I Am A Mother

December 15, 2010

It was sometime early on in one of the first sessions of TEDWomen last week that the question occurred to me: are we saying to each other here – in this go go women go celebration of everything that women can do – that women are the new men? And if that’s the case, is the corollary that men are the new women? Or that less-advantaged women are the new (and old) women? Whither women qua women, if women are trying to escape themselves?

No one actually said that women are the new men, of course. Hanna Rosin, in her talk, argued explicitly against it, or at least against the idea that women could or should or would replace men as men. Ted Turner stated – awkwardly, it must be said – that women needed a place at the table precisely because they weren’t men (“women are less likely to push the [nuclear] button,” he said, forgetting entirely about Margaret Thatcher.) And Tony Porter, who gave a spine-tingling, tear-jerking talk about the need for men to break out of the ‘man box’ and raise their boys to be less manly, in all the worst senses of the term, made an explicit call for men to become, in some ways, the new women. There was, in other words, a very clear celebration of women as women, and not just as replacement figures for men in traditionally male roles.

But still, but still: this was still a celebration, for the most part, of the extraordinary, and what is extraordinary, for women, is to achieve success in domains historically dominated by men. We celebrate as extraordinary the Nancy Pelosis and the Madeleine Albrights and the Hilary Clintons and the Donna Karans because they have succeeded in politics and business, because they have succeeded in the public domain, the domain that has been traditionally closed to all but the most extraordinary women, the domain that remains closed, in some important measure, to all but the most extraordinary women. And when we talk about women reshaping the future, when we celebrate women reshaping the future, this is what and who we’re talking about: extraordinary women making a difference in the domain that has, for all of human history, been dominated by men. We really are talking about women becoming the new men, or, at least, women joining ranks with the old men, the ones who are not interested in becoming, with Tony Porter, the new women.

This is fine, of course. When I dream dreams for my daughter, that is exactly the shape they take: she becomes Prime Minister of Canada, or Secretary-General of the United Nations, or a Nobel-prize winning scientist. I dream dreams in which she takes her (rightful) place in the public domain and succeeds there. I do not dream that she becomes a stay-at-home mother, or a daycare worker, or a primary school teacher, or even a nurse. When I say to her, you can be whatever you want when you grow up, dream big, shoot for the stars! I mean, aim far and away from the domain of the hearth and the home. Because nobody ever made a difference from there, right?

Well, no. Ironically, it took a man to say it: Tony Porter argued that the most important work to be done in securing a better future for our daughters and our sons was raising them right. Raising them to be respectful, and caring. Raising them to do unto others as they have others do unto them, regardless of sex or gender or orientation or ability or appearance or whatever. Raising them to be good citizens of civil society. Raising them to be good. The liberation of women and girls, he said, is tied to the liberation of men and boys, and vice-versa. We all need to be liberated from closed ideas of what is manly and what is womanly and what is weak and what is strong. And that liberation begins in the home.

This is not a new idea, of course. Aristotle argued in his Politics that the first political education occurs in the household, in the raising of children. Rousseau devoted an entire work to the question of how to raise a child to be a good citizen. That good politics – that is to say, a robust civil society and a community of citizens devoted to their best collective good – requires a people that are educated in the fundamentals of good citizenship from a very early age should be obvious (Everything I Needed To Know I Learned In Kindergarten could be regarded as an important statement of political philosophy, except that it gets one crucial thing wrong: the fundamentals of good citizenship must be in place well before kindergarten.) That this is, and long has been, historically, the work of mothers should also be obvious (it was, at least, to Aristotle, who argued that even if women weren’t leaders in the political sphere, they should be regarded as such within the household, alternating power with their husbands, lest children learn that the most natural model of politics is despotism.) Except that it isn’t. When women say, the work of ordinary motherhood is important, necessary, crucial, fundamental to our future, we nod our heads – yes, yes, of course – and then we turn our attention back to the extraordinary, to the public stars, to the Hilary Clintons and the Nancy Pelosis, and we say, that, there; that is where change will come from. And we are right, but only very partially right, and in that partiality resides the problem.

