September 7, 2012

The Lie of Motherhood

My household monsters
A belated end-of-the-month controversy

Once again, our news is filled with news about politicians attempting to win over the votes of women.

As these politicians, and the wives of politicians, talk and talk about womanhood, the same theme comes up.  Again and again and again.


You see, motherhood is the only issue that we, as a society, believe all women can rally around.

We are told again and again and again that motherhood is the hardest job there is.  That it is the most important.

Both of these are lies.

Before you go shouting me down and all, hear me out.

I'm a mom, as you've probably known for some time now.  And as is probably extremely evident, I love being a mom.

And as I've said before, being a stay at home parent is really really hard.

Maybe the hardest job out there.

But that's being a stay at home parent.  I have no doubt that just about any father could do what I do for their own families.  That a father could shake together breakfast for the kids, shuttle them wherever they needed to go, organize a schedule that includes doctors and grocery trips and playgrounds, keep the laundry relatively clean, change the diapers, sing the lullabyes, throw together dinner, administer kisses and bandaids, hand out snacks, re-stock diaper bags, change the sheets, change the underpants, build the pillow forts, enforce the time-outs, dole out tooth fairy money, remember the birthdays parties and playdates, join in the occasional game of make believe...

It doesn't take a mom.  It takes a parent.

But we as a society are only starting to understand that.  We're only starting to accept that dads are just as capable of being as nurturing and family-focused as moms.  Because we're only starting to accept that moms can work outside the home.

Yeah, I said that.  We're only STARTING to ACCEPT it.  And grudgingly so.

I know this is true.  I know this because the CDC defines all women, from the time they start menstruating until menopause, as "pre-pregnant."  I know this because when we talk about working women, we talk about working moms.  When we talk about women using birth control, we frame the debate around such figures as the 79% of married women who use birth control.  When we talk about the glass ceiling, we talk about the fear employers have that the women in their employ will become pregnant.

Women, especially married women, are expected to become pregnant.  Expected to become mothers.  And if they don't they are seen as some sort of anomaly.  Don't they want to give their parents grandchildren?  Don't they want somebody to support them in their old age?

The fact is, marriage and children are entirely separate experiences and choices.  But we don't look at it that way.  When a woman is married, we ask when she'll have kids.  When a man is married, we joke that he only ever gets to have sex with one woman for the rest of his life.

We like to believe that women have the same opportunities as men, but this is not true.  When women begin to plan their lives, to choose college or work, we also add the choice, "or marriage."  Fact is, most women go to work AND have children.  Few women have the option of not working.  And some who would choose to work can't- they stay with their children because they can't make enough to afford the sort of childcare they require.

Even moms who mostly stay at home work.  Pampered Chef, Avon, all sorts of companies cater to the working stay-at-home mom.  Lots of women who "don't need to work" do NEED to work, because they don't WANT to be a mother only.

And the message we give to these young women, and to much younger girls, is very clear.

"You can be anything you want when you grow up.  You can be a doctor, or a lawyer, or a teacher... but the BEST thing you can be, the MOST IMPORTANT thing you can be, is a mom."

I'm not going to deny it- being a mom is one of the most important things in my life.  I always knew it would be.  But it is quite simply not the most important job that there is.

It is not even the best job that there is.

I think about women novelists, women like Margaret Atwood and J.K. Rowling, who have had the experience of writing for a living.  I think that would be pretty much the best job ever- regardless of whether or not I had children.  Whether or not I was a woman.

I think about women like Linda Buck and Elizabeth Blackburn, who won Nobel Prizes in medicine and physiology.  I think that's a pretty damn important job.

And yes, my children are tied with my husband for the most important things in the world to me, but if I'm being honest- is the job of raising them more important than the job of somebody finding a cure for cancer?  Is the job of raising them- a mere three people- more important than the job of the scientists that let the public know a hurricane is barreling towards their city?  Is it more important than the job of a diplomat who negotiates with other countries that would wage war?



No, because me staying at home with my three children is probably less important to the world than a whole city that could be wiped out with a nuclear bomb.

No, because me personally raising my children is probably less important to the world than a cure to a disease that kills millions every year.

No, because children grow into people.  Sometimes, remarkable people.  Remarkable people come from all backgrounds.  From one parent homes, from two parent homes, from no parent homes.  Remarkable people come from foster care, from adoptive parents, from abusive parents.

I love my children.  I would rather they lived and flourished than that a hypothetical city full of strangers survived, but we're not talking about a Sophie's choice.  We're talking about the relative importance of jobs.

It's not, "would you rather your kids died or a city full of strangers died?" It's, "is it more important that YOU are at home with your kids, or that YOU perform a different job that you may or may not love and that may or may not greatly benefit society as a whole?"

And motherhood is wonderful.  And important.  And love is important.  And the human race has almost always associated motherhood with love.

Mothers are the embodiment of love.

And love?  Love is, in the context of our society, weakness.  It robs you of the sharpness to make money at any cost, and that is where a person's economic value lies.

Which means that mothers are weak.

Which means that women are weak.

Strong mothers, single mothers, are to be applauded.  They had no man to help them.  No husband to protect them.  To leave them exclusively to the incalculably difficult task of childrearing.

Strong mothers are mothers who also work.  Or who also champion a cause.  Or who also struggle alone.

And strong women?

Strong women are mothers, as well as anything else that they do.

But the fact is, being a parent is a choice that we made.  Yes, it describes us.  And for some, it does define us.  But it is not everything.

