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This is a brilliant guest post from DV Diary, whom you can also follow on twitter @dvdiary.

  1. How would you describe your feminism in one sentence? When did you become a feminist? Was it before or after you became a mother?

I became a committed feminist while studying domestic violence as part of a social work degree I did at the University of Sydney as a “mature age” student. During this time I realised I was experiencing domestic violence, and had been for many years. My feminism is heavily influenced by the women’s domestic violence movement, and it led me to become a DV worker, once I had become safe myself. My feminism is informed by feminist theories of domestic violence as a gendered crime; a product of the patriarchy; a deliberate pattern of tactics used mostly by men against women to control them and keep them in fear. It is the belief that women and children have the right to equality, respect, freedom, safety and security. I came to feminism several years before becoming a mother. I have written a blog post about how I came to feminism.

  1. What has surprised you most about motherhood?

What has surprised me most about motherhood is the loss of feelings of self-worth derived from going to work and feeling like I am contributing, being productive and achieving something. I struggled with the reality of the intensity of mothering, and with getting very little else done, and with having nothing tangible to show for all my hard work. I struggled too with frightening postnatal depression and feelings of being a “fraud” as a mother. This is all with a respectful, non-abusive, non-controlling, non-violent partner. I often admire how my clients manage to mother through domestic violence and I am thankful that I escaped it prior to becoming a mother, as DV usually involves a systematic undermining by the perpetrator of a mother’s bond with her children and of her confidence as a parent.

  1. How has your feminism changed over time? What is the impact of motherhood on your feminism?

My feminism underwent its most fundamental change several years ago when I was studying domestic violence and escaping it myself. Before that it was lacking in conviction and undermined by trauma. The impact of motherhood on my feminism is not yet clear. I am only a few months into my mothering journey. However, if anything, motherhood has made clearer to me the wider impact of gender inequality beyond the particular effects of domestic violence.

  1. What makes your mothering feminist? How does your approach differ from a non-feminist mother’s? How does feminism impact upon your parenting?

I’m not sure I can yet answer the question of what makes my mothering feminist, but feminism impacts upon my mothering in that I am aware of the challenges I face in raising a child in a society that is so hostile and disrespectful of women, girls and mothers. I hope to raise a child who believes in social justice, gender equality, respectful relating and non-violence. Feminism impacts upon my mothering in that I treat my child with the respect he deserves as an individual; he is not my property, he is my responsibility to love and care for and then let go into the world. I hope he will reciprocate this respect. I don’t know how my approach differs from a non-feminist mother’s.

  1. Do you ever feel compromised as a feminist mother? Do you ever feel you’ve failed as a feminist mother?

I have not yet had time to feel that I have failed as a feminist mother, as I am still learning what it means to be a feminist mother. It has only been through my recent thinking and reading that I am realising that I am a feminist mother. In another blog post of mine I write briefly of the guilt and trauma I felt for some time at not being able to birth my baby the way I would have liked, and at not being able to breastfeed him the way I wanted. But I am over this now, and I am focusing on building a loving and respectful relationship with my son.

  1. Has identifying as a feminist mother ever been difficult? Why?

This is the question I have struggled with most in this series. Any difficulties I have experienced in identifying as a feminist mother must be couched in terms of my white middle class privilege. But even with such privilege, identifying as a feminist mother so far is a tricky undertaking because most people are still suspicious of the idea.  My partner and a few select friends are really the only ones who are aware of my views, apart from my colleagues at the domestic violence service where I work. Being a feminist mother entails different things to different people. Here are some examples where I believe I am embodying my version of feminist motherhood, and where I have been challenged:

  • at work, being asked if becoming a mother will change the way I view my clients (the inference being that these women are failing to protect their children from their violent fathers). If anything, becoming a mother has given me even more empathy for my clients with children who are safety planning around an abusive partner.
  • whilst pregnant, navigating the dominant discourse of the patriarchal biomedical establishment in order to achieve the kind of pregnancy and birth for my child and myself I was hoping for, i.e. safe but also with as little medical intervention as possible
  • the trauma experienced when this did not eventuate
  • mothering through residual trauma from domestic violence experienced in a previous relationship
  • fielding comments from clueless friends (both male and female) who think that being on maternity leave and caring for a baby is one big holiday
  • struggling with debates about pornography, censorship and violence against women
  • feeling powerless and hopeless in the face of the worldwide prevalence of violence against women, and wondering how so many in society can be either indifferent to it or misunderstand it
  • Again, I feel I will have more to write on this question as time goes on and I have more experience of being a feminist mother.
  1. Motherhood involves sacrifice, how do you reconcile that with being a feminist?

