The Myth of Motherhood

Which of the following mothers am I most like?

a) Madonna  b)

Something that has been on my mind a lot lately are the ways that
childhood and motherhood have been mythologized by our society. I have
thought about this a lot since having my own children.

Even though I got married young, I did not have kids right away. In fact, I wasn’t sure if I was going to have kids ever.
My own mom, bless her heart, seemed often overwhelmed with us. She was
a SAHM (stay at home mom) for most of my childhood, and I think she
felt the pressure to take that role. She had no identity outside that
of being "mother." Her mother had never been "allowed" to have a job.
When my grandmother was in her early fifties she accepted a part-time
job at a Christian manufacturing company as a secretary, against the
wishes of my conservative, sexist grandfather.

I recently came came across this article in Slate. The Real Myth of Motherhood:
Reconsidering the maternal memoir-cum-manifesto

by Ann Hulbert explores the plethora of mommy memoirs and books that
critique motherhood myths, all meant to give the "real" perspective of
motherhood versus the "American Mother Mystique" propagated to us by
both the liberal left and the religious right.

Hulbert writes:

If there is a "myth" of motherhood these days, it is
that mothers’ experience has been relentlessly, and romantically,
mythologized. In print, at least, the opposite is the truth. Over the
course of almost half a century now, women writers have been busy
crafting a withering corrective to official versions of motherhood . .
. Speaking from their conflicted hearts and hearths, non-prime-time
mothers have been issuing challenges to the tidy dogmas and dramas
dispensed by experts, preachers, politicians, advertisers, and TV

I can agree wholeheartedly with this analysis. I have lived it
myself. Both as a child growing up with an unsatisfied SAHM, and later
as one myself. I attended a school-district sponsored Early Childhood
Family Education classes (or for some, it might be "Mommy & Me" or
another version of the Voice-of-Parenting-Education-God curriculum)
with other SAHM’s. Often, the topics of conversation seemed so
self-indulgent and it was evident a few of us weren’t quite satisfied
with our entire identity defined solely through motherhood. It’s
difficult to admit it,though, because it is not a choice as much as a luxury
to have the time and resources to attend these kinds of parenting
classes or be a SAHM. It also seems ungrateful to acknowledge that it’s
sometimes damn hard.

Hulbert goes on to write:

Anne Roiphe acknowledged in Fruitful: A Real Mother in the Modern World
almost a decade ago, highly articulate maternal memoirists are
inevitably "describing a narrow band of middle- and upper-class mothers
who have education and professions" (and often hail from urban or
suburban blue-state locations). . . the most obsessive, wrung-out
mothers seem to be the most affluent women, those with the luxury of
hiring nannies, panicking about private school admissions, scheduling
endless extra-curricular activities, etc.—with nothing telling them
when to stop—rather than women in a real financial bind.

I would add to Huberts assessment that these memorists and "motherhood myth" writers are also largely white.
So this makes me wonder – where are all the mothers of color writing
about their experiences of motherhood? And what about all the mothers
in poverty? Is this explosion of written expression saved for the
white, middle and upper class mothers only?

What does this have to do with adoption and social work?

Well, what happens when poor mothers and/or mothers of color express
feelings of ambivalence, frustration, or depression over their
experiences of motherhood?

They end up losing their children. By force. Because they don’t have
options or access to services that will help. Because they can’t afford
nannies, therapists or counselors, a formal education or laywers.
Because they don’t know how to get around "the system." Because someone
else has determined that their "ambivalence" about motherhood means
they should not have the "right" to parent. Because our society has a
hierarchy of determining who deserves to have the opportunity to parent.

I have known plenty of white and middle or upper class mothers who have serious problems. They are not the ones I see involved with Child Protection. Their children are not the ones who are adopted by other families.

Author: JaeRan

Assistant professor at UW Tacoma, writer, and researcher.

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