Just as I was really starting to feel alone in my thoughts with the last post, I got my “Mothering” magazine in the mail. My favorite writer on the topic of motherhood is Peggy O’Mara. I feel like she puts my feelings into words that I’m still searching for and may not have found otherwise for years. The title of her article in this issue is, “Reclaiming a New Archetype.” In it she writes:
The view of mother as victim does not match the experience of giving birth or that of adopting a baby. A woman is transformed by these experiences. Mothering unlocks in her an instinctual intelligence that generates confidence in her own authority. Inevitably, this increased confidence changes the relationship between her and others. A woman who has given birth is not easily intimidated. A woman who has adopted a baby is fearless.
She goes on to say, and I have read this many times before as well as experienced it, “Not wanting to be dominated by others is a legacy of the new mother, because in becoming a mother, a woman also gives birth to herself.”
The article talks about how our culture has fallen from viewing motherhood as a strong archetype, such as Mother Earth, the original model of the mother, to a stereotype of a woman who has given up “a life” to become a mother. The stereotype of mother is a woman who is making great sacrifices to stay home with her children, the martyr, or a victim.
While many accept that mothers can be creative and that mothering is in itself a creative endeavor, the dark side of the stereotype suggests that any distraction from the task of motherhood compromises a woman’s devotion. We can be ambivalent about whether or not it’s OK for mothers to have separate lives as women or other serious pursuits. What this dilemma highlights is the stereotypical idea that being a mother means self-sacrifice to the point of self-destruction or martyrdom. Having a life of one’s own, paid or unpaid, threatens the stereotype that mothers must be willing to be consumed.
Peggy really puts things into perspective for me. I teeter back and forth from being focused on mothering to thinking about and doing activities that are completely separate from my mothering experience. When I’m out doing my own thing away from family and in the position of being asked, so what do you do? I feel insecure. Not because I don’t love my life right now (well, most of the time anyway) but because I’ve internalized these negative stereotypes of mothers.
When I hear a new mother go off about how she doesn’t want her life to change because she’s had a baby (I did this) or she doesn’t want to become a “soccer mom” (a term meant to be derogatory) I know that she too has internalized this hatred and disrespect for motherhood.
Now, this isn’t a very well thought out theory, but, I would gander to say that in some ways feminism has left motherhood behind and possibly contributed to the negative stereotypes of the mother. However, it is also feminism that will take back the original strong archetype of The Mother. What’s that saying? Two steps forward and one step back.
When I go out and spend time with friends that are mutual to Hal and I, I find it incredibly insulting when someone badgers my husband as to why he’s not going. Yet, when I do not accompany Hal, no questions are asked about it – because of-course, I’m home taking care of our son. So, this expectation that I stay home and make the social sacrifice for the good of our family is acceptable and expected but when Hal does it people think I’m being a selfish tart and he’s a GREAT father (which he is but that’s not because I have a social life). The irony of this… I don’t find staying home while Hal goes out with friends to be a “sacrifice,” and neither does Hal.
Oh boy… I’m starting to ramble so I’ll stop right here. Maybe I’ll have more to write later.
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