Tuesday, 24 January 2012

I Blame Post-Feminism


At work, recently, I was reading a study about post-natal depression. The researchers did a (very clever) intervention, and found that they were able to reduce the severity and length of PND episodes in post-partum women. They got lots of funding to take it further... to benefit child health. Because after all, post-natal depression is bad for babies.


And that's true, of course, but I couldn't help thinking: isn't post-natal depression also pretty bad for the mothers? Does that not matter?



Not as much as it should. When I was struggling badly a few months ago, I heard some stories from other people that made me incredibly sad. The worst I heard was of a doctor whose patient asked for help because she was struggling with depression and anxiety. When he asked her if she was thinking of harming the children (and she said no) he said "No therapy or meds for you at this stage. Come back if you're thinking about hurting the kids".


Awesome.

That man deserves a giant wedgie, obviously, but sometimes we talk like this ourselves, too. When mothers look at our lives, it's easy to talk as if the only excuse to help ourselves or improve anything is because it ultimately  helps our children. I don't think men talk like this. I think that when a man wants to, say,  go running, he just says that he wants to go running and shuts the door behind him. When a woman wants to go running, she usually has to find some reason why making the time to go running is going to make her a better mother (I'll be a better mother if I get some endorphins; I'll be a better mother if I have some time to myself) before she will let herself lace up her shoes.

I read this article recently (as did every other mother with an internet connection, I think, and if you didn't, FIX THAT NOW) and it made me think about some of this stuff, about how we value ourselves and each other as mothers, as women.


I'm in the thick of young-mothering at the moment. It's hard. There are lots of good bits, but it's hard. It does move fast, and parts of  it are incredibly wonderful, and I can see that there is something special about this time, something that will never come again. I will not always have a child who greets their naked reflection with 'Hello, nipples!' and I will miss that when it is gone. And of course, I already miss this: 

but when children are tiny, they are cute for a reason. If they weren't adorable, we would not put up with their insane demands. We would not let them ruin our lives and then pretend that we don't resent it. (Joking!) (Mostly). 

And people telling us oh enjoy it - enjoy it - enjoy it, it goes so  fast - that tells me that these are the only years of my life worth having. That all that will be left for me in ten years time, or fifteen, is a fading nostalgia for this time, now, when life was worth living.  

What nonsense. 

I think. 


 I hope that I will look back and see, through memory's soft-focussed, gilded  lens, how incredibly privileged I was to mother these two beautiful human beings through their infancy.  But I also hope that, as I am looking back, I will still be mothering these two beautiful human beings. They might not need me to choose their clothes and cut up their toast any more (and please, oh please let them take care of their own bathroom needs eventually) but this, here,  isn't the only way to be a mother. And being a mother isn't the only thing worth doing, either. My life didn't start when I became a mother. It won't end when they leave home. If we had never had children at all, I would still be a person. I love my children, but they aren't what makes me worthy of my space on the
planet. 

(Fellow Christian mothers, I think we have our own specialist version of this kind of thinking. Churches are usually pretty good about valuing motherhood, but I think that sometimes the intense focus on that aspect of what Christian womanhood means can lead to us devaluing a lot of other amazing things that women can (and do) do for God. iwe let ourselves believe that THIS IS IT! the time that means something in my life! then we are going to struggle to lead worthwhile, Jesus-focussed lives as our children grow and leave us. Right now, this is my most important Kingdom work. Right now, self-sacrifice and loving like Christ means, most often, changing another nappy with a smile on my face and disciplining my children with consistent love and trying not to scream when they ask me to sing  The Teddy Bear Twist! yet. again. But it won't always be this way.  There will come a time when this job is done and that is okay. That will be a time to find new work, new ways to love other people, new ways to build the Kingdom. It has to be that way.  If we let ourselves believe that intense mothering is the only thing that matters, we are going to waste the next forty years after we have had our turn,  keeping our children's bedrooms like shrines to the time that they were ours rather than saying 'Okay, Lord, what do you need me to do next?')


They aren't what makes me worthy of my space on the planet. Which is just as well. And maybe, whether we enjoy this time or not isn't really the point. And who are the enjoyment police, anyway? No matter how much we enjoy it, or no matter how much time we spend climbing the walls, it's going to end anyway. I think that living, now, knowing that, helps me to keep these sweet and painful days in perspective. There is no amount of enjoying that will stop these days from ending. I cannot wring a day more from this time than I am given, no matter how upbeat my attitude. That's not how time works.



There has to be something else afterwards. I refuse to believe that the next forty years of my life are going to be a wasteland because I won't have toddlers. They are not my only reason for existing. 

So I am trying to learn to refuse to talk as if the only reason to do something I want to do is because it will somehow benefit the toddlers. I think the two are tied together. 

