Valenti describes a cultural paradigm in which mothers are expected to present as blissed out and loving motherhood at all times. She uses herself as an example, describing her experience giving birth to a two pound baby and then having a strange mother come up to her and tell her “breast is really best.”
Do you, as a mother, feel compelled to present a certain front to the world? Do you believe mothers feel admitting to weaknesses or unhappiness with certain aspects of motherhood means admitting they are bad mothers?
When I read Valenti’s chapter on breastfeeding it rang so true to me I began to cry. My children were also born premature and spent time in the NICU. I too was determined to breastfeed and had myself looked down on mothers who didn’t. I bought into the cultural idea that a good mother does whatever it takes to breastfeed. I CLEARLY had never been a mother when I thought that. I now understand that a good mother makes the best choice for herself and her kids given a long list of competing priorities and needs, including her own sanity, which is her child’s most crucial asset.
Now that I recognize how wrong I was, I try really hard not to police other moms. I try to assume they’ve met the best choices to maintain that ever-critical sanity! But so many moms do seem to police each other. I LOVED this piece because I’ve been policed on the playground so many times. With twins, there’s no way to monitor either kid closely, but folks are constantly reporting to me about what my kids are doing sternly as if they are telling me to pay better attention. Forget believing my kids might need some independence, I simply don’t have enough arms and legs to satisfy these people!!
We moms have bought into the idea that being extremely involved with our kids, the “total motherhood” Valenti describes, and martyring ourselves, as I discuss here, are the signs of good mothering. These values are constantly put forth as best for our kids, at times in ways that make no sense. For me, and for Valenti, a prime example was breastfeeding even when it was disrupting our bonding with our kids. I write here about the ways in which things that promote health and bonding AND KEEP MOMS most tied to their roles, seem to get all the press. Other things that might help us avoid depression and take care of ourselves, etc. aren’t focused on at all. It’s time to start questioning what we are focusing on. Are breastfeed, baby-wearing and co-sleeping great for some babies, sure, but so are moms who have their own lives and so are sane and joyful more of the time when they are around their kids.
I believe the best thing we can do is stop enforcing the mommy martyr paradigm on other moms and stop buying into it ourselves. We can offer resistance to this paradigm just by speaking the truth, motherhood sucks sometimes, especially in a culture that makes being a good mom require giving up ourselves in ways that I would argue are pathological.