Models of Motherhood
As more and more of those around me find themselves entering parenthood, and the media’s focus on womanhood as it relates to their drive to procreate and nurture is unending, I am increasingly plagued by considerations about how we form our ideas about what it means to be a parent and how we can possibly expect to raise functional children in a setting like the modern day. Not only is there an array of choices open to potential parents today (Natural birth? Caesarian? Adopt? Foster? Furkids?), but the complications of blurred gender roles and social expectations about children’s behaviour, longer work hours, pressure on children because of technology and media… well, the task of motherhood seems overwhelming.
I look around at the mothers who have just given birth to these sacks of potatoes, who depend on them for every need, and the most difficult element of their new journey (besides the lack of sleep, of course) seems to be negotiating their way to a new identity, one which enables them to incorporate this new addition, to which they devote every waking moment, without losing their sense of self completely. It’s not as simple as them going out and doing the same things they did before they had a baby; most of these obstacles exist in their mind. I’m not referring to mothers who suffer from post-natal depression, I’m simply referring to intelligent women who find themselves thinking about what their essential self is.
One of the reasons I think about parenthood and motherhood to the point sometimes of obsession is because my greatest fear is losing my independence and my ability to sit around when I want to, eat ice-cream for dinner if I want to and move to the other side of the world if I needed to. I want the power of my mind to be able to be devoted to the large philosophical problems that face the world, to enrich my imagination and develop my understanding of deep and complex phenomena. It scares me that I might use all my mental capacity to anticipate the thousand things I have to do upon arriving home from work, where I’ve spent all day simply to have enough money to raise a child, who is in daycare, growing up with who knows how many issues because I don’t spend enough time with them. And then I would spend my life utterly exhausted, drained not only by the kid, but also by the layers and layers of guilt that settle on me.
My mother sacrificed her whole identity and existence for her children. It’s not to say that she didn’t perhaps struggle with those same questions at the beginning of motherhood, but she definitely resolved them by deciding not to endure the conflict between her sense of self and our upbringing. She was a homemaker, we had afternoon tea baked for us every afternoon when we got home from school, and we were met at the bus stop every day. She coached netball teams, she helped out with school fetes, she did weekly reading with us at school, sourced cardboard and odd bits for school projects. And so, naturally, as a strong independent teenager, I looked at motherhood and I thought, how does sacrificing yourself completely fit in with all the great things I want to achieve?
It was not until I started babysitting for families we knew that I was exposed to different models of motherhood. They were the slightly younger generation; more liberated, more educated and stronger women with direction. I was intrigued by these couples that went out every weekend and left their children at home, in my care. They’d roll in at three a.m. and escort me home. They had jobs, I would pick their kids up from school when I eventually got my licence, and would do their homework with them until they got home at six. They were always flustered, always doing a million things, but only half of those things ever involved their children. And when these parents became people I knew before they had children, people I saw the identity of, wholly, before they underwent this crisis, I started to understand that parents could be people, too.
Most of our media is focused on two responses to motherhood: either outrage and anger at the assumption that all women or couples want to have children, or presenting an image of what a child should be doing, looking like, acting like. There is minimal attention devoted to important questions like, how do we reform our identities after such a change? What do the different models of motherhood look like and how can we be more accepting of this diversity? Are there personalities that are fundamentally at odds with raising children? If motherhood (and fatherhood, of course, which I write less about because I don’t question whether I should be a father, funnily enough) isn’t something we can discuss without a sense of pressure as to not only how we should nurture children but also how we should continue to nurture ourselves, we are going to be facing a society of young, strong women who have so much to contribute to the next generation but feel unable to without relinquishing their hopes and dreams, and that would be a great loss.
Parkour teaches Literature and Language to high school students and writes fervently in her spare time. She loves a good story and a passionate argument. She currently lives in the country and longs for the buzz of the city.