This was Tony Porter’s point: that if you save a boy (from dominant narrow social conventions of what it means to be manly) (and, unspoken, but nonetheless asserted: if you save a girl, from dominant narrow social conventions of what it means to womanly), you save the world – let’s repeat that, save a child, save the world – and that that saving power is the power of fathers, and mothers, and other caregivers. It is not (at least, is not fundamentally) the power of the university professor or the politician or the therapist or the inspirational speaker or the world leader or the TED session. It is not a power that is exercised in the Assembly of the United Nations or the Oval Office or the head office of the World Bank. It is a power exercised by parents, by caregivers, in the home, and to some extent by teachers, in the schools, and by all of us, in the mundane corners of our lives, in how we treat each other. It is a power that is exercised, for the most part, in the private sphere.

And this is the sphere that we most want to turn our backs on, most of the time, or, at least, when we’re talking about celebrating the extraordinariness of women, when we’re talking about ‘ideas worth talking about.’ We don’t celebrate the ordinary act of motherhood. We do celebrate fatherhood – Tony Porter received the first standing ovation of TEDWomen – which is another topic entirely (men embracing fatherhood and celebrating fatherhood is a wonderful thing, but why is it so special when a man does what women have been doing without praise for millenia? Can we find ways of celebrating fatherhood – especially the unconventional modes of fatherhood that see fathers embracing the work that has been traditionally done by mothers – that also celebrate the work itself, and the place of that work in women’s history?), and we sort of celebrate parenthood – the ‘parenting’ talk at TEDWomen was given not by a mother, but by a couple – and rightly so, but what about motherhood, qua motherhood, full stop? Can we imagine a talk at TEDWomen – or, better, TED, or TEDGlobal – that featured a mother who was just – “just” – a mother? Who would stand up and say: this work, this ordinary work of motherhood, is what changes the world. Or, to riff on Mona Eltahaway’s wonderful talk on being a Muslim woman, and borrow her rhetoric about the radical power of confounding others’ expectation: I am a feminist mother, and I love to confuse people; I love diaper bags, and Carole Pateman; I breastfed my babies, and believe that formula-feeding is okay, too; I co-sleep, and cry-it-out; I am attachment parent who lets her children run free-range; I love my post-partum body, and wish that my nethers hadn’t been torn in the birth of my children; I quote Oprah, and Judith Butler; I let both my son and my daughter wear princess costumes; I tell both my son and my daughter that they can be astronauts or nurses or rock stars or stay-at-home parents; I believe that motherhood – ordinary motherhood – can be a feminist act; I believe that well-intentioned motherhood can change the world; I am a feminist mother and confusion is my left hook and my right hook.

This is the dream. It’s not a crazy dream. If you look at the speaker list for TEDWomen, first page, you’ll see this:

Aicha El-Wafi and Phyllis Rodriguez are listed, simply, as mothers, which belies their story, in a way – they were not there to speak about motherhood so much as they were there to speak about friendship between mothers, and between women generally, and the unifying power of such friendship – but still. They were there as mothers whose motherhood, and whose experience of loss as mothers (Phyllis Rodriguez lost her son on 9/11; Aicha El-Wafi is the mother of Zacarias Moussaoui, the alleged ’20th hijacker’ in those attacks), brought them together as friends, and it is the ordinariness of their heroism, and of their heroic example, that makes them memorable. They are not world leaders, or captains of industry; they are just – “just” – mothers whose empathy for each other as mothers became the basis for a demonstration of what good global citizenship should look like, of the power of looking beyond otherness and enmity and finding likeness in the heart (they were so lovely, so sweet, so obviously true friends, that one’s heart could burst just talking to them. I could not hope to capture that here.) They were, they are, an example of the extraordinary ordinary, of the radical potential for heroism that is carried within every human heart, no matter how humble, and of the transformative power of just being a good person. They were an example of the lesson that we should be teaching our children: aim for the stars, if you want, but never forget that we are all made of stars, and that it is possible to be stellar in the humblest of actions and most mundane of enterprises, and that that – that – is what matters. Be your own star, in your own way.

