Mothers Matter: putting the mother back in mothering

Enlight123

This is the 2302nd post that I’ve written on this blog and if there’s been one consistent theme over the past years it has been this: Mothers Matter!

I’ve written about baby-friendly this and baby-centered that, but I’ve rarely come across anything that is explicitly mother-friendly or mother-centered. That’s not an accident. In the 30 plus years I’ve been a parent, mothering has changed from caring for children to curating them.

Mothers aren’t incubators or milk dispensers; they’re people who matter.

Children are viewed as objects to be acted upon, shaped and molded. The actual child takes second place to the future adult that is purportedly being created, an adult with specific middle to upper middle classes achievements: smart, talented, and ready to enter the economic competition of adulthood at a high level.

The conceit motivating this type of mothering is that women can only be successful mothers if they lose themselves. Their pain doesn’t count; their suffering doesn’t count; their time doesn’t count. Mothers and children have been suffering as a result.

But mothers DO matter.

That’s why I’ve created a new Facebook group, Mothers Matter, as a place for women to support other women in navigating mothering the way that works best for them. I hope it will provide an opportunity to share their hopes, fears, tips and experiences. I hope it will be a place of support, not judgment. What worked for you and what didn’t? Who helped you and who didn’t? How did you cope with childbirth, breastfeeding and parenting or how didn’t you cope? What kind of support do you need and how can we provide it?

Mothers aren’t merely incubators requiring strict supervision of every habit and every bite they eat; they are grown women capable of making health decisions for themselves and entitled to accurate information with which to do so.

How did you navigate pregnancy? How did you handle the judgment and the nosiness?

Mothers aren’t merely packaging to be torn apart in order to get to the child inside. How women give birth matters. Their pain matters and it should be abolished if they wish. Their sexual function and continence matter. They should not be subjected to traumatic forceps deliveries in order to reach some arbitrary C-section rate target. Their safety is paramount and they should not be pressured to risk their lives attempting vaginal birth after C-section or homebirth in order to avoid spurious risks to their babies’ microbiome and enact a romantic (and ahistoric) ideal of birth.

What did you expect from birth and what did you get? What do you wish you had known beforehand?

Mothers aren’t milk dispensers. The benefits of breastfeeding in industrialized countries are trivial and it is up to women to weigh them against the right to control their own bodies, not up to activists intent on creating the breastfeeding version of the Handmaiden’s Tale.

Do you breastfeed or bottlefeed? Are you happy with your choice? How did you handle the pressure that you felt?

Mothers aren’t blankies or binkies or lovies to be glued to a child’s body 24/7/365. They are separate people with independent lives and while they sacrifice much for their children, exactly what they sacrifice and how they do it is up to them, not parenting “experts.”

Do you sleep in a family bed or only with a partner? Do you “wear” your baby or is that something that doesn’t work for either of you? Did you return to work or decide to stay home? Are you happy with your decision?

The group will be open to the public, but only those who join will be able to post their stories. Anyone will be able to comment to offer support or suggestions.

Mothers matter. It’s time to put the mother back in mothering. Please join us!

  • Steph858

    To play Devil’s Advocate: Let’s say that deciding to become a parent (well, given the attitudes of Lactivists, Attachment Parenters et al, by ‘parent’ we really mean ‘mother’) means you are morally obliged to forgo all your comfort and convenience for the sake of your child; no sacrifice is too great, no perceived benefit for your child too small.

    Then what about your older children? Engaging in practices like co-sleeping, baby-wearing and exclusive breastfeeding will require you to devote all your time to your baby, leaving you with precious little, if any time for your older children. Do these ‘baby-centred’ folk think that kids can be left to look after themselves from the day they turn 2 or something?

    • maidmarian555

      My Mum spent my entire childhood treating me as a mild annoyance and made it very clear I wasn’t as precious to her as my baby brother. She *still* boasts about how long she breastfed us for. I am 37 years old. 37 years and she still clings on to how that somehow makes her a superior mother, despite the subsequent years of emotional (and also physical) neglect. It’s not much fun being the older child of an AP fanatic.

      • Steph858

        But those couple of years before your baby brother was born during which you were treated like you were the centre of the universe by your selflessly crunchy AP mother were totally worth it, right?

        (/sarcasm)

    • Heidi_storage

      Two? Pshhh; personally, I rent out my kids as day laborers as soon as they turn one. Gotta get the little spongers to earn their keep.

