Motherhood is hard. I am sure it has always been hard. It seems to be harder today. People write a lot about what it means to be a good mother and a bad mother.
Authors like Ayelet Waldman in Bad Mother and Wednesday Martin in Primates of Park Avenue write about the stress of motherhood- mothers trying to be everything to everyone, keeping up with the Jones’s, and them losing themselves or becoming ill in the process.
Others like Ann-Marie Slaughter in Unfinished Business, Sheryl Sandberg in Lean In and Arianna Huffington in Thrive write about having it all or focusing on what your particular stage of life necessitates.
Mothers still bear the brunt of the housework, emotionally supporting the children, project managing the schedule, and developing their careers. There is even a book about the medical theory about Rushing Women’s Syndrome in the book of the same name by Dr Libby Weaver, which considers the health cost of the kind of motherhood that is so all encompassing. The motherhood of the world we live in.
There have been articles on whether you are a bad mother if you don’t go to all your kids sport events or if you talk on the mobile phone while they are playing at the park.
Mummy blogs detail the nuances of their lives, their children’s lives, what food we should eat, how much TV they should watch and how happy they are.
We know that is not the reality. People can’t afford their lives and are continually stressed and sleep deprived. Women have to work to make ends meet and to give their children the opportunities that are important to them.
There are conferences on motherhood – in July this year the Australian Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement is convening a conference on Negotiating Competing Demands: 21st Century Motherhood. Amongst other things this conference will consider the competing demands that mothers negotiate including: “paid work and professional pursuits, unpaid work including care work, creative activities, sporting commitments, online endeavours, volunteerism, religious involvement and personal relationships” (http://www.mothering.org.au/conferences ).
Motherhood changes your life, your priorities, your interests. It stretches you, it pushes you. It is a process. It begins with a shift in what you consider to be a productive use of time. It changes your self-perception and can rock your identity, particularly if you have stepped out of your professional trajectory in order to be at home with your children.
You don’t know what your children are going to need as they grow, reach their milestones and develop into proper people. You don’t know what you are going to get, how you are going to have to push yourself to stay positive, to see them through their challenges turn them into the best people they can be. Not for you- not what you consider is the best they can be, but what they want for themselves.
Motherhood is exhausting. Motherhood is lonely, even when you are surrounded by lots of other mothers.
Motherhood can be competitive.
Motherhood can cost you your friends.
But motherhood is not about living vicariously through your children, or seeing them as a reflection of your own ability or achievements, not for them to be the top of the class, or the prettiest or the best, but to invest in them so they can be independent, resilient and confident people. When this happens motherhood is uplifting. It will challenge you. It will grow you.
As Andrew Solomon in Far From the Tree, a heartbreaking and inspiring book that considers how parents respond to children who do not share the same identities as them- who are deaf, disabled, gifted, criminals, transgender, mentally ill, suggests: ““Parenthood abruptly catapults us into a permanent relationship with a stranger, and the more alien the stranger, the stronger the whiff of negativity. We depend on the guarantee in our children’s faces that we will not die. Children whose defining quality annihilates that fantasy of immortality are a particular insult; we must love them for themselves, and not for the best of ourselves in them, and that is a great deal harder to do. Loving our own children is an exercise for the imagination.”