We should be telling our children, and ourselves: you can be a star simply by having an open heart. And we should celebrate that kind of stardom more often. That TEDWomen did a little of that augers well for this hope. But still: it remains that in conversation Aicha El-Wafi told me, I am just a mother, and that I said, too, I am just a mother (and then hastily added, but also a writer, and an activist, and a former academic, and, and, and… qualification piled upon qualification, even to a fellow mother), and that this is so common, this qualified assertion of what we do, even when we believe so firmly in what we do, even when we believe in the saving power of what we do, even when we believe in the saving power of our open hearts. It remains that we so often insist upon saying this: I am just – just – a mother.

Why do we not say, simply, I am a mother? Why do we not say: I am a feminist mother whose greatest contribution to making the world a better place is raising children with open searching loving hearts, children who might be world leaders or who might not be world leaders but who will, I hope, be caring human beings who will demand that the world be a better place? Why do we not say, I am a mother, and the work that I do as a mother – the care I give, the love that I offer – extends far beyond hearth and home, far beyond my own children, and causes ripples and waves that will shift sand on shores that I cannot see (Aicha El-Wafi could not know, raising her son, that her own example would emerge from such a dark shadow and shine a light in such unforeseen directions.) Why do we not say, I am a mother, full stop? Why do I not say that?

Not all mothers are heroines, not all mothers are feminists, not all mothers raise good citizens, not all mothers have the best intentions, even mothers with the best intentions do not always see those intentions fulfilled in the ways that they expect, or at all. None of that matters. What matters is this: ordinary motherhood, undertaken in ordinary ways, can be as extraordinary, can have as extraordinary an impact, as any work undertaken in the public sphere. And: that this work that we do – out here, in the wilds of the interwebs, exchanging our stories and airing our discourses, living our motherhood virtually, but publicly – is important for the fact that it makes motherhood part of the public sphere, it forces motherhood into the space of public discussion and asserts it as necessary and given and there. And that is the best first start, I think, to making it possible for us to say, simply: I am a mother, and my motherhood is important, my motherhood can be radical, my motherhood is a feminist act.

I am a mother. I am a mother, and I am working toward saying those things. I start by saying them here.

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    Rebekah December 15, 2010 at 8:31 pm

    I thought it was “Save the cheerleader, save the world”?

    In all seriousness..isn’t it enough for all of us, each of us, to strive to be caring human beings who work toward making the world a better place? I see, and sometimes feel, so much pressure to be bigger, better, stronger, smarter. I like the thought that “We all need to be liberated from closed ideas of what is manly and what is womanly and what is weak and what is strong.” And I would add that we also need to be liberated from misplaced “values” of power, wealth, privilege, dominance over others. My mother’s influence in my life is far more meaningful to me than that of some CEO.
    .-= Rebekah ´s last blog ..Things that annoy me =-.

    Rachel Boldman December 15, 2010 at 9:43 pm

    Well said. It’s all at once liberating and empowering to think about parenting, mothering, as you’ve suggested. Raising my son to “simply” be a caring, loving person frees me from trying to do all the THINGS I NEED TO DO to make sure he’s “well-adjusted” and that he has all the THINGS HE NEEDS. No, I just need to raise him right. What a breath of fresh air. And it reminds me that I have some measure of control over how he is shaped. If that’s not empowering I don’t know what is.
    .-= Rachel Boldman´s last blog ..30 Minutes of Awesome =-.

    northTOmom December 15, 2010 at 11:06 pm

    I don’t know what to say, except: yes!

