The Blessings and Traps of Motherhood – by cA Hughes

Hi, I am christine of All the Elbows and Annie asked me to do a guest post for her and I thought this would be an interesting topic:

I am not a fan of Britney Spears. The few times I’ve heard her “music” I felt like committing suicide on my ears. And generally speaking, I am not a fan of celebrity, its gossip and so on. But I can’t help knowing some of it. Cruising the internets is a guarantee to come across a headline or twenty. Also there are those who are into it that I talk to, who will share their knowledge of the famous with me. The place in my brain where something meaningful should probably be, like the square root of a large number, the birthday of someone important or the secret to life, is the news of Kevin Federline being awarded custody of the sons he fathered with “pop tart” Britney Spears. (My understanding of quantum physics should be where pop tart is, damn its!)

What I noticed right away when I saw the headline is that even though Spears has had the required and pandemic makeover and looks “good” again, several stories covering this court decision had an old or utterly unflattering image of her accompanying the article. I was struck by this tactic and it got me thinking about Mothers, Motherhood, Womanhood and how women, though moving forward outwardly and economically and sexually, are still held to the archaic standard of what women should be as Mothers in the eyes of our society.

The fact that a Mother loses or relinquishes custody of her kids is, apparently, unforgivable, a mystery . As a Mother, a Woman is expected to provide, or oversee, the primary care of children in the home, and anything other than that is perplexing, disdainful, bringing harsh judgement and outrage. Even I question such a Mother- How could she? What kind of woman doesn’t want her kids?

Fathers do it all the time. Fathers can still be good Men and good Fathers even if they only have limited custody of their children, weekend visits and holidays.

Look at the following image:

Britney Spears looks, well, not her best. A little sloppy for a Woman trying to get custody of her sons. Now I’m sure this is not how she looked on the day the case was settled, she has been made-over, I wouldn’t know for sure, but I think that such trickery does damage to our ideas of Women as Mothers and reinforces the idea that Mothers as secondary or peripheral caregivers are ugly, sloppy, unworthy.

See how Kevin Federline, who was given primary custody, is shown as dapper, in a suit…

I am a mother. I love my children very much and I enjoy being their mom, but there is no other job/position/calling under such strict scrutiny while also being gravely undervalued as a most important role in our society. For those who chose and are able to remain home with children, it is a blessing to a family, the children and eventually our society. Yet, for these same Women, there is the idea of being uninteresting as individuals, people. It seems that on some deep level, they are regarded as Mothers instead of individuals- like these two concepts are mutually exclusive. Because Mothers are supposed to be completely fulfilled as people by mothering rather than mothering being part of what fulfills them. Suddenly, they are defined solely by their care of the children/family rather than their wit, humor, intelligence outside of how these are applied to their Mothering.

Fathers also play an integral role in the raising of well-adjusted children, but somehow are given more slack in how involved they are in the time, emotion and energy spent in the process.

My question is why? Why are Mothers held to this rigid standard? Why are they judged much more harshly for being the visiting parent when custody situations like this occur? Are stay-at-home Dads held to this same standard? (I think they get it worse. It’s almost automatic to assume that the Man is “lazy” because only a lazy man’d want to stay at home and do nothing all day like us Women…) What do you think?

(thanks, christine – I loved this and think my readers will too.)

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6 thoughts on “The Blessings and Traps of Motherhood – by cA Hughes

  1. It’s been engrained in me ever since I was young. The man is supposed to be the provider and the woman is supposed to be the nurturer. This is how I was raised. I am a mom of three and know how hard, (yet rewarding) it is to be a stay-at-home mom. Although, recently I have been guilty of the stereotyping you’ve mentioned here when my friend (whose boyfriend has been out of work for some time) told me that when they get married and have kids, she was going to work and he was going to be a stay-at-home dad. Honestly, my first thought was, “lazy bastid” followed by another, “what kind of M-A-N would want to stay home instead of providing for his family?” Then, I felt bad for my friend who would never get to experience the close bond of raising her child. Any guy who doesn’t work instantly gets a big “X” in my book. I’ve always thought that though, even before I became a mother. To me, a man “not working” is a major sign of weakness. You’ve made so many great points here. You’ve given me a lot to think about. I say I’m not judgmental, but I guess I can be too sometimes. I need to work on this.

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  2. I think you are right Christine, the mother is held to a different standard, at least in the way the media seems to portray situations such as these.

    I can only guess why this would be a standard and perhaps it has to do with what is supposed to be the unique mother/child bond and when that doesn’t appear to exist, it shocks people more.

    I suppose to some degree that I have felt this as well, whenever I have seen a mother who doesn’t appear to have that bond, it does surprise me and in the alternative when a father does seem to have that bond it evokes a special admiration in me. I don’t know why though. It shouldn’t be that way, should it? We are supposed to be so enlightened now and yet it seems we really aren’t, doesn’t it?

    sarah

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  3. Wow … great post, on a tough problem!

    While the roots of the problem are many and varied, I will put forward one issue I see:
    Our society encourages it.

