is exhausting! As a single parent, a couple, whatever … It is hard work (& extremely important too) & anyone who has tried it knows it!ReplyCancel

  • January 23, 2013 - 9:43 pm

    Jessica - You hit the nail on the head with this post. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your post, words and honesty. This is the reality of motherhood.ReplyCancel

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  • January 26, 2013 - 4:36 am

    Donna - A beautiful truthful reminder that there are other mummies silently feeling the same way, often. Thanks Sash. xReplyCancel

  • February 6, 2013 - 7:04 am

    Khayt - I came back to find this post, as I read it too quickly in our crazy world. Today I get to slow down and read your beautiful words – someone very special to me, will be reading this today too and I hope it starts her on the right road of her motherhood journey!! xxReplyCancel

  • February 27, 2013 - 9:53 am

    bron@babyspace - Hi Sash, I’m so glad to have found your blog and this post brings up a lot of ideas I’ve been pondering lately. Like the ‘conspiracy of silence’. Is there really one? And if there is, who is creating it? We say it takes a village to raise a child but as soon as other people start telling us what we should and shouldn’t be doing we get cranky (well, I do).
    But I also agree that I feel so much pressure. Too much sometimes. But is it from society? Or does it come from myself? All these questions are part of the reason that I’m still pondering and not posting. But I really like your post, thanks for writing it. xReplyCancel

  • March 12, 2013 - 5:41 pm

    Mothering without a Village in the 21st Century. - [...] But. The thing that sets my eyelids twitching so hard that I can feel the breeze? It’s this concept that all women of my generation are suffering because they are mothering without a village. This ridiculousness that the average 21st century mother has it SO MUCH HARDER. [...]ReplyCancel

  • March 29, 2013 - 2:24 pm

    Insights On How Child-Rearing Guides Will Help You - [...] to learn new techniques and receive assistance from seasoned dads and mums as well as specialists.All dads and moms will call for help in taking care of their girls and boys at some stage in their l…prove on several factors. Abiding by the advice of specialists or fellow parents would allow you to [...]ReplyCancel

  • July 1, 2013 - 5:20 am

    Inked in Colour: Do you feel safe? - [...] each other. We are mostly without strong community. Many of us don’t know our neighbours. We are so connected and yet so removed. We are taught to keep to ourselves, to keep our mouths shut, to not cause trouble. All you have to [...]ReplyCancel

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  • November 22, 2013 - 1:49 pm

    Inked in Colour: Breaking the silence: On being a single parent. - […] When I think of the incredibly unreasonable expectations we have on mothers in general, I am shocked. Our society pushes for (unreasonable) perfection. Our society expects that mothers should raise these perfect children whilst being essentially isolated from the world. Instead of offering support, we offer judgmental advice, books with parenting “rules” and guidelines that have the potential of stripping mothers of their instinct.  And then we add on top of that a mother without the support of a partner, without the small moments of respite that the partnered mother is given. Without the time to find herself. And we turn around and we judge these mothers. Single mothers. We judge them. I know a young single mother who was called the most disgusting names by her own brother, because she is without a man. Because she chose to continue her pregnancy and raise her beautiful child alone. Because she didn’t have the choice to just “walk away.” Because she chose life. We judge women we see alone, wrangling children. The plight of the single parent has become fodder for television shows and sitcoms and jokes… what we don’t do is offer real, supportive, full assistance. I’m not talking about pensions or money or aid. I’m ashamed (albeit extraordinarily grateful)  to have to ask for a handout from the government to survive… and I’m sure most people are. I’d prefer to have the facility to raise my child the way (I believe) she deserves to be raised and work enough to make good money to support us without help. But as one person, that is not possible right now, our society doesn’t support working options for mothers who want to keep their children with them. […]ReplyCancel

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