    It’s only since I became a mother–a stay-at-home mother, kind of by accident–that I realized how undervalued the work of mothers (or parents, but it’s still mostly mothers) continues to be, despite first and second wave feminism, and all the lip service our culture pays to “motherhood.” The still-popular notion that both women and men can “have it all” (in other words, both a “meaningful” career and children) signals to me that we continue to seriously misunderstand and underestimate the work that stay-at-home parents perform daily. It’s not a job that can just be eliminated (eg, when both parents work) without there being a significant ripple effect on kids, on the family, on society. People understood this in the fifties, which is why women were discouraged from seeking employment outside the home. (I’m not defending this attitude, simply pointing out that it bespeaks an understanding that there was a real job at stake.) Scandinavian countries also more or less get it–which is why they offer so much government support (in the form of free, universal daycare, etc.) to parents. We even sometimes, sort of, get it when when hire nannies to do the jobs that we can’t do while we work. But as a culture we tend to underpay and undervalue nannies, much as we undervalue the stay-at-home mom. (But at least nannies do get paid!) And how many of our “liberated,” new-mannish partners still slip up and say things like, “I can’t possibly help with that [chore], I’ve been *working* all day”–the implication being that we (SAHMs) have been twiddling our thumbs while they’ve been toiling their asses off bringing home the bacon?

    Anyway, having read over my comment, I’m not sure it makes sense (like many stay-at-home parents, I’m chronically sleep-deprived), so I’ll stop here. I really just wanted to thank you for your post: it definitely struck a chord with me.
    .-= northTOmom´s last blog ..Recess Coaches =-.

    katadia December 16, 2010 at 5:39 am

    “It’s not a job that can just be eliminated (eg, when both parents work) without there being a significant ripple effect on kids, on the family, on society.”

    Ouch, now you remind me of my ex-boyfriend who firmly believed that working mothers are the source of juvenile delinquency.

    I am a mother, and like many other mothers (working, stay at home, WAHM, etc), I am also forever sleep-deprived.

    I am a mother.

    northTOmom December 16, 2010 at 10:55 am

    @katadia, Well, unlike your ex-boyfriend, I absolutely do NOT believe working mothers are the problem–and I realize they are equally, if not more, sleep-deprived! What I was trying to point out is that whoever stays at home to take care of kids (be it nanny, mother, father, grandparent) has a *full-time job*; acting as if the labour performed in that job is not important and does not need to be replaced when both parents work outside the home, perpetuates the devaluation of women’s “traditional” work. In fact, women who work outside the home still often carry out the duties of this devalued job: it’s called the “second shift,” and it continues to be a huge source of a stress in many homes. I’m not arguing that women should not work outside the home(obviously!), but rather that we should recognize as a society–as do Scandinavian countries–that with both parents working, government needs to offer a lot of support to families (say, by providing high quality daycare) to compensate for the lost labour of the traditional stay-at-home job. (And theoretically, governments should be able to afford this because they draw from a larger tax base when both men and women work in paying jobs.)

    An anecdote will perhaps illustrate my point a little better. A couple I know–parents of two young children–both had successful careers outside the home. When the husband (quite a bit older than his wife) retired, they decided to let their nanny of many years go, because the man agreed to be a stay-at-home dad in his retirement. But. . . they decided as a couple that he should receive the ex-nanny’s salary! Great idea, I thought. But I wonder, if the shoe were on the other foot, and it was the women retiring, whether the woman would have received the ex-nanny’s salary.
    .-= northTOmom´s last blog ..Recess Coaches =-.

    katadia December 16, 2010 at 5:46 pm

    OK. I misunderstood your previous comment and was being overly sensitive as the option of staying at home and letting go of my part-time work to be with my two kids remains an elusive luxury in my household. :)

    Lisa December 15, 2010 at 11:40 pm

    You almost lost me there, with women as the new men. I was all ready to start a response along the lines of, “No, no, no. Why would you hold up ‘Man’ as the end-all, be-all? Instead of trying to be more like men, we should be honoring what it is that women do.”

    Which is exactly where the whole rest of your post went. Good thing I didn’t embarrass myself by skipping it and just dashing off my fervent rebuttal. :-)

    Paperfairies December 15, 2010 at 11:59 pm

    This you just wrote? This is so necessary for women like me to believe. I was supposed to do all these things with my life, I was the anointed one in my family and I now am “just” a mother. Sometimes when one becomes bogged down with cleaning toilets, wiping butts and scraping food off countertops it’s hard to conceive our work is important.

    Saisquoi December 16, 2010 at 10:17 am

    @Paperfairies, What you just said. Exactly.

    I have advanced degrees. I was going to go places and do BIG things, and I’ll be damned if I wasn’t totally unprepared for how having a baby would change everything for me.

    What I struggle with now is how to best help my daughter as she grows–to know that if she wants to be President of the US, or a technological genius, or a world-class writer, I will support her. But if she wants to cut hair or teach school or stay at home and raise her own babies, I will support her in that and she will be no less important, no less valued, no less loved if she chooses the less-visible, less glamourous path. Because I know in making my choices I’ve often felt as though I’ve failed someone–no matter the decision I make.
    .-= Saisquoi´s last blog ..Beautiful Girls =-.

    Laurie December 16, 2010 at 5:57 pm

    In my extended (not immediate) family all of my professional and personal accomplishments are devalued because I’m not a mother. In certain interactions I learn to diminish them or to not discuss what I do because it simply isn’t important. I think WOMEN are devalued in various quarters for whatever it is we are or aren’t, whatever it is we’ve done or haven’t. It’s bizarre, really.
    .-= Laurie´s last blog ..Reverb10 – December 1 =-.

    Catherine December 16, 2010 at 9:25 pm

    @Laurie, you’re very right about this. When I stood up at TEDWomen and addressed this, it wasn’t just about mothers, and I stated that explicitly – it was about the extraordinary ordinary of all women, who, regardless of whether or not they are mothers, have so long been devalued in so much of what they do.

    karengreeners December 16, 2010 at 10:55 am

    I had no idea what TED was about. Sounds good. I tell all of my friends that I wish boys upon them, not because I think of baby boys as some sort of a curse, but because I know that they will raise the best kind of boys, the kind the world needs more of. I don’t have boys, but I have the best kind of husband, the best kind of father, the best kind of male role-model I could have possibly wished for for my girls.
    Great post, Catherine.
    .-= karengreeners´s last blog ..Are We There Yet Special Crayola Giveaway =-.

    Emma December 16, 2010 at 10:59 am

    This was really interesting, especially as I wrote a post just this week trying to articulate some of my own struggles to accept the label of “mother” … which led to more angst after I saw that my sister-in-law, who NEVER reads my blog, visited it that very day, and now I worry she thinks I don’t love my kids because of what I wrote, even though I do and most definitely think my job as a mother is absolutely necessary and important, for exactly the reasons you say. What is this problem we have with motherhood?? Is it because large parts of it, like the butt wiping and the cleaning and the teaching of manners, while essential, are actually quite boring? And we don’t want to be associated with something that’s boring or unappealing? When pre-kids, we often have very firmly associated who we are with what we do? Do garbage collectors have the same problem with their image? (as an example of people whose work is, at least to me, very unappealing but also very valuable).
    .-= Emma´s last blog .. =-.

    sarah December 16, 2010 at 9:14 pm

    @Emma, The boring part – so true. The mundane nature of cleaning bores me to tears. And playing with Playmobil for the millionth time while I *should* be spending time on my school work (mother AND graduate student)…

    Barnmaven December 16, 2010 at 10:59 am

    From the moment my first child was born, I became a mother first and foremost, above any other title or accolade. Its a title I bear with pride, and I rejoice that more and more women can list it as their primary occupation with pride. Sure, I have other things that I do, that I’m good at, love, enjoy – manager, writer, singer, rider, speaker, friend, pianist, sometime-athlete – but right now, I’m Mother first.

