Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Hostility to Motherhood

Dear friends,
I know I said I wouldn't be around this week, but I feel the need to be in the company of people who understand me.

In my regular, normal life I work in a family-friendly place, so I spend my days surrounded by people with families. Most of my friends have kids, and those that don't either like to be around them or at least tolerate those who do. I read blogs by women who have immersed themselves in the motherhood experience even more deeply than I have--they stay at home full-time and homeschool their broods.

Now, I know (because I've read about it) that motherhood is undervalued and that mothers are treated with contempt by some. But because I've been living in this little bubble of my self-selected group of like-minded individuals, I've never experienced this myself, at least not to any degree that it has left a lasting impression on me.

And now I have--through the proxy of one of my fictional characters--and I've felt sick ever since. Now, it probably sounds silly to react so strongly to the treatment of an imaginary person, but I believe there are elements of the author's self in any character, and the parts of this character that were attacked were those things that I share in common with her. Part of this can be chalked up to the fact that the only experts on parenting are those who don't have kids; my audience possessed a great deal of knowledge that it pulled out of thin air.

But there was still a strong, almost palpable sentiment that feminism and motherhood are incompatible. That putting your children's needs ahead of your own means you are submissive. That because you are home with your children while your husband is at work means that his life is richer than yours. That focusing on your children for a day or a weekend or a few years means you have no life, no interests, no intelligence. That craving a few minutes of peace when surrounded by the energy and noise of young ones points to a gaping hole in your soul.

Now, I had always thought that no one was harder on mothers than other mothers--we can be a vicious, catty bunch--but all that infighting over breast/bottle, Sears/Ferber, Montessori/Waldorf is like a friendly pillow fight at a slumber party compared to the teeth-and-claws-bared attack I felt. I am completely and totally floored.

I don't mean to imply that this is the general sentiment of all 100+ people here--in fact there are many mothers and fathers among both the student population and faculty--I just happened to experience the full onslaught of this sentiment from a handful of young, childless women. And I'm feeling a little defensive.

I have children. I am a feminist. I cook dinner, clean toilets, read stories, zip backpacks, wake in the middle of the night to tend to feverish brows. I am still a feminist.

I have other interests. I work full-time. I write. I'm a grad student. I make things with fabric and yarn. I take long walks in the woods. I draw. I blog. But children are not one more thing on a list of hobbies: stamp collector, bird watcher, mother, sudoku enthusiast, cross-stitcher. They are deeply entwined in my identity. I carried those three babies inside of my body, gave birth to one through long hours of labor and pain, and felt the phantom tug of having the other two lifted from my numbed and curtained body. I nourished them from my breasts, carried them in my arms and have watched them grow and grow and grow into fascinating little people in their own right. They are a part of me that could never be replaced by mere hobbies or pets (one detractor sports a CATS NOT KIDS bumper sticker).

Motherhood is complicated. Identity is complicated. Feminism is complicated. When approaching a complicated situation, one should maintain an open mind, and respect for what one doesn't understand.

How about you? Have you experienced first-hand anti-mother hostility and how did you handle it?


  1. I would guess that those young women have a LOT of life experience ahead of them. Sounds like they need to learn a thing or two. The one thing you can get from this diverse group of people is that you will have a great range of opinions and that will help your work grow, whether you agree with them or not.

    I had the experience of an fellow women business owner telling me straight to my face "I hate children." I was so shocked that I didn't say anything but I definitely reacted internally and I remember it. What a thing to say to the mother of 3! I am sure if I said the same thing about dogs I would have gotten an earful.

  2. Yes, Andrea, I have experienced this--a lot, from various outlets. I'm going to have to think about this and maybe even send you an email because my comment could be blog post-length in itself. I truly believe we live in a very, very anti-mother and anti-child culture. I'll get back on tonight and share some examples. I'm really sorry you're dealing with this. It's like a punch in the gut somehow--that all that you've done for your children (and, therefore, for society, as far as I'm concerned) is worth nothing and, in fact, means you're no longer interesting or valuable. You're "just" a mom. This is one of those issues that can get me yelling.

  3. I wish people would just cut each other some slack. I think it is very admirable to be a mother, and I have the utmost respect for mothers. I truly believe it is the most difficult job there is. However, I also think it is fine to decide not to have children. I think it is a beautiful thing that in this day and age women have choices.

    I had a friend tell me that my life was meaningless because I did not have children and my life would never be as important as his. That hurt me deeply. No, I do not have children, but I feel like my life has meaning and is rich with friends, and children of friends, and family and travel and experiences.

    I think there is too much hostility both ways. What happened to personal choice and respect?

  4. For a long time, I found myself with that sinking feeling because of something that someone had said. I have chosen to be a SAHM and I am so many other things too. There will always be someone who faults you for doing the things that you do. After thinking myself into circles one day I found the answer. This has set me free in so many ways. "I am okay with who I am and where I am at, if you are not ok with who I am and where I am at, then that is your problem not mine." This simple phrase set me free because it was true. I don't need anyone to approve of the choices that I make because they are mine to make.

    I agree with Jaimie, I have a lot to say here and I could go on and on. But yes... you have hit on something here.

  5. Yikes! I know the feeling of taking judgment of one's characters personally! For what it's worth, I think you're great!

  6. Turn this into something you can use, something your character can use. Study these women who hurt you and make them characters in your story. Use life.

  7. What Jaimie said. also - sounds like something you should write about for Lone Star Ma #11!

  8. Hope you were able to use that fuel for a future fire... Keep us posted on your progress! :)


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