My feminism involves a belief that women and children have a right to respectful relationships, safety, equality, freedom and security. I feel this approach is congruent with the sacrifices of motherhood, especially because I am privileged to have become a mother through choice and in a safe and respectful environment. I do struggle with how to balance motherhood with my desire for learning, reading, writing and activism, and when I return to work I will probably struggle with how to balance mothering with a demanding, unpredictable and fulfilling job. For a time I was falling into that old socialisation of not looking after myself as much as I look after my family, resulting in feelings of scathing resentment against my bewildered partner. He had encouraged me from early on to take time out from him and our baby, but I had said “I’m not ready”. It took a moment of desperate exhaustion before I realised that I must take responsibility for my own wellbeing. As other feminist mothers have written before me, I am then modeling for my son that I am worthy.

  1. If you have a partner, how does your partner feel about your feminist motherhood? What is the impact of your feminism on your partner?

My partner is both bemused and respectful of my feminist motherhood and my interest in domestic violence. He worries that I am upsetting myself and working too hard. He is also proud of my views and my commitment; he often repeats views I have expressed, and we have conversations that challenge us both and bring us closer. He supports and facilitates my approach to mothering. The main thing that attracted me to him was that I could see he was respectful of women. I was confident that I would be safe with him, and that our children would be safe with him, even if we were ever to separate. The impact of my feminism on him is that he is challenged every day and he is required to step up. Sometimes he struggles with the reality of the oppression of women in our society. I think he would rather it weren’t the case but he realises it is. He is better than me at using humour to cope.

  1. If you’re an attachment parenting mother, what challenges if any does this pose for your feminism and how have you resolved them?

I did not realise that I am an attachment parenting mother until I started reading bluemilk. If I go by the guidelines of Attachment Parenting Australia, then yes, I am an attachment parenting mother.  But if I go by the standards of other more extreme attachment parents, such as “Uma” who made her views known on bluemilk last year, then I don’t come up to scratch.

I came to attachment parenting through gut instinct, through advice from public hospital midwives, and by reading different material, but I didn’t realise it was called this. When pregnant I read Sarah Buckley’s “Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering”, which I loved. I don’t feel there is a huge divide between attachment parenting as promoted by APA and my feminism, but I do wonder how attachment parenting (especially the more fundamentalist approaches) addresses the issue of domestic violence. Also, in all the comments responding to bluemilk’s post, I was a little surprised that there didn’t appear to be any mention of how the current situation in the Family Court of Australia is in direct opposition to attachment parenting.

Domestic violence against women with children usually includes a sustained and systematic undermining by the perpetrator of a mother’s parenting and her bond with her children. Women’s ability to parent is seriously impeded in this situation, which could interfere with the practice of attachment parenting, or conversely, could find them forced into a situation of isolation in the guise of attachment parenting (also referred to by bluemilk). Should a woman with children leave an abusive partner and the issue of contact with the children proceed to legal action, the current situation in the Family Court of Australia is such that she could find herself bound by a court order to allow her abusive ex-partner to see the children. Besides posing a great risk to the children and allowing for further abuse and control of the mother by the perpetrator via the children, such an arrangement would not allow for attachment parenting in it’s purest form. This would pose a huge challenge for a mother attempting to practice attachment parenting, and it would be entirely beyond her control. Examples of this include cases where breastfeeding mothers were forced to wean their babies in order to comply with court orders.

This situation in the Family Court came about after powerful right-wing conservative “men’s rights” groups successfully lobbied the Howard government, which then brought in the 2006 amendments to the Family Law Act. These amendments resulted in the right of fathers to have contact with their children taking precedence over the right to safety of children and mothers. Thankfully, due to the tireless work of feminists in the domestic violence sector and others elsewhere, a Bill to make changes to the Act has passed the Senate and should be in place later in the year. This will go some way towards improving the situation but will not solve all the deeply entrenched problems of the patriarchal court system and domestic violence in general. In this respect attachment parenting definitely needs feminism.

10. Do you feel feminism has failed mothers and if so how? Personally, what do you think feminism has given mothers?

I do not think that feminism has failed mothers in that it is the very thing that led to the domestic violence movement over the past 30 to 40 years. This brought domestic violence out of the private and into the public sphere, with the result that society could no longer ignore it to such an extent. With this movement came legislative and policy reforms that have improved somewhat the responses to domestic violence and the options available to women experiencing it. Current best practice in mainstream domestic violence policy is based on feminist perspectives of DV being a product of patriarchy. There is of course still much to be done. Feminism is seen to have let mothers down where they don’t fit into the dominant discourse of white privilege, and responses for mothers who are culturally and linguistically diverse, living with a disability, older, trans, same-sex and experiencing domestic violence definitely need to improve.