    You have it oh, so right, that raising our children to be good citizens is the most important thing parents do. Teaching our boys to be not only smart and strong and capable but also loving, gentle and sensitive. Teaching our girls to be strong and smart too, teaching them not to hide their strengths just so someone will like them or approve of them.

    THAT’s the thing, isn’t it? Men are taught to have pride in their success. Women are taught to be humble. So many of us I see being self-deprecating, unable to comfortably receive a compliment. Taught not to stand out, not to be too strong, too loud, too capable – or boys might not like us. Bosses might not like us (because when I was five, women had three career paths – secretary, teacher or mother).

    That’s what I want to teach my girl. That she can have pride in what she does, that there is no need to hide her light behind a curtain. And that no matter what she chooses to do in life that I trust she will do it well, with enthusiasm and joy.
    .-= Barnmaven´s last blog ..Howlovely sort of nsfw =-.

    Lucie December 16, 2010 at 11:04 am

    Thoughtful and well written post. I have a law degree but have stayed home with my small ones and worked a low key parttime job at a bookstore that allows me to do so. One of these days I hope to tell people that and not have everyone look at me like I’m crazy. Maybe one day my decision to make less money for a few years so my boys can be raised the best way possible will be seen as a good choice and not ‘throwing away my career.’

    Her Bad Mother December 16, 2010 at 5:19 pm

    I’ll have to look for the link to a post that I wrote when someone told me that I was throwing away my education and that she couldn’t respect me for it. It’s a good reminder that people DO think (and say!) those things.

    sarah December 16, 2010 at 9:20 pm

    @Her Bad Mother, Oh, you two make me want to drop out of grad school and bake, make playdough and love my girls up all day long… it’s so terrifying to imagine giving it up though, and to disappoint so many people who have painted you as some kind of superwoman. More and more it boils down to economics, though, and I worry so much about how to support my family financially and being some kind of public hero in the process that somedays I lose sight of supporting myself emotionally…

    Lucie December 16, 2010 at 10:18 pm

    @Her Bad Mother,

    I would love to read that. People say some astounding things to pregnant women and mothers about work and children (being unmarried and pregnant in law school in Kentucky invites some pretty astounding comments). Most comments reveal that raising children is only a rhetorical value.


    ” . . . and disappoint so many people who have painted you as some kind of superwoman.”

    Oh my god. Yes. While it is really wonderful to have people believe you can do anything, it is frustrating when no one will listen to you when you feel like you can’t.
    .-= Lucie´s last blog ..Write What You Know Or Don’t =-.

    sarah December 17, 2010 at 8:43 pm

    @Lucie, ya, somedays I wsih I was secretly pursuing school so that I could be under the radar!

    Her Bad Mother December 18, 2010 at 10:53 am
    kelly @kellynaturally December 16, 2010 at 2:47 pm

    I am a mother!

    And also: A designer and copy editor and photographer blogger and and writer and artist and housekeeper (okay, not so much so since we hired a proper housekeeper, praise be) and to-and-from-school-and-swimming-lessons-and-drama-class-transporter and entertainer and snot-wiper and up-all-night-tending-to-sick-ones-caregiver and wife and friend and interior decorator and holistic-medicine-dabbling-boo-boo-fixer and lunch-and-(begrudging)-dinner maker.

    I chose to keep working at things other than mothering after having children because it was & is part of who I was & am. It doesn’t take away from the importance of my role as mother but the importance of my role as mother doesn’t eclipse the rest of my being. I didn’t stop being all those other things I’d become for thirty years when I became a mother. So when I say who I am, I say I am a mother, but I often say one of those other things as well, depending on my situation and the company in which I am and sometimes even how I am feeling about each of those roles at the time being.

    I am a mother. I will always be, in spite of and in addition to everything else I am forever more.
    .-= kelly @kellynaturally´s last blog ..Baby Led Weaning – What- Why- and How =-.

