When I became a mother nine years ago, I underestimated what a big deal it was. I remember a friend without children said to me “I don’t understand why becoming a mother is such a radical life transformation. There are other experiences in life that I think are just as monumental.” She may be right. I haven’t found one yet. Yes, we are still friends.
Less than a year after the birth of my first and pregnant with my second I longed, I mean LONGED, to find other mothers who I could “really” talk with. I would wait oh so awkwardly at the home daycare drop lady’s house, casing her out because another friend told me she was deep. I tried to connect. Instead, she commented that she thought it was strange I hung out in the mornings. Boy did I feel like a turd after that! I was thirsty for anything deeper than talking about how excited everyone was for Ms. Kitty’s music class. And I tried not to judge the mothers who thrived on posing their kids for Facebook selfies. While they were snapping, I was trying to figure out how to take a shower with two toddlers, preventing them from drowning in the toilet bowl. I was treading water in the existential crisis of mothering and the “Holy crap how do I take two of them to the grocery store with one cart seat?” The moms I met dreamed of the day they would become “soccer mom” but I didn’t. I dreamed of love: loving a husband and loving kids. I didn’t dream of becoming a “mom.” I felt so isolated and lonely. I got depressed.
Just because I grieved my pre-mommy days, I loved loving my children. I missed my single friends. But I missed my sons when I went out with my single friends. I missed reading in bed until 11 am on a Sunday. But I also missed my kids when they weren’t in my bed at 6 am on a Sunday. I missed longing for my husband’s touch, but I didn’t want to trade it for the chubby little hands that would cling to me in the night. I felt a lot of feelings, big feelings. I couldn’t integrate them all without help. But I had a hard time finding mothers that were interested in or knew how to listen with deep empathy for the experiences I was having.
When women don’t feel empowered they compensate or push underground their struggles. They lose their ability to rise with other mothers.
Women aren’t paid to mother. There is no “stay at home and be a good mom” tax credit. Heterosexual marriages still lean heavily towards the woman doing a lion share of the emotional labor in the child rearing even if she is holding down a full-time job. One small case in point-only 10% of the dads in my kids’ classes are on the parent email lists teachers keep. Psychological theory even throws mothers under the bus when the theory focuses on the “maternal-infant” bond rather than the parental bond. Where are the dads? Perhaps the parenting industrial complex and even the psychology field perpetuate fear to sell us more stuff. This is the worst kind of disenfranchisement at the most vulnerable time for women, so we cope by hiding our true feelings from the world and each other.
What about time for the new job orientation for mothers? Mothering is a brand new job, after all. Virtually none. Parents in America get minuscule parental leave. And after big cultural shifts in the 80’s, helicopter parenting has run rampant, and mothers are in fear of going to jail for leaving children “un helicoptered.” How many mothers reading this article have either had the cops called on them or had a friend have the cops called for leaving their sleeping baby safely in a cool car eight feet away while they ran in to grab the mail? A mom and I recently confessed we are both afraid to let our kids walk down the street to the park at age seven and nine, not because of their safety but for fear of being arrested. In the middle of writing this article, I let my sons walk two blocks back to the bookstore where they left their cookie, and a “do-gooder” stopped them to ask where their adults were. They ran back to me in our small town because they were afraid I was going to get arrested (my oldest reads the paper.) What is going on? Check out Free Range Parents’ Bill of Rights.
To make matters worse, if you are one of the lucky 1 in 5 who gets kicked in the gut with postpartum depression, you are dealing with all of the above and not able to get out of bed, enraged half the time or wanting to die in the process. A colleague of mine, Marty Cooper, speaks about depression as an inability to face one’s futility. Which comes first in motherhood, the depression or the futility?
How about we make motherhood a project of growth and activism rather than futility?
Another colleague, Dr. Shanti, wrote a great piece, better than I could ever write, on postpartum depression as the elephant in the room no one wants to talk about. If we don’t talk about it, how do we prevent it from happening or get through it when it does?
This leads me to the MANIFESTO piece of our chat. Many moms feel alone, excluded, judged, guilty and everything in between because mothers don’t feel empowered to talk frankly with one another. The root of “mommy culture” is collective disempowerment. Mothers still aren’t supported in our culture as evidenced by some of the worst healthcare, family leave and sick leave policies in the world. What do the disempowered do? They turn into bullies or they shut down.
Let’s do something different and use our disempowerment to be badass change agents.
Are you with me? I am totally serious. No you don’t have to be besties with every mother you meet but let’s take our power back women! Let’s buck the system that isn’t supporting the sacredness of mothering and the time and support women need to traverse a wide range of feelings to come out the other side integrated, whole and nurtured. Loving children is too sacred, too special and too freaking hard to let society turn it into a playground brawl or popularity contest. Policies may not change anytime soon and the weird “parental McCarthyism” going on these days may get worse but we women can empower ourselves and eachother.
I co-created a PSA short called Mothers Rising Strong with Honest Mamas with this in mind. The entire mission of this video is about mothers finding healing in the truth of their stories. That we rise in truth, and we become powerful when we own it, get nurtured through it and thrive. Here is where you come in. Agree to and share the #MothersRisingStrong Manifesto. We can change how the entire world supports mothers if we first start with how we behave towards ourselves and one another. Share this article and video widely. Some mother out there is waiting to receive it. And if you need more support, Honest Mamas is starting their next online course for mothers. Check it out.