There are a lot of places where you’ll find tributes to mothers, especially made for Mother’s Day. But one place you might not expect to find them is in a feminist blog. Why? Because of the stereotype that feminists are down on women being “enslaved” by their families. They’re fond of saying that mothers are taken for granted, overworked, underpaid, unable to live for themselves because all of their time and energy is taken up by their children. (Let’s leave husbands out of this for the moment.) Most people think that feminists are saying that motherhood isn’t worth the trouble.
I beg to differ with that. If anything, feminism makes it easier to be a mother and come out of it intact. It gives women a sense of their own worth and the tools to raise their children with their own sense of self-worth. One reason why feminists come under fire for their position on motherhood is that they don’t sugarcoat the experience. It’s not all baby smells and toddler hugs. It’s not even appreciated by most, if not all, children. Most women have this thought at least once: “Just wait until they grow up and become parents. Maybe then they’ll appreciate what I’ve done for them!”
But having a feminist perspective means that you don’t have to wait for appreciation. Feminism means assessing yourself realistically, correcting your mistakes and celebrating your victories, even if no one else does. Being a feminist means seeing yourself as a whole person, not “just” as a mother. If you can give that to yourself, you’re more capable of giving that to your children.
The woman who invests everything she is in being a mother is a woman who is bound to become disillusioned, even bitter. If you see yourself in terms of how well your children turn out, you’re living in a fragile bubble.First of all, you may not ever be acknowledged as the key to your children’s successes. Secondly, your children rarely turn out the way you wanted them to. Thirdly, if they disappoint you, you’re more likely to blame yourself than to blame them. Therein lies misery.
That doesn’t mean that being a mother isn’t one of the greatest joys on earth. What it does mean is that you need to like yourself for who you are as a whole person if you are to keep your emotional balance as a mother.
I walked by a young couple on the street yesterday. The mother was pushing a stroller and the father was holding their months-old baby girl snuggled up to his chest. They both had this look of serenity on their faces, like they felt that their life was complete. Look at us, they seemed to be saying. We have it all. I can remember having that feeling, and thinking that nothing could ever top it.
But I can also remember my despair when I felt overwhelmed by being a mother. When my children wouldn’t mind, when they fought violently among themselves, when they seemed to be nothing but selfish little beasts. Not when they were babies. When they were babies they were lovely. Whatever inconvenience they caused wasn’t really their fault and I hadn’t yet come to the point where I blamed myself for their “misbehavior.” But babies grow up. The young couple full of pride and love about their new daughter will one day be tearing their hair out and wondering why they ever became parents in the first place.
They need to remind themselves that they did it because they wanted to share themselves with another human being. They wanted to pass on their values and bring another person into this world who would make it a better place. They might not always feel loving towards their children, but they will always love them. But first they have to love themselves, and forgive themselves when they aren’t perfect. And they need to feel good about themselves as parents even when their children don’t seem to appreciate all they do for them.
Don’t wait for that one day a year when your children pay you tribute. Give yourself a pat on the back every day and when Mother’s Day does comes around, bask in its glow. You deserve it.