      • Steph858

        Why rent them out when you can use them for your own profit? I make my (nearly) 3 year old bring in all the heavy crates of stock when I get back from the Cash-and-Carry.

        In all seriousness, I only give him the light stuff like boxes of crisps. I do so for his benefit; he would throw a tantrum if I DIDN’T let him ‘help’ (quote marks because it would be quicker if I just did it all myself). Doesn’t stop passersby from accusing me of being a wicked, abusive and flagrant violator of child labour laws though.

        • It’s only a criminal violation of labor laws if you pay him.

          (In the US, or at least in NY, family-owned businesses get pretty broad exemptions from those laws.)

  • Who?

    I’m with Antigonos-our children are 25 and 23, both on track in good careers that they enjoy-mostly; nice friends and lovely partners; being ridiculously responsible with money, and so it goes on.

    No idea what we did to contribute or hinder.

    Be yourself, and be kind to yourself, your partner, the child/ren and others. And model the behaviour you want.

    That’s all.

    • KQ Not Signed In

      That is helpful info. The pressure to “raise an adult” is getting really difficult. Every bad habit or crappy kid behavior is a dreadful harbinger of the man he’ll be some day.

      Even though all six year olds are assholes, but not all adults are…

  • You know, I have absolutely no idea what I did, right or wrong, to produce, together with my husband, three happy, healthy, and successful children who are now 37, 35, and 33.

    I used my common sense, and occasionally, a bit of knowledge picked up in nursing school (good for scrapes, bruises, bangs on the head, and fevers). I didn’t “wear” them, or co-sleep with them, and in one instance didn’t even attempt breastfeeding. I didn’t take them to “baby exercise” classes or play Baby Mozart records for them, and they still turned out just fine. Judging by today’s standards, I was a terrible mother — and, in spite of it all, they still like me.

    That’s it.

    • MI Dawn

      I breastfed when I could, put my kids in daycare at 6 weeks (no other choice), and they elected sports, activities, etc. I didn’t push mine, either, and we joke that I am/was a terrible mother (she’s not outside watching them every second! Call the police! Child neglect!!!). But my kids are 30 and 27, healthy, happy adults, and successful in what they want to do so far (child #2 is back in the nest temporarily as she attends an accelerated nursing program for a BSN and wants to become a midwife!)

      • Well, as a retired midwife, I wish her well. [But only if she goes for the CNM!]

        • MI Dawn

          Oh, if she does go on, she’ll go CNM (that’s what I was, also – no way would I let her go DE)

      • Mel

        My mom routinely dumped us kids outside after taking my sister and I’s books away and told us we couldn’t come back inside until dinner or nightfall. We turned out fine.

        • EmbraceYourInnerCrone

          Are we twins? My mothers refrain was “You’re too pale and skinny! Go outside and run around!” I also read my novels by flashlight after I was supposed to be asleep. I too put my daughter in daycare at 6 weeks and as far as activities until high school I told her she was limited to one per semester. many activities have an unadvertised cost in both parental time and in real dollars. More than one was just too much of a strain. She graduated from college(Engineering) and got a job with in 2 months and she seems pretty happy.

    • Empress of the Iguana People

      my kids get normal Mozart and Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Williams, and so forth. Mostly because their parents are nerds who like to listen to classical music. I’m the type who sends the kids out to play and come back when they get hungry, when they’re old enough. Boybard thinks he is already, 3 going on 30. *eyeroll*

      • The Bofa on the Sofa

        Our kids get a combination of 70s and 80s music in the background at our house (depending on whether it’s me or my wife who turns on the music), and at night they listen to songs from the Muppet Show, which is a pretty wide variety.

        But the one thing we do and have always done is to read before bed. Every night. And I’m not afraid to say it, but, yes, damnit, that matters.

        Read with your kids when they are young, because when they get older, you won’t get to do that any more.

        • Gæst

          I started reading to mine at about three months, mostly just Goodnight Moon before “bed” (which at that age was just a nap that happened when I wanted their eventual bedtime to be. And then one day I put them down for an early afternoon nap and sat in a chair near them intending to read Game of Thrones silently to myself while I waited to see if they would settle down, and I found them staring at me expectantly because they thought I was going to read to them. So I went ahead and read them Game of Thrones that day.

        • Empress of the Iguana People

          *snort* preaching to the choir on that one, Bofa. I read print books at nap time and random times during the day. Dem reads at bedtime (in Braille.) They just finished The Secret Garden and now are working through the original Curious Georges again. Kerry will often “read” one of his picture books too.

