I’m two years deep into mommy-hood and this life transition has by far been the most intense. In one day you can literally go through every emotion there is to experience trying to navigate the world of a little human. Motherhood is often said to be many things (usually virtuous), but I have trouble conveying the words to describe the levels, layers, depths, peaks, and valleys that accompany child rearing. What also makes the experience of motherhood difficult to verbalize is that it’s not always universal. We all approach parenting in our own unique ways and manage the experience of motherhood differently. Our feelings and emotions are sometimes shared and understood by other moms and sometimes not. Even the ways in which our bodies go through physical changes is unique. And as much support, as we may receive, sometimes motherhood can feel lonely. What I do think most women with children have in common is, having to figure out how to be true to their own dreams and goals while also being present for their children. How do we continue to be who we want to be outside of motherhood? Is it possible for us to manage a household and pursue other things all at the same time? Are the societies we live in really invested in nurturing and supporting the healthy development of all of its citizens? Particularly the ones who are doing the work of birthing and raising future generations? Overall, I don’t think so. I have yet to speak to a mother, whether stay-at-home or working inside and outside the home, who feels truly supported. It largely falls on our shoulders at the end of the day.
During my undergrad days in Women’s Studies, I was introduced to the work of New Zealand political economist, Marilyn Waring, who says “The market wouldn’t survive if it wasn’t able to survive on the backbone of unpaid work” Feminomics: Calculating the Value of ‘Women’s Work’. Waring’s politics deeply resonated with me even though I was not a mother at the time. I do have a mother though, and that alone was enough evidence of the truth that Marilyn was speaking. Waring estimates that unpaid work is the largest sector of any economy, and all around the world that work is performed by women.
Mother’s all over the world are frequently the ones left to strategize and figure out how to be of value in societies that often pick and choose the way in which they recognize and place worth on the contributions we make. Many of us struggle daily with how to balance our desires to make money outside of the home while still being present for our children. For those of us who are able to make the choice to stay at home with our children – and who want to stay home, there are really no economic benefits for us to reap. Nor is there value placed on the tireless work it requires to raise children. Similarly, if you’re a mother who works outside of the home, there is little recognition given to the work you do inside the home as well. You leave one job to come home to another. Whether you stay at home full time or go out into the corporate world, you have to figure out how much of yourself you are able to spread around to meet all of your dreams and responsibilities. While there are many fortunate mamas out there who have great support from their spouses and family, and/or the financial resources for childcare, there are just as many – if not more – mamas who don’t. In reality, the “It takes a village” idea, is just that. An idea. It’s not practiced in many of the societies that like to think that they are in some way at the cutting edge of human best practices.
Women telling other women to lean in and that we can have it all (children, career, hobbies, etc.), sounds good in theory and in the land of unicorns and Tinker Bells – but in reality, I just don’t think it’s possible to do everything all at once and maintain mental health and well-being. For those of you who feel your life is in complete balance, send me your address so I can mail you a gold star…But for the millions of mothers suffering in one way or another both physically and mentally from being pulled in every direction, I understand you and stand with you. It is exhausting to constantly be beaten over the head with messages telling us how to exist as mothers and “independent career driven women” all at the same time. Messages telling us that we are essentially superhuman and can do it all have actually left many women feeling burnt out, overworked, underpaid and unappreciated. Just because mothers are functioning in “Superwoman” mode doesn’t make it healthy or something to aspire to. Most mothers I know are too overwhelmed and tired to feel “empowered.” Let’s stop believing the lie that working ourselves into the ground in order to maintain the status quo is “girl power” and “feminist.” It’s not.
Is it possible to have it all? Sure. For many it is. I just don’t think it’s possible to have it all at once. And that usually means that we have to reprioritize our lives to accommodate our families. While that may be a sacrifice we choose to make it doesn’t negate the fact that the sacrifice in itself is one that often leaves far less room for mothers to navigate their own dreams, goals, and hobbies outside of parenting. In many societies, structural policies are not created to benefit mothers or the value that we bring to the broader economy. Capitalist nations will never truly value the role of child-rearing because it means less time is spent generating money. We are made to feel of lesser value if the contributions we make can’t be quantified. What are we worth if we are not in a constant state of “grinding it out,” “climbing the ladder, and/or “hustling” at jobs that fit within the limited scope of “respected” work? The reason many stay-at-home moms feel like they are not valid contributors to the world is that unpaid labour is typically not seen as a legitimate job that enables all other facets of the economy and society at large to function the way that it does. Stay-at-home moms are pitted against working moms: Who gets to claim Superwoman status? Who is setting a better example for their children? Who works harder? Who is of better value?…This is what we’ve internalized. We judge other mothers and we judge ourselves. We expect to live up to unlivable standards set by the powers that be and glorified by other men and women. Sadly, the work that women do will never be seen as valuable unless we start seeing women as invaluable.
Apologize to your body. Maybe that’s where the healing begins. ~Nayyirah Waheed…30 March 2017