Here are some readings that influence my feminism, my mothering, my work and my life…

Books

  • Trauma and Recovery – by feminist psychiatrist Judith Herman, offers a history of trauma and outlines how DV trauma is similar to the trauma experienced by political prisoners.
  • Mothering through domestic violence – by Marianne Hester and Lorraine Radford
  • Safety Planning With Battered Women: Complex Lives/Difficult Choices

By Jill M. Davies, Eleanor Lyon, Diane Monti-Catani

  • Challenging Silence: innovative responses to sexual and domestic violence – edited by Jan Breckenridge and Lesley Laing

Research/papers

Websites

  • Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse -http://www.adfvc.unsw.edu.au/
  • Put Safety First in Family Law – http://safetyinfamilylaw.com/

(You can find all the many other responses in this series here. If you’d like to respond to these questions yourself you can either email me your answers and I’ll put them on blue milk as a guest post or you can post them elsewhere and let me know and I’ll link to them).

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Some of you may remember Kris from when she wrote an adorable blog called Garden varieties about life in Tasmania as an academic with her partner and two daughters (a 5 year old critical thinker and a kick-arse 3.5 year old, who claims she is 8 and should now be allowed to drink beer). When she closed down her blog I asked her if she would like to guest post here. She said yes, but she also said she would never get around to it. Well.. many, many, many months later here is her first post. Keep ’em coming, Kris.

Five year old: ‘Why do people lose their jobs?

Parents: [gathering thoughts for disquisition on politico-socio-economic structures, privilege and exclusion in a globalised society]”…”

Five year old: Is it because of the Liberals?

Three and a half year old: If I saw a Liberal, I’d punch him in the head.

Father: Violence isn’t ever the answer.

Kris: But it is because of the Liberals, yes.

Parents: [thinking, ‘Our work here is done’]

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Following my introduction is a guest post from Matari.

Because I have little kids I mix mostly with other parents with little kids and I rarely get to talk to a feminist mother who has raised a child right through to adulthood. Matari’s perspective as a single parent with a (now) twenty-one year old son in her response to my 10 Questions About Your Feminist Motherhood is really fascinating. Does this feminist parenting thing work? Can you see any impact on the person your child becomes? What are the feminist parenting issues you face with an adult child? Matari’s response touches on all these questions.

I particularly like the way Matari highlighted the extra work involved in preparing a child, not for sexism but for the classism he would experience as a working class man. In our email conversation she explained that “it felt at times like a double whammy – being a feminist mother and working class was a hard cross to bear.  Also, I took redundancy when my son was ten and went to university to get my degree – here I entered a solid middle class world and again felt marginalised. In fact I would say that I have felt marginalised more by my class than by my gender at times.”

1. How would you describe your feminism in one sentence? When did you become a feminist? Was it before or after you became a mother?

I became a feminist at the age of 11 when I was abused by my stepfather.  I learnt to call myself a feminist when I realised that as a woman, my abuse was nothing unusual and, in fact, represented the lack of power that women have in our society.

2. What has surprised you most about motherhood?
How attached I was to my son as soon as he was born – I almost expected to be able to fit him into my schedule and carry on as before.  But no, that was not the case AT ALL – I instantly became responsible for a little life that, if was injured in any way, would affect me for the rest of my life.

3. How has your feminism changed over time? What is the impact of motherhood on your feminism?
My feminism became more entrenched, as – with every other event in my life,- I recognised that as a mother I would (again) be a marginalised woman, exacerbated by being a single parent.

4. What makes your mothering feminist? How does your approach differ from a non-feminist mother’s? How does feminism impact upon your parenting?
As a mother I was and am straightforward about being marginalised by society for being a working class mother.  So, I ‘outed’ every instance where this happened to my son (who is now 21), so he would be in no doubt about what my place was in society and, by association, his place as a working class male.  Also I was very fierce about violence against women, and to the best of my knowledge my son has never hit a woman.

5. Do you ever feel compromised as a feminist mother? Do you ever feel you’ve failed as a feminist mother?
Yes I did feel comprised when I realised that he was accessing pornography – that was tricky. I had to find a way of explaining to him about how this demeans women that he could process alongside the messages he was getting from everywhere else – namely that everywhere else felt that porn is OK.  I feel that I may have failed to get my message across, but time will tell. In essence he is a kind lad, and would not cope with seeing any woman harmed – at the moment I don’t think he fully accepts that pornography truly harms women.  As I said, this is a tricky subject between mother and son. But I have hope – at the very least he has to think about it.