Why do we talk like this, think like this? I don't know about you, but I blame post-feminism*. I think that feminism gave us the idea that our lives should be fulfilling (rather than just the self-sacrifice of motherhood) and then post-feminism told us that we could still get that fulfilment, but that we could get it through motherhood after all. Which, let's be frank, it some pretty serious mis-selling of the whole experience, right? Talking as if motherhood is the only worthwhile (or even the most worthwhile) thing we do reduces mothers to the sum of their mothering, and it reduces childless women to nothing at all. That can't be right. 


This book is very thought-provoking on the subject.  I would like to unpack this a bit more, but I don't want to make this post longer than it already is; I need to go and sit on the sofa for a while and drink some red wine.... (after all, I'm a much better mother if I get a break in the evenings. Ha). 

I think what I'm trying to say is: it's easy to forget that this isn't all there is, that the kids aren't the only people who matter. It's especially easy when we feel guilty about not appreciating this time enough (and we do, obviously, which is why that post resonated with practically the entire western world). 

Kids are nice to have, but we are people too. And that is reason enough to look after ourselves. You, on your own, are enough of a reason to take care of yourself, to go on a date night, to read a book, to occasionally leave your child in bed for a nap for an inappropriately long time while you take a bubble bath. If that self-care somehow helps your kids, that's great. But it's enough to do it for you.


Even saying that, I want to write after all, one of the best things we can teach our children is that the world does not revolve around them! They need to see us having the self-respect to care for ourselves! and maybe that's and true, but it's not the point. And the need I feel to write that is exactly what I'm talking about.

You are reason enough,  tired mother with a teething baby.

You are reason enough, mother whose children have left and gone
You are reason enough, just you, whether you have twelve children or none.

It doesn't have to all be about the kids. 

You are reason enough too. 














*I'm joking! Sort of. I do not have a degree in women's studies. If you do, please don't yell at me in the comments. 




36 comments:

  1. Great thoughts, Claudia. I sent this to a new mom friend of mine. We all need a break from all this internal and external guilt, don't we? Thanks for the breath of fresh air.

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  2. Great thoughts. I like how your brain works lady!

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  3. You are so right!! I experienced a lot more freedom in general when I finally realized this.

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  4. I especially like your request at the end.... ;-)

    Claudia, I like you for so many reasons. This post is one of those.

    By the way, I love that picture you shared. Squishy.

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  5. Brilliant. Amen. Thank you. Badly needed.

    I used to value myself for myself more before motherhood, what happened? Did the sleep deprivation/ rampant guilt mongering/ adoption process fueled quest to be inhuman amazing supermom push this out of my brain? I realized the other day that I could no longer remember when I last put moisturizer on my face. That is all wrong and scary too. My son is three. He can cope if I pause to put moisturizer on. Okay, I'll probably have to leave the bathroom door open and put some on him but still. Moisturizer, here I come...

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  6. Why does this post make me want to cry? Can I really be reason enough? When did I decide I wasn't reason enough?
    I would have told you before I read this post that of course I am reason enough. And yet, I have tears in my eyes... So I guess I would have been lying.
    Thanks.

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  7. My takeaway from this will be to think of what sort of fine or jail time I'd get from the enjoyment police every time I am not enjoying mothering my child. Do you think it's a warning, a fine, or time behind bars for hating every single moment of playing Candyland? How about when my child is being adorable and talking about her future fictional cats, and I just want her to be quiet for a minute?

    I do struggle with giving myself permission to do things for myself. It was like this even before Zinashi came along, and I think that my particular struggle is rooted in both culture (Midwestern US culture as well as Christian culture) and upbringing. There were just things that you were expected to do, and if you didn't, then you needed a good reason why you were not doing them. Taking care of oneself was never, *ever* a good enough reason. (Selfishness! It must be rooted out!) I still struggle with allowing this to be the problem of the person with the expectations, and not my problem. But of course I carry it over into my own family life. When I want a day to myself, I feel like I have to earn it through superior acts of mothering and exemplary housewifery. My husband could care less what reason I have for going out on my own; he's more than happy to sit on the sofa and let Zinashi pretend to read House Beautiful to him. Your point about men just doing what they want to do probably explains this--he doesn't feel that he needs an excuse for doing something enjoyable for himself, so why should I? I am going to keep this in mind for the future, when I have convinced myself that he must mind but just won't say so.

    Thank you for this post, Claudia. It's a help to many of us, I'm sure.

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  8. I think people speak of these being the glory days not just because of the joys of motherhood. Motherhood usually coincides with youth, a body that isn't breaking down and covered in wrinkles, a schedule so busy giving to others you don't have time to focus on the negative. Even if you don't have children I think most will look back on the years that are usually spent child rearing and remember them as the glory days. Getting old sucks. I have several friends who are parenting toddlers in their early forties who refer to the college years as the glory days. There were no babies around then!

