exciting, informative, snarky, and very likely fabricated tales of life as an american expat in london

whereupon i alienate 99% of mothers

by Jen at 6:22 pm on 7.04.2010 | 5 Comments
filed under: like a fish needs a bicycle, mutterings and musings

the other day i turned on the television to one of the “women’s” network cable channels that i never visit, only to stumble upon a show called “a baby story”. that’s right, a whole show dedicated to someone having a baby. i was intrigued to see what kind of plot twist there would be: perhaps this was a special messianic baby, or the birth was complicated in some way? but nope – this was just a garden variety birth, thoroughly sanitised, without even any bloody bits or drama. ordinary at best, dull at worst. and yet here was some middle-class lady with her legs in stirrups, eager to share her ordinary birth experience, presumably with some clamouring audience that had an overwhelming desire to watch almost nothing of note happen. but the gushing, glowing accolades about motherhood after the baby was born? well they were just unreal – you would have thought she was the first woman to ever successfully procreate.

it got me to thinking: when did motherhood get to be such a big deal?

now i’m not saying that it’s not individually a big deal for each mother. of course it is, and rightly so. i have a mother, we all came from mothers. mothers are important, we love mothers. i totally get that.

no, what i fail to understand lately, is the elevation of all things mother-related to near-sainthood. it’s become a cult of motherhood – one where all mothers are revered. all mothers are idolised, and mothers-to-be are feted. everything mother-related is viewed as being enveloped in a golden halo. motherhood itself is seen as the highest calling any woman can aspire to. mothers of multiples are practically worshipped (see: “Jon and Kate Plus 8″, the “Octomom” obsession, and anything and everything to do with the Duggars). society is obsessed with mothers. there are faddish “yummy-mummies”, and mommy blogs, and doom-laden warnings about postponing motherhood, and television shows, and acronyms for “SAHM” or “WOTH” mothers, and “soccer moms”, and “mommy wars”, and “helicopter moms”, yadda yadda yadda.

mothers sacrifice, mothers are wellspings of giving and devotion, mothers toil uncomplainingly and unendingly. giving birth is a miracle, nourishing a new human inside and outside one’s body is the ultimate act of creation and caregiving. raising a child is the most rewarding thing you will ever do.

all of which is true… but so what? 99% of all women will become a mother – why all the media hype?

it didn’t used to be this way. when i grew up in the 70s, mothers were just… mothers. (ooops, did i just say that?)

and yet we’ve fetishised it of late. and i would argue, we’ve done so to the detriment of both mothers *and* fathers alike.

(yeah, fathers. remember them?)

these days the cult of motherhood is so all pervasive, so all consuming, so all-idealised that there is overwhelming pressure on women to be something they can never be: the perfect mother. i know several smart, strong, capable women who’ve been reduced to a quivering mess because they fear “doing it wrong”. because attachment parenting doesn’t work for them. because they didn’t breastfeed long enough. because they breastfed too long. because they didn’t breastfeed at all. because they didn’t get their “pre-baby” bodies back as quickly as the next person. because they don’t have the wherewithall to enroll their child in private school. because they (*gasp*) can afford to stay at home, but don’t want to, and feel guilty about it. because they *do* want to stay at home, but can’t afford to, and feel guilty about it. because they let their child watch television. because they let their child eat sugar. because they got their kids vaccinated. because they didn’t. because they only have one child and their kid will be lonely. because they have a few kids and they don’t all get individual attention. because they spend too much time on the internet. because their kid doesn’t hit developmental milestones fast enough. because they don’t eat organic. because they don’t cook enough. because they buy their kid’s halloween costume at a store instead of hand-sewing one. yadda yadda yadda.

because they are under the weight of a society’s gaze that is all-idealising, all-critiquing, all-consuming, all-motherhood-all-the-time. and they are bound to disappoint. society has raised the bar so high, painted the halo with such a wide brush, that no one can possibly wear it.

and remember the fathers? in a society that is all-motherhood-all-the-time, they are relegated to the sidelines as ostracised bit players. we exhort men to be more equal, involved partners in parenting – but only mothers get the recognition.

and with a culture that is so skewed towards mothers, is that a healthy message to pass on to the children in this equation?

it seems to me that we have turned motherhood itself into just another obsessive pursuit of the unobtainable female ideal – just as damaging as any photoshopped model in a magazine. instead of viewing the “normal” and “ordinary” as worthy of quiet respect and appreciation in their own right, we obsess over and venerate a hyper-glossy and warped version of the female form, until women everywhere are killing themselves to conform.

and in doing so, we miss out on recognising the work of everyday mothers, doing everyday mothering. not extraordinary, perfect mothers who only exist in the careful editing of reality television shows. not sainted, virgin mothers who birth the son of god. just everyday mothers – who do it all without the limelight and veneration…

…and sometimes with a little help from a father.

4 people like this post.


  • 1

    Comment by Julie B

    7.04.2010 @ 20:03 pm


    I also think that this cult of motherhood atmosphere makes women who choose NOT to have children question themselves and also receive unwelcomed scorn or pity from others. Just because I choose not to be a mother doesn’t mean I’m less valuable or special, just like fathers are no less valuable or special than mothers. (end rant)

    My sister once said to me that being a parent is both a selfISH act as a selfLESS one in her experience (mother of 3). It’s a shame many people refuse to admit the former and hype up the latter, as it furthers a culture of guilt trips and perfectionist traps for both mothers and fathers alike.

  • 2

    Comment by Amity

    7.04.2010 @ 21:33 pm

    99%? I think it’s more like 80-90%(depending on socioeconomic status). Sorry, just a technical aside.

    There’s so much I agree with here but I was just on my way to bed so I’ll have to come back to comment in more depth tomorrow.

  • 3

    Comment by Jen

    8.04.2010 @ 11:47 am

    @amity – what, me, use hyperbole??! never! )

  • 4

    Comment by dianaspy

    14.04.2010 @ 07:15 am

    This is EXACTLY why I always park in the spaces reserved for expectant mothers at the mall. And why I sometimes contemplate buying a baby carriage to push around as a means to bulldoze anyone in my path. good times.

  • 5

    Comment by blues

    21.04.2010 @ 15:43 pm

    Maybe it was always so glorified, it’s just that we are more bombarded by media than we were before.

    Maybe it’s out age that makes us notice it more and not being mom’s ourselves that call our attention to it.

    In my case it’s infertility. But it doesn’t matter if it’s infertility or if it’s by choice. You’re still being told you are incomplete.

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