I am really angry.
I have come home from a visit to the doctor’s surgery with my firstborn, for his four-year-old check up. I am pleased that everything is going well for him, but the doctor’s attitude to motherhood has really floored me.
The doctor asked if my son was going to preschool. “Yes, he goes for three hours in the mornings, every weekday,” I said. Then she asked me if he goes to childcare before preschool. I told her that he stays home with me and she looked at me as if I had two heads.
This experience has not been in isolation. I’ve had several people look at me as if I were an alien, when they find out in conversation, that I have been nurturing my child at home, and that for the past five years, I have not worked outside the home.
They look at me as if I am somehow ‘less than’. That going back to a full-time job five days a week, just after giving birth is what is expected, it’s normal. That giving birth to another human being was ‘just one of those things that you do’ – about the same level of importance and endurance as picking up some take-away pasta. That somehow I am strange, lacking ambition or intellect, or just plain ‘soft’ for being home and choosing to take care of my baby.
It makes me feel angry because becoming a mother is a life-changing event in a woman’s life, and a couple’s life, in a family’s life, and yet society chooses to devalue the act of mothering our children, as if a woman’s self importance and self worth is solely measured by what she achieves outside the home.
What about caring for our young? What about taking the time to be with our children, feed them properly with fresh home-cooked food, talk to them, listen to them, get to know them, teach them? Take care of them and love them. Is that such a demeaning thing to do?
Motherhood isn’t easy, and if I’m doing it properly, it’s the hardest thing I’ll ever do.
Before I gave birth to my children, I worked in the corporate world, law and IT, and at the United Nations. I have completed three degrees, one of them a Masters. I value the work I have done, and I am grateful for the female role models I’ve had growing up, who made me believe I could do it. It is important that women are represented in these fields and in any profession, but when a woman becomes a mother, no job is more important than the raising of her own children.
One day, children become adults, and those children have children, and they are the society of our future. I have seen what a lack of parenting has done to the lives of children and their families. My husband has just quit 20 years of teaching because he has realised that he is missing out on parenting his own children. Because he was spending all his time ‘parenting’ the students in his class (and sometimes even their parents).
In the prestigious schools that were his workplaces, there are children who are lost because of a lack of attention, love and discipline. That insecurity comes out in bad behaviour, sometimes dangerous behaviour that is destructive to themselves and to the people around them. In today’s fast-paced, time-poor world, bad behaviour needs a quick fix, and so some of these children are incorrectly ‘labelled’ with a disorder and given pills to dull their mind and their pain.
But what they really need is love, attention and boundaries. They need us! They need a mother’s love, a father’s love, to show them that they are the most important thing in their parent’s lives; above money, prestige and self acclaim.
Recently I read internationally renowned psychoanalyst and paediatrician, D.W. Winnicott’s classic, The Family and Individual Development. He believes that the health of a society depends on a loving, well working home. His thinking made real sense to me. On the evening TV news we see the crazy things going on in our world, often because children have been neglected. I don’t watch the news anymore; it stresses me too much. What will our world look like if we keep going as we are?
In an interview, the author of Raising Boys, Steve Biddulph, makes comment on the self-esteem of today’s girls. He says that girls do not get the same kind of mothering from their mothers these days as they used to, simply because mothers have so often disappeared from the lives of their daughters. I, too, see in the world around me girls being parented by their peers or popular culture because they do not have strong female role models in their homes.
It is often argued that economic factors are the main reasons why women should return to the workforce, often straight after childbirth. I believe, however, what is most detrimental to a child, and to a society, including the economy, is a generation of children who grow up to be emotionally and spiritually lost. No amount of money is going to solve that problem, only time and love.
Children are not commodities. They are not accessories. We, as parents, are ultimately responsible for the wellbeing of our children. If we do not take motherhood, fatherhood, parenthood seriously, as our responsibility, then we are teaching our children that being a parent is not a valued role in one’s life.
When a woman becomes a mother, her life changes forever, and caring for her young is a noble part of one’s life.
When my first child was born, I struggled with the transition of becoming a mother, especially the change in my identity, in how I and society would perceive me as a modern woman staying home to raise my child. In those times of confusion and anguish, there were moments of clarity. I realised that my own self worth was not purely the title on my business card, but also the fact that I am willing to love and care for another human being, and that I care about the world that we live in.
There was a moment when my son was a baby, which I will hold close to my heart forever. In the middle of the night, standing in his nursery in the dim light of his night light, I swayed, rocking him to sleep. I looked into his dark pearl-grey eyes and made him a promise.
“I will do my very best to be your mother and to raise you well.” And then my son’s tiny mouth curled up in a smile.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem