Have you ever been asked when you are going to procreate? Or when you are going to bring a sibling into the world to join your current child? Or asked why you haven’t gotten pregnant yet? Or if you are trying? Or why the hell you have so many kids already? Or if you are going to ‘try for a girl/boy’?
If you have lady parts of any configuration of one or more of these questions have likely been put to you at some point in your adult life. That is because “motherhood” is an assumed part of being a woman. More to the point, what goes on in your personal uterus is considered part of the public domain. In general society, these questions are considered “normal” rather than extremely invasive, presumptive and rude.
This is something that needs to change, but it is going to take time, generations of time. We unfortunately have no control over other people. We can answer politely, give them a big ol’ “Nun’ya” or simply walk away, but we can’t stop them from continuing to ask every ovary owner the same jerk questions. We can’t stop these people from assuming motherhood is what all females regardless of race, class or area want to participate in.
Something we can control is ourselves. We can control the equally pervasive ideology that goes hand in hand with “mandatory motherhood” and that is the concept of “total motherhood“.
Total motherhood is the assumption that all child rearing responsibility rests solely on the mother. That once a woman begins the raising of a child she absolves herself of any and all worldly pleasures outside of said child. She alone must bear the weight of choices regarding the human she is in charge of. That any choice she might make will be the end all be all of her worth as a human, including but not limited to: feeding/sleeping/dressing/educating and cleaning the child.
In short, “total motherhood” is the philosophy that in order to be a good mother one has to be a martyr.
That, my friends, is complete bullshit.
Having children is not a walk in the park. It takes sacrifices. One must give up their time and boat loads of money for the care and keeping of kids. You have to be ready to give up sleep when your baby is awake in the middle of the night – depending on the child this could last for years. You have to be willing to cancel plans at the drop of a hat because your child becomes sick unexpectedly. You have to be able to show up when they need you.
Also: kids are grody and you are going to have to be okay with dealing with ALL of the bodily fluids…on your couch, bed, floor, bathtub AND person.
Considering all of that, is it really so shocking that a good portion of women would like to opt out?
Yes parenting takes sacrifice, but the cult of “total motherhood” when internalized takes it roughly one hundred steps too far.
I have heard mothers say they haven’t been out of the house without their child since the kid was born (and their child is four years old).
I have heard parents judge anyone who sends their child to daycare because they should be “raised by their parents, not strangers”.
Moms who skip taking care of themselves.
Parents who don’t go on dates.
People who literally give up every facet of themselves in order to focus their entire lives on the small being they are caring for.
Have you ever heard the phrase, “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”? My experience has certainly shown this to be true. I tried the whole total mother/cult of domesticity thing. My only joy came from my child, his milestones, his giggles. However, I felt trapped, alone and miserable for a good portion of the time. And I spread that misery to the rest of my family.
This is not to say one can’t stay at home and be happy. I also found happiness being a stay at home parent, after I quit martyring myself.
I am one of the lucky ones, I figured out early that if cared for myself, I could do an exponentially better job for others. When I took time to recharge my child had a lot more giggles and I could handle tantrums without feeling quite as frazzled.
For me writing, yoga, sewing and running help my overall life satisfaction. Sometimes it is as simple as reading a book, drinking a latte at the coffee shop while it is still hot or taking a walk alone with my dog. The ability to be a person who is not in charge of another person, if only for an hour, is enough to remind you of who you are.
Everyone needs space to think.
Self care is important because YOU are important.
So reach out, build a village. If you have family just *dying* to watch your little one, let them. Coordinate with other parents to swap childcare every other week. Hand the baby to your partner and take off for the grocery store (go on and stop for a coffee and a cookie to eat on the way). Let the pre-schooler veg out in front of Thomas the Tank Engine or Frozen and watch a movie OF YOUR OWN CHOOSING on your computer with headphones.
Find a way. Find yourself. Your kid will thank you.
They probably won’t thank you until they are thirty or so, and then it will probably not be a thing they say to you, but trust me.
Oh and while you are at it, tell everyone to lay off your sister/cousin/friend who is child-free, because that is the most understandable decision a human could make.