Mothers’ Day: the role of motherhood in the 21st century
Perfect mothers, imperfect mothers, bad mothers, hyper-mothers, helicopter mothers, tiger mothers and lots more. There are many ways of labelling women who have decided to bring a little one into the world. Women who often feel alone and, worst of all, judged in the work of caring for and bringing up their children when one thing is quite clear: there are as many valid experiences of the motherhood as there are women who are mothers. Or not, because in the 21st century not being a mother is also an option.
Being a mother changes your life. Children change your priorities, the way you fill your (scarce) free time, your life with your partner, your social life. It has an impact on the family finances and, especially drastic for a woman, on the development of her professional career. It is not even necessary to have formed that sugary mental image of motherhood in which everything is perfect and simple, and the children are nothing more than innocent little angels. And even if you have not idealised what is going to happen after the birth, the impact with reality – the almost chronic tiredness, the insecurity, the worry about whether you are doing it right – can be overwhelming.
How can you not feel overwhelmed when you are faced with the responsibility of looking after a baby who depends on you absolutely for all the 24 hours of the day, seven days a week, 365 days a year? When you have to take care of the health, well-being, emotional development and education of a child through all the stages of his or her growth? How can you do all that while not missing out on everyday activities or getting behind at work? Accepting that you cannot do everything, that at some point you’re going to make a mistake and it won’t matter, is one of the keys to facing motherhood as the beautiful adventure that it is, not in spite off everything but because of it.
"The expectations placed on women have rarely been so high and unattainable"
We are currently witnessing the demythologising of motherhood, in the sense of getting away from these unattainable expectations, with the hundreds of rules about how to be the perfect mother that society imposes. The generation of the 21st century is breaking way from the old taboo about speaking of being a mother from any point of view that was not rose coloured. There are as many valid ways of being a mother as there are women who want to or are able to be one (and of feeling that way, even if those feelings are of confusion or sadness) even not being, since motherhood, not as an option but as a social imposition, is something that is beginning to belong to another time rather than the present.
Fighting against the feeling of being a bad mother that comes about when you feel that you can’t meet the demands that are attached to motherhood was exactly the reason why publicist Laura Baena founded the Club de las Malasmadres (the Bad Mothers’ Club) “to break away from the myth of the perfect mother and shake off the social pressure that is imposed on us. It’s what I felt when I became a mother and it’s what many women feel.”
In her website she gathers contributions such as this one from the psychologist Maribel Gámez: “The expectations placed on women have rarely been so high and unattainable as they are nowadays.” All at the same time we are supposed to be a working woman, a tireless mother, an efficient housewife and a wife who is always smart and fit. And all without any help.” She adds, “Looking after your child well one particular day doesn’t make you a woman into a good mother and getting it wrong one day doesn’t make you bad.”
The loneliness with which women face motherhood is often the origin of that perception of feeling exhausted. In her book ¿Dónde está mi tribu? (Where Is My Tribe?) the philosopher Carolina del Olmo reflects on this loneliness that results from an urban life style, the distance from the family and the lack of points of reference with children, since there are not always other mothers nearby. She proposes that bringing up a child needs a tribe, which may or may not be the family.
"Serving your child a particular day doesn’t make you into a good mother and getting it wrong a day doesn’t make you bad"
An updated version of the traditional upbringing groups is the associations of mothers who support each other, that can be set up in the internet or in physical spaces such as a health centre or a school. They are increasingly common online with the recognition of the number of queries that come up during motherhood, and they are as many as the dogmas that complicate it.
Eva Millet is a journalist specialising in education who talks of a tendency to the overprotection of children in her book Hiperpaternidad (Hyperparenthood), which gathers together these paradigms of the tiger mother (or father), an educational style oriented towards success at school and in professional life, or the helicopter, who plans all the child’s activities and is filled with anguish by all the problems or failures that come about. We live in a society that is ever more competitive, moved by hurrying and uncertainty about the future, and that sets the tone for how children are brought up.
The life balance is one of the greatest difficulties that mothers face today. Unlike the past, when it was taken for granted that they would give up their careers to look after their offspring, nowadays women do not want to be forced to choose between motherhood and their careers. The reduction of the working day or self-employment are frequently the ways out of this situation that fundamentally affects mothers. Shared responsibility in housework, flexible working hours or the rationalisation of timetables are aspects that can help to achieve a proper balance, so that motherhood, in the 21st century, does not put the brakes on women’s career development.
Another taboo that we are starting to break down is talking openly about the desire not to be mothers, or rather letting the women who lean towards this option speak without judging them,. In No madres. Mujeres sin hijos contra los tópicos (Not Mothers. Women without Children against the Clichés) the journalist María Fernández Miranda explains the pressures placed on women who do not want, or are not able, to be mothers: “They ask you openly why you haven’t had a baby yet, or they hint to you that you are not complete, or they warn you that you don’t know what you’re missing.” To be or not to be a mother, what is clear is that everybody experiences motherhood in her own way.
By Sara Puerto