Thursday, 20 March 2014

A Letter of Support to Women Who Happen Also To Be Mothers

I appear to be well-known as someone who is not a huge fan of being a mother.

This isn't much of a surprise to me; my skepticism regarding motherhood is something I have been quite outspoken about, although less so now than a few years ago.

I used to believe that motherhood was primarily a trap, a bottomless void of obligation from which there is no escape. This is in part fuelled by my own mother's ambivalence towards motherhood, and the… questionable ways in which she dealt with me. As more and more women I know became mothers, my position on motherhood has softened and become much more nuanced.

In spite of my well-known aversion to becoming a mother myself (and I will admit, my aversion wavers from time to time, but that's for a whole other piece), motherhood, and by extension, parenthood, are ways of being that I'm curious about and have taken steps to be more informed about it. My attitudes towards motherhood are not so much anti-children as they are pro-women; although I recognize this can be difficult to distinguish at times. For the record, if I love you or care about you, this gets automatically extended to your children.

Sometimes people are surprised to find out I am a doula. I chose to participate in doula training initially because a friend asked me to be her birth coach; but I do not actively solicit clients to provide birthing services. (It's something meant for people who really love the work, because the market rate for doula work is terrible.) I've enjoyed all the births I've attended, but I know it is in part because I had pre-existing personal relationships with the birthing moms. In doula training, there was a discussion about being "child-centred" or "woman-centred"; I am definitely far in the realm of the latter. I care about the child, sure, but I see my role as focused on optimizing the woman's experience, especially since I've seen how child-centred the birthing experience can be.

Anyways, enough about me. I had to share the above because I think what I've described here are in part why many women I know have said things about being a mother to me that they may not say to someone else, because our culture seems to frown on being anything less than a perfect mother who wants to be with their child 24/7 and be 100% devoted constantly. I believe this ideal is impossible, and often, attempting to be this ideal is unhealthy.

I want women in my life who also happen to be mothers to know that it is okay to not enjoy being a mom all the time. It's even okay to hate it. You can love your children without wanting to be with them 24/7. Being at home with a baby can be incredibly boring/annoying/soul-sucking. What our society at times promote as "good" ideals for mothering can come with a huge cost to your sense-of-self.

I know this because mothers have told me these things; often in tears and almost always with great difficulty. None of it has ever been surprising for me to hear, but yet many of the women who've shared these thoughts with me say so as though they are confessing horrible thoughts and intentions that no one else who had ever existed had ever felt and therefore they must be terrible people.

My reaction has always been along the lines of "that sounds perfectly sane and normal to me."How could it not be? First, there's the dramatic changes to one's body via pregnancy (assuming there was one, although I vaguely recall that even if one does not carry a baby themselves there can still be hormonal changes and etc.), followed by dramatic changes to one's lifestyle. For most women I know, birth marks a sudden transition from being a working woman to staying at home. You go from being around adults all day to being around a baby who is entirely unable to recognize that you have needs and wants; in fact, I would argue that newborns cannot even recognize that you are a person (that is not to say that there isn't lots of bonding and other wonderful things going on, but let's not pretend that babies are not, by their very nature, 100% self-centred). It is an incredibly unbalanced relationship. No one I know would ever put up with that kind of dependency from another adult, yet somehow as a mother not only are you supposed to put up with it, you're supposed to not even resent it a little. This is completely non-sensical to me.

Of course, this is why the entire human race is hardwired (save some extraordinary and terrifying examples) to fall in love with babies. We've evolved this way, because otherwise our species wouldn't have survived. No self-respecting person I know would put up with a partner treating them the ways babies do; yet society often frowns on mothers expressing anything but pure joy and devotion towards their incredibly needy offspring.

Well, I for one, want the women in my life to know that there is nothing more human and honest to me than someone feeling ambivalent about being a mother. It is not the same as being ambivalent about loving your children. Expressing your frustration about what you've had to sacrifice is an act of self-care; I am happy to be a sympathetic ear. Everyone in my life knows how much I love dogs, but I still get annoyed at them and resent their neediness from time to time. When I tell a story about how my dog got into the garbage and I was resentful that I had to clean it up doesn't mean I love them less, so why would anyone think that being resentful about changing 3+ years of diapers full of human waste be seen as bad mothering?

I can't change our culture's unrealistic expectations about what motherhood should look like, but I can offer the following:

1. I am your friend before I am your child's friend. So if you want to tell me your baby/toddler/child/teenager/grown children are being assholes, I am not going to make excuses for them. I will agree with you. "Yeah! Can't believe he threw the spaghetti on the floor! Such an asshole". (I do believe even babies and young children can be assholes, at least through adult eyes, even if they don't INTEND to be assholes.)

2. I can sympathize with the frustrations of domestic life. Look at my house. I don't have kids. It's a mess. I can't even imagine what it would be like to insert a kid into the mix. Honestly, if I had kids, I would see it as completely justifiable that we live in a wasteland.

3. I may not have to put up with social expectations of being a perfect mother, but I have often had to deal with accusations that I am selfish for not wanting to BE a mother. I DON'T EVEN HAVE KIDS AND PEOPLE TRY TO GUILT-TRIP ME ABOUT BEING A BAD MOTHER TO CHILDREN THAT DO NOT EXIST. So even though the guilt probably comes from a different place for you, I get it. I get that you can feel utter relief when ditching your kids at your parents or at the in-laws or with a babysitter, yet also feel guilty for feeling that relief or joy or whatever.

4. If you're having a bad mothering day/week/month/year, and others are expressing disapproval, know that I am generally quite impressed your kids are alive. Most days I'm impressed with myself for keeping ME alive, let alone someone else who isn't capable of getting in the car and obtaining sustenance at the drive-thru and using a damn toilet.

5. I have had significant training in crisis counselling. You can talk to me in this capacity about parenting, if you want to. From my eyes, parenting appears to be an endless string of crises after another anyway. I may be completely useless when it comes to practical advice, but I am pretty good at listening.

6. (This relates directly back to number 3, so I have no idea why I inserted two more list items in between, but whatever.) I believe being a mother will include feeling horrible about what you have to do (I refer back to managing human waste for years), so I will try to talk you out of also feeling guilty for feeling like shit about it sometimes. Feeling like shit about it is already something I wish I could help prevent; there really is no point in feeling guilty about feeling like shit about something.

I get that it is possible that maybe, just maybe, some of the women I know can be that ideal mother society lauds as what we should strive to be. And if you are, good for you. But I suspect that it's much more probable that all the mothers I know feel ambivalent at least on occasion, and I want you to know that I'm here for you. Just because I've chosen to be childless doesn't mean I am heartless.

So, to be clear: I may not be a big fan of the idea of ME being a mother, but that doesn't mean I am not a big fan of women who ARE mothers. I've rambled on long enough, and if you've stuck with me all the way to the end of this post, know that if I am supportive of you in general, my support doesn't end when it comes to your experiences as a mother, even if I am not one myself.

In solidarity,


1 comment:

  1. This is so perfect. Motherhood snuck up on me as I was about to graduate. I can't help but feel a tad resentful that I spent a boatload of money and time on a degree that I can't use for a while and my daily life is so drastically different than what I imagined it would be right now. But no one wants to hear that. They want to hear me spew crap about how lovely my life is and how great we are doing. I love reading about how I am not the only one.