        • KQ Not Signed In

          That’s all well and good, but Wee Man refused *from birth* to be read to. By mom, dad, grandparents – nope. He’ll tolerate group reading in school, but has refused to be read to otherwise. He’d scream and cry and fuss as an infant and young toddler, and was reading them himself (as secretively and defensively as if he was doing something terrible) when he was two.

          He still hates to read if anyone is watching him, or be read aloud to. I’ve tried everything from picture books to newspapers to Harry Potter. So has everyone else. He. Will. Have. None. Of. It. Drives the entire family of bookworms *crazy*

          And now at 6 11/12 years old, he’s reading at about a 4th grade level in English and happily learning to read Chinese. But god help you if you want to read with him.

          The best laid plans…

      • Gæst

        My four year olds were listening to Tom Waits this morning.

      • Roadstergal

        I could pick and choose which of my parents’ classical albums I liked best. I ended up with a bit of a German fetish – Wagner, some Mozart, a little Strauss (J, not R).

        • Empress of the Iguana People

          German fetish? *raises eyebrow*

          • Roadstergal

            LOL! I do have a longstanding crush on a German colleague.

      • Our kids got some of everything, I’m a classical fan but my husband likes the great classical Arab singers [his family came from Iraq]. I’d like to say that it rubbed off on the kids, but they like Israeli pop music which I think is blah.”

        As for the three year old going on 30, I regret to inform you it gets worse. Around 9, he develops a severe allergy to water, but LOVES deodorant and hair gel, which we used to buy by the gallon. At 37, he’s gone for the bald look. [Go figure]

        • Empress of the Iguana People

          my brother did that too. Axe is -horrible- over underwashed preteen. I do try to give them some experience in other areas of music.

        • The intentional bald look (as opposed to actual hair loss) looks good on very few people, and none of them are white men. They look sick, creepy, or a bit of both.

          • I’ve seen some white men who do rock the intentionally bald look, but because that look has been commandeered by the skinheads, I would have a hard time trusting anyone who had chosen it. Like it or not, a white man with a shaved head is choosing to present himself in a way that a lot of really horrible people also choose.

          • Empress of the Iguana People

            I hate it when my Demodocus and his brother do it. So does their mother. They’ve somewhat funky head shapes, and they’re -large- heads.

          • I agree, and I loathe “designer stubble” as well. But my son claims the girls he dates like it, so what can a mother do?

      • MaineJen

        My kids hear a lot of 90s-early 2000s alternative music. Judge me if you will!! They love Modest Mouse and The Jayhawks 🙂

        • Empress of the Iguana People

          nah. I only get judgy over Celine Dion 😉

  • Cat

    This sounds very helpful. I was feeling guilty today because I had coffee with an acquaintance who is a very smug mummy type, and she spent a lot of the session gently bashing me over the head with her baby-wearing and co-sleeping. Even the fact that her one year-old is giving her no sleep at all gets turned into a virtue, because it’s due to co-sleeping and waking up for breastfeeds during the night. All her parenting techniques are absolutely cool, if they work for her and her family, but they wouldn’t have worked for mine (my daughter likes her own space in her cot and would have loathed being “worn” because she hates being confined in any way). So why did smug mummy acquaintance make me feel so bad about myself? I think it’s because her version of motherhood looks a hell of a lot more exhausting, time-consuming and self-sacrificing than mine, and mothers get conditioned into believing that, if motherhood doesn’t drain every ounce of your self, then you’re doing it wrong.

  • CSN0116

    I am not the mother who gives two shits about birth, feeding or even infant/small toddler rearing. I am, however (and begrudgingly) obsessed with how my children turn out academically, socially and economically. I invest in private school, tutors and every enrichment activity I can access. I project onto them and often see them was want-to-be extensions of myself. It is hard to me to imagine their potential future non-compliance with my wishes for them. I think it mostly stems from the fact that I grew up dirt poor and marginalized. I got LUCKY. I had some innate skills that I exploited and then a ton of luck stepped in. I made it out and my story is a rarity. I want so badly to keep them ignorant from all of _that_ kind of struggling, but often forget that it’s what gave me all of my inspiration and drive.

    Mothering is tough.

    • MassiveQuantitiesofPie

      Not wanting your children to struggle is normal but don’t keep them ignorant of the fact that you once struggled or that a lot of people out there do struggle. It’s important for kids, especially ones in upper middle class or richer families, to understand that they are the exception not the rule and falling downward can happen to anyone.