    From religious groups, to our legal system, to politicians to the media, most anywhere you look, you can easily find groups pushing a role of Mother / Father. And these are sacred cows: Watch the firestorm arise when someone or another group tries to raise a discussion around these labels! There is incredible historical momentum around these roles and that impacts any attempt at change.

    As with anything deeply ingrained meme in society, we need strong leaders to champion change, at all levels. And I think change is-a-coming. Take the example of changes to paternal leave rules in Quebec: the Federal rules changed from 10 weeks of shared leave to 35 weeks, and Quebec changed the rules further so that father’s seeking paternity leave had higher paid benefits (as a percentage of their normal pay), no unpaid waiting period, and 5 weeks of non-transferable leave (i.e. if the father didn’t take the leave, it was gone. Also note, there is a larger portion of leave for the mother that is lost if she chooses not to take it). So, of eligible men, 56% claimed benefits under the new program! If you are interested in the details you check out the full StatsCan article.

    Of course, reducing the financial burden on families, is only one way that we can help overcome the societal momentum. We can individually write / blog about it, demand change of our politicians, talk about it openly with our friends and family, etc. I know when I talk with first time fathers, I express my personal regret at not taking more time off with my young charges, and encourage them to consider doing something different. That’s my small contribution!

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  4. “…several stories covering this court decision had an old or utterly unflattering image of her accompanying the article.”

    It’s a reflection of our ambivalence about celebrity. I’ve often wondered if maybe we think we’re too infatuated with the whole concept, and therefore we root for the stars to go down the tube so that we’re not so embarrassed about ourselves.

    Guys, though, are definitely cut more slack, whether they deserve it or not. (I lean more towards “Not.”)

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  5. javaqueen14:
    Thank you for reading and commenting so honestly. i am guilty of that same judgement. i try not to be but i have had that same feeling. i feel the need to rid myself of the men do/women do… idea, but like you said, it’s in us, shown us, taught to us from the womb to the grave. My mother worked, sometimes two jobs at once, went to school and didn’t have much time for us during those years. She still feels guilt over it. There was a brief time when i walked away from my family for three months and i/they have never been the same since. i am a bad mother, i think because of that. That’s what bad women/mothers do. i mean i love them, they love me, but our family changed and people’s view of me changed and it’s something i don’t think i’ll ever get over.

    Sarah:
    Thank you Sarah. i like what you’ve said and i think most follow those guidelines in regard to parenting. When one hears of a Susan Smith, we are outraged, flabbergasted, incredulous. i think the bond of motherhood is unique to, and dependent upon, each mother. The mistake i believe we make is lumping the idea of the bond with motherhood as a whole, for if that bond were instinctive, there’d be many less abortions, low incidents of child abuse and so on. Also, i think we do a disservice to fathers by boxing them into the breadwinner/disciplarian role expected of Fathers, treating them and showing them as clueless and bumbling as far as their children are concerned.

    Gerry
    Thank you for commenting so thoughtfully. Much of what you shared consists of ideas and possible solutions, which i like. i really agree with what you said in regard to where these ideas spring from. And labels, labels… you said it! i’ve always believed that talking about these things, bringing them to light and using the light to look inward, find how these ideas affect my view ofthe world, is essential to bring change. i think that ideally, mothers & fathers should work together more and allow each other to utilize their strengths freely rather than be hammered into some social mold. How good, how satisfying! for the entire family!

    CGHill:*
    i agree. i wonder if Fathers feel bad about the way they are portrayed? You know, when people think you can’t or won’t, for a while, you’re off the hook. But then you begin to wonder why it is thought you can’t do this or that. i also agree with you regarding our use of celebrity. Thanks for commenting.

    ~c

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  6. I think in regards to how anyone feels regarding the way they are portrayed by labels, is impacted by how they may have suffered by the label. I am sorry to hear you suffered scrutiny under the label of Mother, as a direct result of you needing time away from your family. I don’t think that makes you a bad person … indeed, it sounds like it may have been exactly what you needed. I don’t know Britanny’s story, but I know I feel for her, because she labors under the Celebrity label, as well as others, which is somehow promoted as enabling totally personal information to be totally open for public consumption. Why we tolerate that as a society I know not … but I digress.

    Personally, I have been labeled a “Good Father”, but in our family court system that means I am “entitled” to time with my children every other weekend and 1 evening a week. That’s 2 days, and 2 nights out of every 14. WTF? For a person who loves his children deeply, took them to every doctors appointment (in an my daughters case, there were *many*), yet to miss a parent teacher’s night, and read to them most every night, people who have not walked this path cannot come close to understanding the pain of the imposed new reality of the label “Good Father”.

    Of course, those who may have read some of my recent comments on this blog will immediately want to go “ah-ha” that’s where he is coming from, and immediately fall into the trap of yet another label. 🙂 I can assure you that my recent struggle with this label has nothing little to do with my campaign against labels. 🙂

    If we could just find it in ourselves and go a little deeper than the labels, and yes we all have them, I am sure we could better see the *human* struggle in all our lives. And I believe it’s from that perspective that we can arrive at the best solutions, regardless of which side of the labels you fall.

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