the new future of motherhood…

March 11, 2008 § Leave a comment

so over at mothersmovement.org there is a great article called the new future of motherhood: http://www.mothersmovement.org/features/mhoodpapers/new_future/0505_2.htm

(ugh..the links icon still is down…so cut and paste babies)

and i have been thinking about it alot in light of two quick phone conversations i have had since aza has been born.

the first: a friend calls.  her kid is 2 yrs old now.  her kid could make you think that cute is a new religion. and she says  how something like how ridiculous it is that women wear those sling wraps just to take their kid to the kitchen and get some food.  just let the kid cry for a couple of minutes.  and that she isnt into attachment parenting.  she does independent parenting.  so that she can teach her kid to be independent.  me, i kinda feel silly, cause i do carry my kid in the sling to go to the kitchen sometimes. and when i had been taking care of her kid i had mentioned how much easier it would be for me if we had a sling so that i had another hand free…

the second: a friend calls.  her kid is 2 months old now.  and she says that she doesnt mind changing her whole life for her kid.   and she doesnt mind holding her baby.  and barely wants to let anyone else hold her.  and i say well, its good that you dont mind changing your whole life for your kid, cause you are going to have to.  awkward pause.  a couple of minutes later she says how much she likes my blog.  so i guess she knows my opinion about maternal sacrifice.  and felt the need to defend herself.

i think about both these quick phone calls for a long time and why they both grate against me.  and then realize that i occupy a happy medium.  in between the ‘independents’ and the ‘attachments’.  and i am taking that middle path. kinda like buddha or jesus.  or plato.  but a woman.  with a kid.  and shoes.

I’ve been accused of alienating potential supporters of the mothers’ movement by suggesting that motherhood is not, in fact, “the most important job in the world.” And to be perfectly honest, I don’t think it is. I don’t think motherhood is a “job”— or a profession, or career— at all, although there’s no denying that mothering entails a prodigious amount of mental work and physical labor. And when I criticize the valorization of motherhood and magical thinking about women’s power to change the world through conscious acts of responsible mothering, some readers may find me unsympathetic and pity my poor children for having such a hard-hearted mom.

To tell the truth, I have very deep and passionate feelings about the meaning of motherhood in my own life and the lives of other women who mother. That’s why I’m doing this work. It’s also why I’m so forthright in my rejection of pre-packaged narratives of motherhood that— based on both my personal experience and the view from my critical eye— are contrived to conceal, rather than reveal, the social and emotional value of motherhood and mothering.

My therapist (may a thousand blessings rain down upon her head) has always insisted that motherhood is not a job— it’s a relationship. And in my mind, thinking and talking about motherhood as a relationship— rather than a system of social reproduction, or a duty, or a vocation— is one way we might start to compose a rich new script for motherhood, a script that honors the possibility of complexity and variation in mothers’ inner lives, individual outlooks and aspirations.

If we locate motherhood and mothering in the context of relationship, we can still talk about love, work, desire and obligation, but we might be able to talk about these things in a more authentic way— or at least without feeling as though there is only one right answer to the question of what it means to be a mother. After all, interpersonal relationships do give rise to the impulse and obligation to care, although the strength of the impulse and the intensity of the obligation usually depend on the tenderness of the attachment, and the nature of the needs of the person we’re attached to. Because caring for others is not always easy or spontaneous, caring relationships put us in touch with the intricacies of our own emotional clockwork— and in this way, they can alter us. They can lead to new awareness of ourselves and others around us; they push us to grow. And this is just as true for the care-giver as it is for the cared-for.

and this has been for me part of the profound experience of being a mother.  it does for me what prayer and meditation.  puts me in touch with the ups and downs of my emotional life.  and i love being a care-giver in many ways.  and i love the times that my daughter cares for me, by crawling up to me and humming on my shoulder.  and my life has changed through this love.  or better said that my view of life has changed as i have become more aware of myself and others.

thank you judith.  motherhood is a relationship.  and in this i believe that healthy relationships are relationships of equality in which both persons are valued equally, and the relationship is central, rather than either person in the relationship being central.  that is how i feel about my little baby.  that our relationship is central.  and we both have to invest and grow in this always changing fluctuating sometimes difficult sometimes sweet and easy relationship.

So if we accept that motherhood is a relationship and not a job, it’s becomes clear there is no sliding scale to being a mother— our motherliness isn’t based on the number of hours we put into mothering.

amen.  sister.  amen.

And if that’s not bad enough, we’re still stuck with the myth of the omnipotent mother— the absurd (but tenacious) notion that children are perfectible, and mothers are the only ones who can perfect them. It’s comforting— not to mention politically expedient— to cling to the belief that the optimal development of children depends solely on their exposure to a specific quality and quantity of maternal devotion, as if families’ access to resources and general social conditions had no real bearing on children’s prospects. Regrettably, both conservative and liberal thinkers have gotten away with advancing the preposterous theory that if the nation’s errant mothers would simply buckle down and do the job of motherhood the way it was meant to be done— meaning a married, child-centered, resource intensive, selfless sort of way— the country could substantially rid itself of a host of pesky social problems, such as poverty, crime, substance abuse, obesity and moral decay.

and frankly, if you are a mom of color (especially black or latino or aboriginal) you can probably remember walking down the street pregnant or with your kid and getting that feeling that the people who were looking at you werent seeing the blessed beautiful life-affirming relationship you were experiencing.  they were seeing the cause of overpopulation: brown mothers.  welfare queen: brown mothers.  crack babies: brown mothers.  easy sexual targets: brown mothers.  (it has only been with mothers of color that i could relate my intense experiences of the increasing harrassment once we became pregnant.  the majority of white women i have talked to have had the opposite experience that their pregnancies elevated them in the eyes of men and society and everyone treated them with so much more respect.  well, that is because imho that is because white motherhood is held in a much different place in this world than brown and black motherhood.)  lets keep in mind that 98 percent of children in foster care are black and brown.  do we think that this is because brown and black mothers are statistically worse parents?  do we think that insisting that children be the center of our universe in terms of time money energy etc, means that children suffer if they dont have everything that yuppie attachment moms give to their children?  if you talk about giving your kid the best, and make your lifestyle the standard for what motherhood is, what does that say about my mom? or about me and my brother and how we were raised?     or about me?  or about my daughter?  and what does that say about you?

The idealization of conscientious mothering as a kind of universal salve for what’s gone wrong with society has tremendous appeal— both to those who benefit from the social and economic subordination of women, and to mothers themselves. It’s immensely gratifying to think the more mundane aspects of caregiving— the cooking, the cleaning, the endless rounds of delivering and retrieving our children from their assorted educational and recreational activities— add up to something more than a sum of their parts, and it’s reassuring to imagine that we have more control over the events and encounters that shape our children’s lives than we probably do. It’s uplifting to believe that all the work we put into keeping our children safe and sound helps us cultivate specialized skills and sensitivities we can use to change their world for the better— either through our own direct actions or through the positive contributions of our mindfully-reared children. It’s wonderfully affirming to hear that mothers are irreplaceable, that motherhood is “the most important job in the world,” that diligent mothers acquire a deep and abiding wisdom about the essential nature and needs of children— not just their own children, but all children, everywhere— that those lacking maternal experience can never hope to match.

see i believe that motherhood gives you amazing insights into yourself and the world.  so does being a human rights worker.  or a lover.  or a fighter.   and one of the insights i have learned from all of these relationships is to do what keeps you sane.  and so if never putting your kid down keeps you sane.  great.  and if letting your kid cry for a couple of minutes keeps you sane.  great.  and if you hold your kid for an hour and then let your kid cry for a couple of minutes so that you can enjoy that coffee in peace.  great.  but if you sacrifice your sanity for your child, because you really want to be the perfect mother purported by society (married, child-centered, resource intensive, selfless) cause you think that if you are that kind of mom or any kind of mother-ideal that your kid is going to end up a better product, then i am going to say imho that you are fooling yourself and wasting yourself and investing more into the false idea of the product of motherhood (a good kid) than the relationship of motherhood.  cause as a friend of mine said a couple of months ago: i guess there are no formulas for raising a kid. no sweetheart, there are no formulas.  and we really dont have a lot of control over who our children become.  but if we model sanity, caring, a fullfilled life, art, music, ethics, and strength, everyone around us, including our kids, will probably have a better time around us.  

and honestly, i believe (and i have no proof except for my own childhood) that whatever control we have over ‘the product’ (our kids)  is what we model for them, not solely what we give to them.

 oh and just because you are raising kids or have raised kids does not give you some unique insight on what children need.  or on what people need.  relationships are unique creature.  and there is no essential qualities of kids or human beings that you learn about because you are a mother.  if that was true, then with 82 percent of women in us being mothers by the age of 44, the us would be a much wiser place.  mothers are lucky enough when they figure out what their kids need.  and to understand what other people need, you have to build a relationship with them.

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