I never wanted children. As I recall my youth, several themes stood out that seem to have embedded themselves into my early adulthood. One of these themes was how much my parents seemed to loathe parenthood. Specifically my mother, she was a teen mom, after all. By the time my brother and I were born she was worn out from what it means to be a human in this world, much less a mother. If you look closer you will likely see what I see: a lot of burnt out parents trying their best not to take it out on their kids.
I remember the first time I read the feminine mystique. I picked it up again after becoming pregnant with my daughter and realized that by the 1960’s there was no stopping women from entering the workforce. These were usually supporting roles like administration and many women were gone all day leaving their kids with caregivers. But this did not excuse these moms from also running their homes. In more recent years there has finally been a conversation about what feminists call the ‘mental load’.
Women being asked to work full time and being told to keep their houses spotless and stylish (search YouTube for: house cleaning tips for working dads, spoiler alert: it doesn’t exist). We’re also being asked, without words, to remember all of the appointments, plan the vacations, set the savings goals, foresee everyones needs and host the holiday dinners. This is just a small list of what’s expected. The American dream is exhausting. Motherhood has begun to feel like indentured servitude. Many women are isolated and expected to do all of this alone unless she’s lucky enough to have a partner who is willing to “watch the kids” like it’s not in his job description.
COVID-19 has been the catalyst for beginning to ask some big questions. As we break down our cultural norms and what it means to be human beings in this world, I think about motherhood and how the current paradigm simply cannot survive.
As I peel back the layers on my current journey towards healing my body, I cannot help but see how the root cause of many women’s metabolic diseases are directly related to the levels of stress hormones like cortisol. These diseases that eventually lend themselves to cancer, heart disease and mental diseases like alzheimer’s and dementia are not only wrecking our bodies and their basic functions but also literally making us lose our minds.
The worst part of all of this is that true, supported parenthood is nothing short of glorious. Our children are absolutely nothing short of incredible. How lucky I am that these children, my children, are in my life. Like little unicorns that offers beauty, energy and the deepest of all: love. Unconditional love. These children are just everything. It is the paradigm that surrounds parenthood. Those “shoulds” and expectations that are Fucking tearing us to shreds. It is this culture that leaves us with just enough steam to put one foot in front of the other while we use all of the mental strength we have to not take this state of the world out on our beautiful children.
This leads me to my next point: just how shitty mothers are feeling about having these feelings at all! Through no fault of their own, the moment a women gets pregnant, she is medicalized. Put through a system that doesn’t take into account who she is or what she needs. Emphasizing only survival and ignoring her quality of being and hierarchy of requirements.
I want to give you a permission slip right now: it’s ok to HATE motherhood and LOVE the shit out of your children. It is not your fault that you’ve been separated from you tribe, given 1,000x more capacity to communicate constantly (therefore having more demands reach you) and been told over and over again that caring for others is your greatest calling.
In 2008 my Grandmother died. I was relieved when she did. She’d been living in a care facility for over and year and slowly dying of complications from dementia. She’d lost her memory and her mind. At her funeral, over 300 people were in attendance. Packed into a little catholic church in Placentia, CA where they’d built their life together. Soul after soul came up to the podium to speak about my Grandma and the message was different, mixed versions of this: “she was completely selfless”. The greatest thing anyone could ever say about a woman is how much of herself she gave away.
After becoming a mother myself in 2013, I was overwhelmed just thinking about what it would mean to be completely selfless. Only a couple of months into motherhood and I’d just begun the process of completely losing everything in order to love this incredible little being I was falling more and more in love with every day. But why is no one asking if this really is the only way?
More and more countries are beginning to ask the question of what we can do to better support mothers. Women are talking about less medicalized birth for the first time in decades. Many countries are finally beginning to embrace longer, paid paternity and maternity leave. Even the United States is finally beginning to have conversations about quality, subsidized childcare and regular visits from domestic care specialists during postpartum periods.
The answer is having the conversation, opening up the dialogue with your partner, friends and family. Making it OK to ask for honest feedback about what it means to be a mother and de-stigmatizing what it means to really struggle in this completely natural role in these completely unnatural circumstances.
I continue to stumble through my awkward understanding of self care and what it means to truly fill my own cup. The criticism continues to slip into conversations and the judgement from others is never ending. I don’t care. My self is not for sale and if I did my job correctly, my daughter’s won’t be either. I hope someone will stand up at my funeral and say “she took damn good care of herself”. As women reclaim their bodies and sovereignty, let us reclaim motherhood and demand the care and consideration our essential jobs demand.