Motherhood the Mundane
I don’t need to tell you that mothering is seen as so banal, so everyday and mundane, that it need not receive any special recognition – or recognition at all. Yet, the amount of work heaped on mothers is disproportionate, and it affects every aspect of a woman’s life. So what’s with the discrepancy? What’s with the lip service given to mothers as “angels of the house” (barf) while all the extra shit they do is not recognized in any meaningful way?
A relatively recent study of 2000 working moms tells us what we already know, being a mom is equivalent to working 2.5 full-time jobs. No wonder we’re so fucking tired. But what is irking me is the fact that this is the reality for moms and nobody is doing anything about it. Moms don’t get a thank you or extra pay or even acknowledgement because to acknowledge means that something might have to be done about this massive workload. And you know why moms are doing it? Because in the heterosexual, normatively gendered scenario, dads won’t do it. What the actual fuck?
As you know, I’ve created a group called Mummy Voices, and besides being the best thing ever, it is by and for moms which means that they talk about some real shit. And for a lot of moms, that means frustration with their (most often) male partners for nothing doing anything. Now, don’t get me wrong – there is no intention here to paint all couples – or dads – the same way. A lot of women get annoyed at the stereotype of the lazy, good-for-nothing-dumb dad who does nothing because some women are engaged in relationships that they are trying their damnedest to keep egalitarian. There are a lot of couples out there, I am sure, that maintain a balanced workload (for example, in my situation, because we are older parents and have a long established distribution of work, that translated – not perfectly mind you – into as reasonable a division as can be expected with a child in the mix). I believe this has a lot to do with the fact that many moms are older and have lived lives with a modicum of equity and therefore want to maintain it after having children. I use equity here instead of equality because, I argue, we are not ever equal in relationships with men – not because they necessarily dominate us – but because they are allowed certain “passes” that women, in turn, experience as expectations.
An example of a “pass” is that fathers are simply not expected to be as involved or engaged as mothers are required to be. Mothers are seen as the default primary childcare providers no matter for example, who wanted the child more, who likes children more, who is better with children, or what activity the child is engaged in (although this changes in gendered ways as the child gets older – e.g. Daddy takes the boys to hockey). Moms are where the buck stops. Especially with small children.
I know that there are people in my life who think that it’s weird that I went back to work in four months and my partner took eight months after our daughter was born. I know people think it’s strange that I don’t want to enroll my daughter in organized classes while my husband does. I know that they think it’s weird that he would stay home while I wouldn’t. And all this is weird simply because he is a man and I am a woman. That’s totally nutbars.
The thing I have been struggling most with is that, to my mind, the best advice I can come up with puts the onus on women to change the circumstances of their lives – and that is total bullshit. My lived experience has been that my relationship with my partner evolved over 15 years before my daughter came into the picture in an equitable way – with both of us working hard to determine what that meant for us as individuals and as a couple. This means that when I hear about fathers laying on the couch all day while mothers do EVERYTHING, I just wanna scream – WELL JUST DON’T!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! But that’s bullshit because the women aren’t the problem, are they?
I maintain that there is something to be said about just not doing it. But I think that will only get women so far. There has to be a change in the culture of the household and the couple’s relationship to both each other and to household/childcare work if anything is going to be fundamentally altered for women.
I recently also read this article about mom anger (because the women of Mummy Voices are SO RAD and find/post the BEST stuff!) and, in the end, it was all about communication. You have to communicate your needs and feelings – and your suggestions for change – in clear, open, and honest ways.
This is not about putting the onus on women, but it is about asking women to clearly articulate their needs and to invoke their right to equity in relationships – two things that women are rarely encouraged to do.
It will also take a keen understand that while we cannot change anyone, we can change the conditions of our lives in ways that motivate others to respond to the differences – and freedoms – we actively and justifiably create for ourselves.
Solidarity Mamas. Solidarity.