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.