    Having said that - I think the key to happiness after the chicks have left the nest is just to love others. If you can remember that and replace your love of your babies with love and kind acts for your friends, relatives, etc. then I think you can continue to be happy. Sadly, I don't think many people realize that and struggle to find meaning in their lives afterwards.

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  9. Wow. Thanks for posting this. A good reminder not to keep my life on hold just because I don't have kids yet. Because I have worth now. Thanks. Just thanks.

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  10. Love this post. I also sent this and the article to a new-mom friend of mine--both are brilliant. I know I think of college as the glory days, and while I loved it, I also worked incredibly hard, was pretty broke and had my heart broken. So yes, wonderful, and also hard--but it's easy to forget the hard part. :-)
    -Molly

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  11. "Hello, nipples!" Awesome! :)

    Thank you for writing this. Thank you for the encouragement and affirmation. Just... thanks.

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  12. What nonsense.

    I think.


    What nonsense indeed.

    I went into the birth of my first child *knowing* -- and being comfortable with the fact -- that I'm not an infant-person. I don't immediately go gooshy when I see one, I find interacting with them tedious and repetitious, and I really, really need my sleep. So the last 2.5 months have been hard, but it's been easier because it doesn't really bother me that it's hard. I just keep telling myself "this stage sucks, and it's OK, because you get to have her for the rest of your life" (knock wood!). Being a parent isn't (just) about taking care of a baby. There are so many more years we have ahead of us that will be so much more rewarding than this period, and already things are more rewarding than they were a week ago (I get grins almost every time I pick her up from her basket, and giggles on a daily basis).

    I'm sure with hindsight these first few months won't be as bad as actually living through them. But I am so looking forward to what's to come, and not just in her childhood, I am fascinated with wondering what kind of person she'll become as an adult.

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  13. Thank you for such a thoughtful and timely post. It is funny to me how I will often agonize (a lot) over the am-I-a-good-enough-mom stuff, yet I recall the whole first 30-so years of my life were devoted to the firm belief that women are so much more than "moms".

    What I find toughest isn't just my self-pressure to be a "good mom," but also the pressure to AT THE SAME TIME also keep my career sailing along enviably, to have this awesome marriage of self-actualized equals who have loads of fulfilling sex, to not "let myself go" and actually LOOK like a mom with rat-nest hair, lumpy ass, improper jeans choices, etc, etc, etc. It's like I feel, subconsciously somehow, that if I am not living up to all these 'opportunities' of living the Big Awesome Life I can have as a woman today, I suck somehow.

    Sigh.

    Right now I'm finding it especially tough trying to go on with (and fully savor) my in-the-moment life -- mom stuff or not -- while also trying to complete our family. It feels like a contradiction: I want to live like there's more to my life than being a mom, raising babies, etc. Yet to undergo IVF again, multiple times, (or I imagine pursuing adoption really) it's so dang all-consuming.

    Anyway, I will step off your therapy couch now. Thanks for the visit :)

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  14. Semiferalmama had it right--I had tears in my eyes too! Thank you. LOVE THIS POST!

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  15. After a year of being and mother and feeling like I'm failing "most of the time" I still have to tell me self...he's o.k. He hugs people, gives kisses, says please and thank you....so give yourself a break and don't feel bad if you actually like to go work and have time away from your toddler...he will still love you when you pick him up at the end of the day....somewhere, someone (probably myself) told my I wouldn't be a good mother if I didn't mother all day long...thanks for the reminder! AGAIN :)

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  16. beautiful, beautiful words Claudia. Loved everything about it.

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  17. I love this post. AMEN. But, on the other hand, I have to admit that being a mother has been more rewarding and enjoyable than anything I've done (more difficult , too, for sure). I didn't expect it to be this way, I feel like a non-feminist even admitting it, but there it is.

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  18. Thank you. As a new mom to a 4 month old, I needed this. I really did.

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  19. Finally had the time to read this piece of brilliance. Here's the rub, children, by nature, grow up and LEAVE us - and sometimes as if THEY NEVER NEEDED US IN THE FIRST PLACE! We have to be ready for that, and then be the sort of moms who cheer them on from afar, letting them live their own lives and make their own mistakes and rolling in the glory of grandchildren if we are so lucky. Your post goes hand in hand with us being the sorts of moms that can LET GO of our kids and not depend on them for our happiness.

    Here's a funny thing. Last New Year's (2010-2011) as a family we all anon wrote down goals, placed them in a basket, then passed around the basket. We each chose one, read it aloud, and then all guessed whose 2011 goal it was. My sister and I both had goals of running - mine to run a half marathon and hers to run even just a little after much hip pain over the years. We of course were quite proud of our goals. Our husbands' goals, both of them, were entirely child related. Both talked about 2011 being the year in which they would help their children be more kind to one another and help them understand the world better.