      Be grateful for what you have and work hard to keep it and build on it. The purpose isn’t to instill guilt or fear but to inspire them to work hard to succeed. It’s also important to instilling compassion for others because a lot of times, hard work isn’t enough. Where you’re born and to whom matters a lot in this country. So does plain old luck. That’s a scary fact of life that far too few understand or accept. They want to judge everyone who isn’t as well off as they are and pretend that they’re lesser people because of it and treat them that way. It’s an easy mindset to fall into if you detach yourself from the ugly struggles of life.

      • CSN0116

        Very well put, thank you 🙂

        • Eater of Worlds

          Also, it’s incredibly important to not just tell your kids the are smart, but to let them find it out for themselves. It’s important to let them fail and learn to overcome their failures.

          I cannot begin to tell you how many of my friends “failed” at adulthood because they were always told they were smart constantly and they aced academics until college. Where for the first time they struggled and failed. As they were never allowed to fail as children, for fear it would prevent them from being successful and getting ahead, they didn’t know how to handle a struggle when they finally reached one. When they failed, they didn’t know how to pick themselves up. That can matter more to a person’s success and happiness in life than what top notch schools they get into and how well they do in school (like not getting straight As, I don’t mean keeping a D-F average).

          • KQ Not Signed In

            Our family motto is that if you’re smart, but you’re not also kind, hard working and persistent…then you’re “a smug asshole.”

            (We also allow the boy to swear – but not use any slurs or use swear words as insults or attacks – so long as he doesn’t do it anywhere but at home and understands that other people are NOT okay with it. So far so good)

    • Montserrat Blanco

      Also, do have reasonable expectations. I want my son to be happy. Would you like your kids to be very successful Wall Street brokers with mental health issues? Or would you prefer a, let’s say, engineers working for a company that designs car interiors and are happy? It is very difficult that a kid at a private school with good teachers ends up without a university degree and a decent job. If they are not on the super-rich list I would say so be it. I do pay for the best school I can barely afford, and I assume and let him know that I assume that he will go to university. The career path he chooses and the job he gets after that… I am not that specific (yet?). He is two years old and I have already told him that he will go to university.
      My very successful mom did that with me and it worked wonders.

      • FormerPhysicist

        I assume my children will go to university, but if they want to go to trade school I’ll be okay with that. I want them to be happy and healthy and self-supporting. And eventually able to self-support even if they choose to be a SAHP.

      • Mel

        My goals are more simple. I hope my child finds a career that he is passionate about and that can support the lifestyle that he wants to live.

        I grew up in a working-class neighborhood and taught in similar neighborhoods. Some of my former students wanted to join the middle class and have done so through education – generally through trade school, but some through academic routes.

        Many students, though, were telling me the truth that what they wanted in life was a job that paid enough to have a working-class lifestyle and allowed them plenty of time to live life outside of their job. Those students have been as happy as the kids who made it to the middle class because they are living the life they want. It’s a life that has more issues with unemployment and financial insecurity – but the jobs are less demanding emotionally, too, and leave plenty of time for community and family activities.

      • KQ Not Signed In

        I want my son to be mentally and physically healthy, financially stable and self sufficient, to be happy more often than he is sad, to be kind, to be reasonably well educated, to be funny and to not be a total asshole.

        Honestly don’t give a crap what he does for a living.

    • J.B.

      My grandfather and father in law both grew up poor, both got good educations, and both worked incredibly hard and put a lot of pressure on their sons. One wound up very financially successful with sons who didn’t react well to the pressure, and the other had a run of tough luck along the way and now has-not the best-but not the worst relationship with his son.

      And as the very fortunate person that I am at some remove from these struggles – the greatest gift I have ever gotten is enough. Enough savings cushion handle car fixes and other bumps when starting out. Although it doesn’t have to be that formal, being able to move back in with parents or for someone in the family to sell you a car cheaply is a cushion.

      It is definitely tough to find the right balance – I’m afraid my kids are waaaay too entitled!!! I think I need to make them work for more things but (personally) go a lot easier on on enrichment activities.

  • RMY

    I think you mean “handle” instead of “hadn’t” in the question after asking how to navigate pregnancy.

