Here are 10 11 thoughts on the experience of feminist mothers from a bunch of great women thinkers. I tried to choose quotes that would cover a range of experiences for mothers today and I looked for quotes that stopped me in my tracks and made me think. Most of these quotes sounded like more eloquent versions of my own private thoughts.
- “A mother must put on her oxygen mask first, in order to be able to help her children” – I see this instruction on airplanes as an appropriate metaphor for feminist mothering. Mothers, empowered, are able to better care for and protect their children – Andrea O’Reilly. (More here).
- The baby’s needs are very insistent, and they’re normally not responsive to things like the mother’s needs for sleep, or food, or rest or break. That experience the first night of being more incredibly tired than I’ve ever been in my life, from having gone through the experience of the labor, and it was grueling as they tend to be. And just thinking that I felt badly deserved of a break — long, uninterrupted sleep, and not getting it, and the dawning realization that the days when you could depend on justice, in that sense, were over. That happens immediately, or it did for me. You can feel yourself kicking against it in an ineffectual way, but you realize that things have changed. How soon you accept it is another issue, but it is a source of frustration and guilt, because it sounds so selfish to talk about posing your own needs against those of your helpless infant, but we’re only human, and we do do that. And it seems unfair, feels unfair, much of the time, but we do it anyways. To me, that makes women quite heroic. – Susan Maushart (More here).
- They may have been living comfortably with their spouses for a decade, but when they become mothers, the gender inequality becomes more noticeable to them. These women are really trying to question how we do motherhood.
(To fathers who challenge this point, O’Reilly would offer a pop quiz: What is your child’s shoe size? When was their last immunization? What food won’t they eat? When is their next dentist appointment? What is their issue right now? ) Real equality means men are doing that thinking, too. – Andrea O’Reilly (From here).
- We’ve internalized the notion of rugged individualism so deeply that we believe we are solely responsible for our children’s health and well-being. And we believe that this belief, instead of being a sign of hubris or of despair, is an entirely normal and natural thing. This leads us to place terrible pressure upon ourselves – and gets our society almost entirely off the hook as far as responsibility for children and families goes.
Our “post-feminist” generation grew up believing we could do and be anything – and as young women it’s fair to say that we pretty much could. But all this ran aground once we had children. For many women it became very difficult to reconcile not just “work” and “family,” but our pre-motherhood and post-motherhood selves. The equal partnership marriages so many of us believed we’d entered into (so naturally that we didn’t even articulate it to ourselves at the time) changed once we became parents. Many women found themselves sweeping up Cheerios, picking up boxer shorts, and contemplating their husbands at the breakfast table through the protective screen of “his” newspaper. Many began to nurse a simmering rage. – Judith Warner (More here).
- At least two things are happening. There is an ongoing media backlash that urges women to stay at home, and indeed there is a slight decline in the percentage of women with babies under the age of two or three entering the work force. So, on the one hand, there is this enormous pressure for women to conform to a retrograde, one-size-fits-all motherhood. On the other hand, women are starting to talk back, in “momoirs” and through activism, an incipient movement of mothers. It’s an interesting crossroads. - Susan Douglas. (More here).
- There was something so valuable about what happened when one became a mother. For me it was the most liberating thing that ever happened to me. . . . Liberating because the demands that children make are not the demands of a normal ‘other.’ The children’s demands on me were things that nobody ever asked me to do. To be a good manager. To have a sense of humor. To deliver something that somebody could use. And they were not interested in all the things that other people were interested in, like what I was wearing or if I were sensual. . . . Somehow all of the baggage that I had accumulated as a person about what was valuable just fell away. I could not only be me -– whatever that was -– but somebody actually needed me to be that. . . . If you listen to [your children], somehow you are able to free yourself from baggage and vanity and all sorts of things, and deliver a better self, one that you like. The person that was in me that I liked best was the one my children seemed to want. - Toni Morrison.
- I felt very ambivalent in my soul about daycare, even though with my mind, I had no problems about it at all. That was really unanticipated. I didn’t think I was going to have that struggle, but I did, and it affected the trajectory of my subsequent career. I assumed the worst case scenario would be that I would work part-time, and resume full-time when she was three or four. And even that turned out to be an unrealistic projection, because I hadn’t thought about what happens in the hours before school starts, or after school finishes. I hadn’t thought about having two additional children to care for. So here I am, ten years after the birth of that first child, and I still don’t work anything like full time. I spent a number of years as a single mother, and that really wasn’t easy. I found at one point in my life that I was on public assistance, a single mother’s pension, because I couldn’t face the thought of leaving my kids to go to work full time. And I never thought I’d do that. – Susan Maushart (More here).
- In the sixties and seventies, well-educated women began to wonder why they were picking up their husband’s socks: wasn’t he just as smart and wasn’t he just as able to pick up his own socks? Most women don’t realize how far feminism has taken us. In 1970, married women could not have a separate bank account or own a car themselves. In 1970, a woman could not marry and keep her name. In talking to women who have read the book, many I come across say that they didn’t realize feminism addressed motherhood. Their association — largely because of the media spin about feminism — was that feminists are anti-mothers.Now, a lot of couples enjoy more equality until children arrive. It’s as if the introduction of the child is a chance for the man to regress. Maybe once a woman is a mother, she can kind of be his mother as well. I keep saying to women that wondering, “why am I the one doing ___?” is a feminist thought. - Meredith Michaels. (More here).
- Most importantly, remember that as women liberated from traditional stereotypes, we have the freedom to be as traditional as we please and still communicate the strength and ability of our gender in and out of the home. As human beings, we care for our families out of love, not because it is our duty as women. – Haley Feuerbacher (More here).
- The ante on motherhood has been upped. June Cleaver had it easier: she could just send the kids outside to play. Nowadays, mom is not only supposed to raise children but raise them to an impossibly high standard. For example, when Dr. Stanley Greenspan introduced the concept of floor time for children on the autism spectrum, it was a specific treatment for children with specific needs. Now, mothers with healthy babies are supposed to commit to floor time and to feel badly if at the end of the day they haven’t done enough floor time with their babies. Oh, and vacuum the floor, too. Seriously, it’s extraordinary when you think of it how much energy goes into one child, extraordinary how much worry goes into one child. Educated, caring parents see a study — say, the one about not exposing preschoolers to television — then feel devastated about showing their newborns Baby Einstein videos. Somehow, in all of this we’ve put aside common sense. We rely too heavily on experts. We need to take the veneer off of motherhood. Here’s another thing I find fascinating about this time in our culture: we love for science to prove parenting theories right. Dr. Sears appeals to the science adoring, proof-hungry parent, but at the same time, he justifies his prescriptions by citing practices of primitive cultures. So, science and women in Africa prove you should wear your baby in a sling all day long. Does anyone talk about why women in Africa wear their babies? Because they are working all day long and they have no other place to put the babies. If they were given a choice, would they perhaps put the babies down more often? What the experts tap into is women’s profound ambivalence about how much this experience of motherhood should dictate their lives and their identities. – Meredith Michaels (More here).
- A generation ago, raising kids was spontaneous and organic. Now, you really have to make an effort to connect, and it’s very structured. (Parenting programs and activities) are about the baby or the infant or the toddler or the preschooler, and the mother is an afterthought. Could you really go into one of these moms-and-tots programs and say, ‘Last night, I thought I was going to strangle my kid’? – Andrea O’Reilly (More here).