    Her Bad Mother December 16, 2010 at 5:18 pm

    there’s another whole post to be written here (again) about work related to motherhood – like being a writer on motherhood, being an activist on causes related to motherhood, being a MOM blogger…

    (Actually, I already wrote that post. I will probably write it again.)

    sarah December 16, 2010 at 9:21 pm

    @Her Bad Mother, please do!

    Renee December 16, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    Very well-written post (as per usual…) I struggle with this a lot. I do think of myself as a mother at the top of my list. And in the back (or, sometimes, front)of my mind, I wonder if my kids would be better off if I stayed home full-time instead of working and hiring a nanny. But I just don’t want to do that! I love my job – I don’t love it more than my kids, of course – but I want to believe I can “have it all..,” If by “all” we mean getting paid well for a job that brings us some measure of enjoyment and satisfaction while also having a loving and influential relationship with our children. And if by “all,” we mean being able to affort somebody to clean my toilets and do my laundry so that when I come home, I can focus like a laserbeam on quality time with my children. Being a SAHM is really hard work if you don’t have help in the house, and much of that work (related to the housekeeping rather than child-keeping), frankly, doesn’t appeal to me. So, I AM a mother, but that’s not the only thing I want to be. Is that selfish? (Rhetorical question here – no need to tear me to shreds, future commenters…)(Also, not addressed here is the fact that many women cannot affort to be “only/just” mothers. The have to be so much more because there is no other choice.)

    Her Bad Mother December 16, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    I think that it’s totally fine to want to be more than a mother – in the same way that it is totally fine if one is, say, a lawyer or a doctor or a scientist, to be more than those things. I certainly have sought out other things. My point, though, is that we would never say, “I’m just a doctor,” or “I’m a doctor, but I also rock climb!” as though being a doctor weren’t enough in itself. It’s the seeming assumption that ‘mother’ isn’t, or shouldn’t be, enough, that I think is the problem.

    Which is why (as I hope was clear) that this issue applies equally to stay at home mothers and work at home mothers and other working mothers (as though mothering wasn’t itself ‘work’) – regardless of how we mother, we don’t seem to privilege it, and PRONOUNCE it, as important.

    And you’re right that there are socio-economic considerations here – some women don’t have the choice to be ‘just’ moms. But even if they did, is there not still resistance to seizing and celebrating that choice? I wrote a post about that a while back, I’ll dig up the link. But still – yes. Just as not everyone gets to ‘choose’ to be a doctor or a political leader, we don’t all of us have full spectrum of choice when it comes to parenting. What if we did? MIGHT we have that if motherhood were more valued?

    Renee December 16, 2010 at 6:33 pm

    Yes, I agree that it isn’t valued the way that it should be. It’s damn hard to be responsible for another human being’s life and upbringing on a day to day basis. When I ask myself honestly how I feel about my SAHM mom acquaintances, I wonder if I also devalue what they do. And, you know what, it makes me a bit sick with myself, but I do! Part of the problem in my particular circle is that I see women who do not work outside the home but also don’t really work within it. They have full-time nannies, kids in school all day and hire tutors to do their kids’ homework. I’m sure most SAHM don’t live those kinds of lives. But, some do, and that personal experience for me has devalued the “job” in my eyes. But that’s a whole other story and not totally on point with your post. (Maybe you can do another one about THAT!)

    Bitchin' Amy December 17, 2010 at 7:43 am

    As the mother of three boys, I think about what I am saying and the kind of example I am setting for them all the time. Especially as a stay-at-home mother who has been financially dependent on her husband since dropping her career to take care of them. And as a mother who clearly needed more from life than to just be their mother. (And do not take the word “just” as a slam to women who embrace motherhood, it is merely to indicate that I’ve always harbored a lot of ambitions outside of raising well-rounded, healthy children to adulthood.)