And for women there is a shame in that.  There is a shame in having things that are more important to you than motherhood.  Not more important to you than your kids, but more important than the fact that you are their mother.

I love my children.  But being their mother does not define me.

I love raising my children.  But it is not my passion.

I love my role as a mother.  But it is not the only role I play in our society.

I could have been many things.  When I was a kid, I wanted to cure leukemia.  When I was a kid, I wanted to be president.  When I was a kid, I wanted to be a teacher.  And I wanted to be a mom.

And now?

What matters to me, and what should matter to anyone else, is that I am a person.

A citizen.

A contributing member of society.  (Including the contribution of raising more contributing members of society.)

There is nothing wrong with choosing not to become a parent, married or otherwise.  There is nothing wrong with choosing to become a parent.  There is nothing wrong with being defined by either of those choices.

But I am tired of hearing "women" and "mothers" used as synonyms.  That all women love being mothers.  That all mothers love being mothers.  That all working mothers wish they were home with their kids.  That all women SHOULD be mothers, or WANT to be mothers.

I am tired of the lie.

Not all women should be mothers.  Hell, not all mothers should be mothers.  Just as not all bankers should be bankers.

Motherhood is a choice, but we don't treat it that way.  We treat it as an expectation.  You will get married, and you will have children.  And you can choose how many kids, but you'll have them.  And if you fail to wed by a certain age, the pestering beings.  When will you have kids?  How will you have kids if you don't get married?  And if you don't have children, you fail.  You become an object of pity.  Of scorn.  Of shame.

And yes, men experience this to a certain degree as well, but it is not the same.  We accept that for some men, their careers are more important than a family.  But when a woman chooses a career instead of a family...

We should be better than this.  We should be beyond this.  We should be done with the idea that because women can turn an embryo into a person and men cannot, it is the end-all and be-all of womanhood.  But Women are people.  Just like men.

We don't need to be ashamed of it.  We don't need to be ashamed that there is anything more important to us than "the next generation."  But we are taught to be ashamed of everything that we do.  Ashamed to be pretty, ashamed to be ugly.  Ashamed to be successful, ashamed to fail.  Ashamed to aspire, ashamed to settle.  We are ashamed or terrified of shame for every choice we make in life, save one.  To answer when people ask, "What do you do?" with, "I'm a mom."

"I'm a mom," up on a golden pedestal, simultaneously fearsome and comforting.  The super-woman of the mini-van and fresh muffins.  The goddess returned to pre-pregnancy weight, clutching a smart phone full of business contacts and half a dozen Pinterest boards, pushing a stroller through the organic section of the grocery store, while well adjusted tweens follow behind.

Our televisions are full of commercials, "mom" who helps mold her children into Olympians, or who's dedication keeps them healthy, or who's voting choices make them safe.

And even for some moms, "I'm a mom" comes with shame.  It shakes the finger at them, telling them "I told you so, I told you that you could only ever be a mom.  Society was right, you only ever had this in your future.  You never really had a choice."

I love being a mom, but it isn't what they want us to believe it is.  It isn't the meaning of life, it isn't the answer to every existential quandary.

Being a mom is another thing that I do, and that I hope I do well.  But it's not "it."

And it's not what unites me with other women, with other mothers.

Being a human being does that.

Being a human being is the thing for which I had no choice.

We need to start treating each other as people, not biological processes.

That isn't the job of mothers, either.  That's another one for the human beings.


  1. This is everything I want to say just so much better than I could ever say it.

  2. What is so hard is the society always wants to put us into roles, into categories. There is so much pressure to be this and be that. Can't we just be.

  3. This is what I've said many-a-time, and EVERY time I say it my friends/family/whomever look at me like I'm evil because I admit that staying home with my children is not fulfilling to me and I want to work. I love my children, but I am fiercely defensive of my time without them - my time to grow as a PERSON and do something that doesn't involve wiping butts or feeding faces. I'm so glad I'm not the only one who feels this way.

  4. I agree with absolutely EVERYTHING you said! I also agree with bethashleym,that is was said so much better than I could ever say it.

  5. I love this post! As a woman who has chosen not to have children, by my late 20s I was treated as an anomaly in some quarters. I know over the next couple decades, the pity/credulousness/quiet disapproval will only get worse.

    The women I get this from, at my age, almost all had children young, and most have been single mothers. The fact that they have raised their children has been the constant in their lives- men may come and go, jobs may come and go, but your children will always be yours. They can't imagine their life without having had kids. It is the best thing they have ever done, and they don't dwell on what might have been otherwise.

    One of the reasons I do not want to be a mother is that, for me at least, I think it would be the hardest, most terrifying job in the world. I'm sure that if I had a decent husband and I would muddle through, but it isn't something I want to attempt. I do not think I would be capable of raising a child alone. It would just be too much. And it would preclude me, just by the amount of energy required, from doing much of anything else.

    But that is not the main reason that I am sure that I won't ever have kids- I just don't want to. Never really have. I've been pregnant, and worried I might be pregnant, and it hasn't activated any deep rooted maternal instinct.

    I don't hate kids. I love my nieces and my friends' kids. I also don't hate cats, or Labrador retrievers, or lesbian lovers, but I don't want my own. I like, even love, some of all of the above.

    They're just not for me, and that is not an indictment of amyone else's choices.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Vote for me!

Visit Top Mommy Blogs To Vote For Me!