  • Zornorph

    Being penis-enabled, I won’t be joining the group, but it does sound like a good thing. I do find it odd that people have this expectation that everything you do must be for your kid and your needs must come second. Yes, I would die for my kid but that doesn’t mean every single moment of the day must be spent for his benefit – what about mine? Yes, sometimes I expect him to play by myself so I can read a book or something. I will sometimes make choices based on what is most convenient for me. There is somebody in my life – a mother with grown kids – who seems to think I should not do that, but I just ignore her when she makes comments like that. My kid gets a lot from me and I’m happy to give it, but that doesn’t mean I want to give him every piece of me. I’m not The Giving Tree.

    • Emilie Bishop

      My childhood BFF has a full-time office job while her husband stays home with their almost-three-year-old. I am challenged in the best way possible by his approach to parenting. He is loving and attentive while not ashamed to hand their son off to his wife and play video games in the evenings, or drive a few hours to stay with his parents when his wife has to travel for work for a few days. He doesn’t have the martyr complex that I encounter from my fellow SAHMs, who always seem to be looking for one more thing to throw on their plates or moving their own goal posts in hopes of giving their kids (and themselves) one more advantage. Their life isn’t perfect, but they have a rhythm that works for them and their kid is thriving. Go dads!

      • Roadstergal

        My boss has a husband who turned SAH dad when his work was just stressing him out beyond the degree to which they valued the money. He takes very good care of the kids – and takes plenty of time for himself. He’s learned to cook, started taking his running seriously and trains for races, and works on passion projects on the side (apps). I think SAH dads have a nice perspective thanks to their privilege that would really help some SAH moms!

        • Eater of Worlds

          The only way my friend would agree to children was if her husband would take the primary parenting role. She didn’t want it and enjoys how she has the kind of relationship that you much more often see kids have with their fathers than their mothers. When her kids get hurt, they cry for daddy first, they go to him to have their tears dried and for their major emotional support. She loves her kids to the core of her being and the times they go to her first, she’s thrilled. And she’s happy to have it go back to normal.

          Girls are just so exposed to mothers as primary caretakers and so much societal expectations of that unless we can turn into Sweden, I don’t think it’s ever going to change. Which is a shame, because there’s a lot to be said in being able to take time for yourself from your children without the guilt. It’s just so tied up in gender roles that I doubt it’s going to change any time soon. I used Sweden as an example because they seem much more evenly divided in terms of expected parental roles.

          Plus this video never gets less funny:
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tPan-yeptRw

          I stole this from somewhere to clarify the situation for people:

          basically a summary: they ask him for the background and he says he was on parental leave, but had to go on a job meeting in Stockholm (he’s from Gothenburg), but then he didn’t really want to go because his kid was crying every time he left the room. However, his mother in law told him to go, she’d take care of the kid. However he was used to taking the bus in the morning which travels fast, and now it was in the middle of the day and a kindergarten class was on the bus so the bus driver was driving very slowly. He got stressed out and asked the bus driver to drive faster, but the bus driver stopped the bus and scolded him instead (rightfully so according to himself). So he had to run to the train, and got really happy because it was still there, but as the clip shows it just started going as he reached the door.

          And for anyone who is going to complain that using this doesn’t show what it’s really like because he has a husband at home instead of a wife…you’re missing the point. He has parental leave, just like the women do, it’s all called the same thing. Not maternity leave and men don’t get it. It’s just a parent who wants to get back home to their new baby. I doubt any of the regulars will complain but some drop ins might.

      • Merrie

        I agree. My husband is a SAHD and we’ve known a few others. They seem to suffer from very little guilt and figure they are doing well as long as everyone is alive at the end of the day. They also seem to trust themselves more easily, whereas a lot of moms seem to second-guess themselves a lot.

    • Mel

      When Spawn got home from the hospital, I was confused about how I was supposed to do educational activities with him (a side effect of sleep-deprivation in hindsight).

      I watched him teach himself to start his cradle rocking by kicking his legs and I realized that for babies simply being alive is very educational – and pretty much decided that I’m going to do what sounds like fun for both of us and call it a day.

      Likewise, Spawn spends much of the day amusing himself. I’m usually in the room or nearby and I’ll talk to him sometimes – but he doesn’t need me in his face all the time. Right now, he’s using his feet to kick the toys on his baby gym and is trying to trap them between his feet. He rolls around on little adventures and will let me know if he needs something – like the time he got trapped next to the EVIL highchair.

      We cuddle after nap time and chat during feeds and diaper changes – but most parents haven’t had unlimited free time to spend of offspring throughout history. Annoying little things like gathering and preparing food and making cloth took priority.