Part 1 and Part 2 here. This is more of the presentation I gave at this motherhood conference. My presentation looked at some of the big themes I see coming out of all the responses I’ve received to my 10 questions about your feminist motherhood.
This post is on the things that have surprised parents about motherhood:
- The strength of emotions: “I had no idea I would fall in love so completely and overwhelmingly. It amazes me that there is this big cultural silence on this issue. Where are the songs, the stories about any form of love other than the romantic sort?”
- The physicality/sensuality of parenthood; the social isolation and the sudden fall in social status; the exhaustion; and, the patience required for it.
- Suddenly needing other mothers for support: “And I have to think about and act in ‘sisterhood’ through understanding and relating to a whole range of women from whom I would have otherwise remained disconnected. This includes my own mother!”
- On suddenly feeling so dependent upon their male partner in a way they’ve not previously experienced (“when I was caring full-time for my son, who was born with a physical disability, I realised how dependent I was on my partner financially, and it freaked me out”), which was also a very negative experience for some (“the sinking feeling that I had tied myself to someone I really wasn’t sure I should have married. I felt like I was at my partner’s mercy. Once I had a baby he turned dictator”).
- From a profeminist father: “At the end of the day, your main task is to survive and support your family and raise happy children; how you respond to the things you can’t control reveals a great deal about your character. You might discover a capacity for sacrifice and care that you never knew was there. On the flip side.. you might also find yourself erupting with petty rage and misdirected resentment, eruptions that frighten you, your child, and your partner.. when our worst emotions take over.. it is easiest of all for both fathers and mothers to fall back on traditional patterns of dominance and submission”.
- Becoming the mother of a son – “I spent the last two months of my first pregnancy reading The Second Sex and I was so ready to raise this kick-ass, take nothing from anyone girl, and now.. that boy has three younger brothers”.
- And from another: “Mothering a boy is opening my eyes to the sorts of pressures on men to become who they are – sporty, active, unemotional, physical. I’d never really concerned myself with boy/men’s issues”.
- “I stopped being so angry at men when I had a son”.
- Having to prioritise someone so completely above themselves and then later, needing to switch that priority back – this came up frequently in responses by single parents.
- “Motherhood is an extreme physical and emotional and psychic metamorphosis, and it keeps threatening your identify, even as your kids grow up”.
- A mother of teenage children: “What surprised me now is that the love affair is over. I’ve been effectively (but sweetly) dumped. I know I should have but I didn’t see it coming”.
- The shifting focus from career to family – “I can listen to my heart when it says that I want to spend more time with my son, and this does not mean that I am necessarily wasting my time. In this regard, feminist mothering gives me the space to be the woman that I want to be through listening to the different voices inside me”.
- “I always assumed that I would be a working mother. What I could not imagine is the anguish going back to work caused me. Leaving my son at 8 weeks old left me emotionally and physically bereft. I’d sit in my office at lunch, pumping and crying. Every day off that I spent with my son, I cried because I knew I would have to go back to work. Breastfeeding became a do or die situations for me because it was the one thing that I alone could provide for my son, regardless of whether I was with him all day or not. Not having any choices re. working part-time, working from home; being tied to my job in part because of benefits, it made me realise that mothering and how we choose to mother are FEMINIST choices”.
- The sense of fulfilment: “For the first time in my life I feel just fine about my role and how important it really is. I don’t find myself feeling bad about what I am doing, or what I could be doing that is better/more productive/more progressive/more inspired.. being a mama is one thing I am totally confident about”.
- More greys, less black and white: “I used to think that whichever parent made more money should work and whichever one made less money should stay home. However, my view on that has changed somewhat. I do make more money and am therefore the primary breadwinner and my husband is a SAHD. But, I see the value in both parents playing equally strong roles in their children’s lives”.
- Sense of strength: “I can be this vulnerable and still alive. Hell, I thrive in ways I haven’t previously. I’ve managed to spend 8 months not working and I haven’t dropped into serious depression (an amazing record for me – my mental health has always been inextricably linked with routines provided by employment)”.
- From a step-mother: “I have to give so much of my physical and emotional energy to caring for the child but there’s been very little support or acknowledgement of this life transition in the same way as the arrival of a new baby often brings together a community of support around a new biological mother”. Also: “I’ve been the enemy… There isn’t the same inherent tensions in the biodad/stepdad relationships which I find interesting and I suspect it because it is acceptable for men to derive identities from multiple sources”.