    And even more interestingly, my sister and I did not make our goals, but our husbands did.

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  20. Claudia, you are awesome.
    Love
    Amy x

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  21. I've been reading your blog for a while now and love your honesty and perspective. I'm a first time commenter. Thank you for this post.

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  22. Now I remember what happened!

    I saw this the other night as I was shutting down and my GR must have clicked it read.

    Anyway, great post. Also, that picture is super cut! And so is the new header!

    Where do you find the time? :)

    Waaaay before even wanting kids I used to coach and run ministries at church and I'd get these mid-thirties women feeling like "is this all there is?" because they'd put their whole selves into the kids and lost who THEY were.

    And I must tell you, I'd ask, "if you could do anything in the world, what would you do?" and a lot of them couldn't even conceive of not being a mother. They were scared to have an identity that was not motherhood.

    Even then I knew something was out of whack because when they grow up, you still want to be YOU.

    Recently (and dear Lord, I MUST BLOG ABOUT THIS), a lady came to my church group thing and is in her 60s and said, "for 25 years I did nothing in ministry because I was busy raising my 3 boys". I get it... for other people but I had this sinking feeling and immediatly said to God, "oh no way can I wait even another 2 years to get more involved". *sigh* I have issues.

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  23. "that guy deserves a giant wedgie" HAHA!

    Great post, thank you!

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  24. eeek. could this have been more timely? I've been battling a giant wall in my self-care (running). I realized yesterday I was running to "be a good example" for my son. I used to run just to do it for myself before he came. I got so angry yesterday when I completely lost motivation to continue running---and then I fell into a heap of "I'm not a good enough mother, because I honestly don't even care right now if my son has a good role model for exercise---and I really really DON'T WANT TO RUN! Waahhhhhh!" It was that dramatic. Yes. I lead a privileged life. But this post was timely and affected a change in my heart.

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  25. Very well written.
    Your bit on the fact that no amount of enjoying it makes it last any longer--it's all temporary, every single second. That sense of impermanence that Buddhists embrace makes me definitely want to be a more Buddhist like Christian, does that make sense? Because having that appreciation that you can't cling to ANYTHING (things, people, time) helps us to just be. And hon, every single time I go running I go for me. Sometimes to escape, ha. Of course, it's my break that makes me a better Mom. Aaaaahhhhhh.

    Love to you Claudia!

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  26. I don't when it happened that mothers stopped being the adults who fed, hugged then, shoo'ed children out of doors and became instead child-companions. My husband and I have two bio adult children and a young adopted son. I resent play dates and negotiating meal options with empowered gradeschoolers.

    Heavens, I love my kids (and enjoy them), but I am not their handmaiden--never was. Children are a by-product of the biological imperative--not deities. They deserve sustenance, shelter, guidance, and a strong sense of belonging. Women are killing themselves to meet up to some arbitrary ideal of what a good mum is (probably created by (M)ad men in hopes of selling more product).

    Let it go, my sisters. We spend our entire lives trying to be mature and wise; then, we have children and forget all that is good about our own progress. Everything we do for our children short of protecting and educating them is out of noblesse oblige, not because we owe them. And when they get to be the Big Dogs, they can serve what they want for dinner.

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  27. While I'm raising my two little girls, I also teach college students, which has been one of the best things for my parenting. In general, there's an attitude among kids who have been helicopter parented and you can see it coming a mile away: they assume consequences don't mean anything, that we'll all get good grades just by being great people, that just because they wrote something "as they see it" means it's well-written even when it doesn't meet the assignment requirements. I have several students who truly think they're the center of the universe and are often surprised when they make Cs because just showing up and existing doesn't equal doing well.

    And then, every once in awhile, I'll have these great self-sustaining, independent, courteous, world-hungry, almost-adults who are hard-working, appreciative and mature. They have helped me realize that my darling babies NEED me to teach them that they are not the center of the universe, not my universe or anyone else's. God, the church and ministry are more important to me. Their dad is more important to me. I'm more important to me. They're fourth on a solid list. I grew up that way and knowing my place was fantastic. I watched my parents love each other and other people, take time for each other and themselves, and it was healthy.

    When did we decide that helicopter parenting was wise? I want my kids to get to college ready to face a world that they've been prepared for. I'm tired of mothering as kid-olatry. (And I'm an academic who thinks you're dead on with the post-feminism idea!)

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  28. Candis, I don't know who you are, but I love you. Thanks for the shot in the arm.

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  29. Thank you for this post. It so reflects how I feel about motherhood - it's so valuable, but, well, what you said...ah, going to read it again now I think!

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  30. I read this post every week. Each and every week for almost a year. It ha spoken to my soul this first year of parenting. Thank you.

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    1. LeAnn, I've only just seen this comment but that's more touching than you can possibly know!

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Over to you!