The Culture of Motherhood-Cedar Sanderson
Without mothers, the world would not be the place that it is. And yet, in our self-hating society, motherhood is denigrated, despised, and belittled. Mothers are mocked for becoming mothers, and then challenged to perform beyond human limits. When they fail? Mocked again. It’s enough to make you wonder why they bother.
Let’s put this into perspective. Only a very small portion of the world’s societies demand that a woman keep maintaining a career while trying to raise her children. As a result, neither the children nor the career get full justice. But in our society, should the mother choose her children over her career, then she is ‘giving in to the patriarchy’ and this is a shameful thing in the eyes of those who ought to be supporting her.
I am not saying that motherhood means mewing yourself up in the house with the children, your husband the only source of adult human contact… that would drive most people mad. I remember those days, and how helpful the internet was. I also was helping start up, then running full time, a successful small business from the time my first child was still in diapers. The phone and the internet made it possible for me, and had I been able to drive, I could have done even more.
With the technological advances of our society, there really is no more reason for a mother to need to leave home. And yet there is more pressure every year for her to do just that, to leave her children with minimum-wage daycare workers, and go off ten or more hours a day to pursue a career.
In a conversation elsewhere, a story was told, set in the late sixties or early seventies, of two men talking. One had recently been married, and the other was congratulating him, teasing him a little on his good luck… and commenting that now the new wife would be able to stop working and focus on raising a family. The teller of this tale in the modern era was horrified. The worst kind of harassment, it was proclaimed, to subdue this poor woman to merely having children.
But let’s look at this again. At one time, O my Children, men were expected to take care of their families. If they did not, they were expected to creep off into the night in shame. For the newly-married groom in this conversation, to be unable to allow his wife the support so that she could, if she chose, stop working and have fat happy babies which she could put her whole attention to raising… would be a bad thing. So the other man was not condemning the woman to a slattern’s life of dirty dishwater and enforced slavery.
Because she had the ability to choose. And that is what we are taking away from the young women of today. We are altering the culture of motherhood in such a way as to leave girls with an unspeakable choice: family, or work. Could they have both? Yes, but chances are they will be pushed into a career that means they must choose between one or the other, and whichever they choose, they will be made to feel guilty about it.
I am a mother. For the first twelve years of their lives, I was able to be at home with them, running a business, yes, but still there constantly. When that became untenable, I was still able to support them. But then I had to work out of the home, two or three jobs at a time. I know both sides of the coin, and I know which I would choose if I could do it again. But my eldest daughter is learning in her high school classes that if she wants to have a baby and pursue a PhD at the same time, that’s a wonderful goal, and she should do it. I’m biting my tongue and trying not to discourage her – she is brilliant, and hardworking, but she has no idea what babies or work or even really, school, entail. She’s going to have a very difficult time if she tries that path.
And here’s the final thing I have to say about the culture of motherhood these days. We are losing the extended family. Only, perhaps not in the way you might think. Where once the grandmother (or both grandparents, but men have ever lived less long than the tough old women are granted) was an integral part of the family, helping raise the little sprouts, giving the mother some breathing room, they are now… not. Families are often scattered. But even more I am seeing a trend where mothers, unable to bear up under the pressures placed on them to work, have children, and dispense with a steady caring man in their life: they give up. I know several families, and I am sure you do as well, where the grandparents are now parenting again. I know of one where the great-grandparents are, as none others are capable of taking care of an infant.
We face an epidemic of broken families. We have for a long time, I know. But I think back to that long-ago conversation, to a man’s promise to support and love his wife, implicit in the joking with another man. How twisted we have become, that it is now possible to say that is harassing a woman, to tear her away from her family, force her to work, remove her supportive partner from loving her through all the trials of motherhood… is this a good thing? When did mother become a bad word?