    I truly hope that when my boys are grown they will carry the knowledge that personal fulfillment can be reached in a million different ways, male or female, and the path to get there can be a lot different than they ever expected.
    .-= Bitchin’ Amy´s last blog ..An Oxfam Holiday Giveaway For the Person Who Has Everything =-.

    The Animated Woman December 17, 2010 at 10:23 am

    When I first became a mother, I had not the capacity to articulate this. I functioned by instinct, mostly.

    And now, as I ponder the wider future, and my children’s place in it, it occurs to me that “I am human”.
    .-= The Animated Woman´s last blog ..The SnowFLAKE &amp The Chimney =-.

    Kathleen December 17, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    This article really hit on a lot that as a SAHM I’ve been struggling with for the past 15 years.
    It’s incredible to me that so many people of my acquaintance think that because I’ve chosen to stay at home with my kids that that’s all there is to me.
    I’m reminded all the time how lucky I am to be able to do that. As if I don’t already know that. I was raised by a single working Mother who struggled to make ends meet but who also taught my sister and I that the quality of your life is not defined by how much or what you have but who you are. I remember going hungry some days.
    Parenthood, single, partnered, working or stay at home; is challenging. We all want the same things for our kids.

    Robin December 17, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    I liked this post, but the sort of elephant in the room seems to be that it’s hard to have clear thoughts about these things without thinking about whether or not men and women don’t just experience the world differently, and thus want different things, and whether or in what ways that is good or bad. This is obviously gotten at by the idea that we want girls to grow up to do the same kinds of things that men have done, but we want them to do so that they’ll do those things differently from men.

    Her Bad Mother December 18, 2010 at 10:41 am

    Totally agree. But consider, too, the fact that some women want to do the kinds of things that men have done, in exactly the same way that men have done them, and how we often ignore that – the Maggie Thatcher example – when we talk about needing women in men’s roles because (we think) we’ll do things differently. How different are we, really? And why do we speak so little about the essentialism behind our assumption that we are different?

    Ami December 19, 2010 at 9:58 pm

    I think the occupation of mother does not garner the respect it deserves because it is so very temporary, despite being an eternal position. Most of the things I accomplish are fleeting. The housekeeping aspect of my job, especially, is the very definition of impermanence. The dishes and laundry are done! For five minutes and then must be completed again.
    Even child-rearing/raising is largely temporary. I teach my child about lying (or sharing, or teasing, or bullying, or multiplication, or any other subject under the sun). Then I must teach it again the following week. And again, and again. Finally at the end of 18 or 21 or 25 years when all these lessons have been somewhat taught and absorbed by my children, they become “adults” and all of the things/lessons/energies I have filled my children with become THEIR accomplishments. If I do my job right, there are no traces of my effort. It has become their effort. And their victories. And their successes.
    And in no way do I begrudge that. But it doesn’t exactly fill up a resume sheet, now does it? I don’t need accolades for being a great mother, but the world needs someone to give me accolades in order to respect what I do.

    suz December 20, 2010 at 1:33 am

    Great writing! I am a mother. The best and most successful mothers I think are the ones that keep teaching, loving, nurturing, and guiding their children day after day, year after year without expecting anything but love and respect in return. Embrace the joy, and endure the tough times. The rewards are bountiful if we let them in

    Giulia December 26, 2010 at 8:43 pm

    I am a mother and that defines me the most. I wanted to be a stay-at-home mother and when I had a chance, my family (not my husband, but my family of origin) not only questioned the possibility of this choice endlessly, but openly opposed it and showed in full force how “not important” they think it is to be a mother. Yet when I got visit them – they live overseas – they always make comments on how overwhelming it is to raise kids and what a great job I’m doing. I ended up going back to work – due to financial reasons, so against my heart’s desires – but I’m still bitter about their attitude. I don’t think I will ever get over it. It is just so wrong and I can’t even point them to read your piece as they don’t read English. Bummer.
    Thanks for this, it makes me feel validates in my feelings.

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