6. Has identifying as a feminist mother ever been difficult? Why?
Yes because people think it is all about whether you give your son a gun or your daughter a doll – whereas it is more about trying to bring a child up to consider issues that others accept without question.

7. Motherhood involves sacrifice, how do you reconcile that with being a feminist?
What a great question! For me the sacrifice was about my own space – as a single parent carving out ‘legitimate’ space to do my own thing, especially when I was working full-time – was very tricky indeed.  It took a number of years and some very good childcare options (family and friends) before I had that straight in my head and was able to take the time without feeling guilty.

8. If you have a partner, how does your partner feel about your feminist motherhood? What is the impact of your feminism on your partner?
I have had several partners during my son’s growing up years but tended to keep them separate as much as I could from my son.  His father was a problem in that when my son was getting into trouble in his teens, his father dismissed this as ‘boys will be boys’; the general consensus was that I was an ‘over-reacting mother’.  As it turns out, my son is now reaping the problems of getting arrested as a teenager, and concedes that I was right all along.  This does not give me any pleasure at all – I just wish I had had access to support from an enlightened male who could have provided my son with a decent male role model.

9. If you’re an attachment parenting mother, what challenges if any does this pose for your feminism and how have you resolved them?
I was not an attachment parenting mother as I had to go to work when my son was 6 months old, so this didn’t even enter the equation.  However, I do believe that security and stability during the first five years are very important and was always straightforward with my son about when I was leaving him and when I would be back.  And I was always back when I said I would be – even today we are never off each other’s radar – for example I would not go away without telling him and he would not be on the other end of his mobile for longer than a day.

10. Do you feel feminism has failed mothers and if so how? Personally, what do you think feminism has given mothers?
I think that the first and 2nd wave of feminism did not take the attachment between mothers and children seriously enough – but only because they were fighting the get women recognised as equals.  Unfortunately society and the media then made feminism a dirty word and so the next stage – an examination of the bond between mother and child – was not examined by the next generation of women who were busy distancing themselves from the media representation of feminists as lesbians in dungarees with hairy armpits; witness the closing down of women’s studies in universities across the world.  Now we are in a situation where the sexualisation of girls and women is so prevalent – pole dancing etc etc – that young women are accepting things that the first and 2nd wave feminists find abhorrent, and quite rightly so. We need a new feminist discourse quite urgently and a space for the discourse to flourish.  One can but hope.

(You can find all the many other responses in this series here. If you’d like to respond to these questions yourself you can either email me your answers and I’ll put them on blue milk as a guest post or you can post them elsewhere and let me know and I’ll link to them).

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I confess to having seen Geek.Anachronism around the Internet for like, ever, and yet when I dropped by to read her response to my 10 questions about your feminist motherhood I suddenly realised I had never been to her blog before. Somehow I have missed Lucy completely. And I don’t know how that happened, because reading her blog I remembered how much I like her outlook, her analysis and her style of writing. Also, as a bonus, her photos are beautiful.

Anyway, go read about Lucy’s feminist motherhood. She has a 7 month old baby, her first. Her response is all good but I particularly loved her feminist dissection of attachment parenting:

9. If you’re an attachment parenting mother, what challenges if any does this pose for your feminism and how have you resolved them?

I kind of attachment parent – I babywear (sometimes) and I breastfeed (exclusively til 6mth and now shared with solids), I cloth nappy (from about 2 months onwards and part-time) and I co-sleep (all the time). I don’t like a lot of the politics around AP though – the anti-science stuff around vaccination for example. I really don’t like a lot of the AP communities either – the assumption that I will never ever ever work and that’s the only way to do it is rife. The assumption that Wolfman (my DH *sigh* heteronormative and marriage-assumptive much?) goes along with it and that I am the emotional centre of my family. I find I am as awkward and outsider there as I am in most mothering communities. It’s something I’ve begun to accept as pretty normal and certainly OK, but I find it challenging as a person.

The assumption that I will sacrifice everything for whatever I’ve just been told (sold?) as the best for my child isn’t unique to AP. Same with the heteronormativity, the assumption of SAHMing and even the consumerist parts (if you think AP isn’t as consumerist as any other parenting philosophy, check out babywearing communities). I find all of these things fuck with my feminist ways – even though I know AP isn’t heteronormative it does make the assumption of a stay at home parent and socially that often relies on the gendering of the workforce to create the male = breadwinner default. The consumerism gets me – the derision aimed at parents with fancy strollers, at yummy mummies in SUVs, at those crappy welfare parents not buying organic, while lauding the latest handloomed SPOC wrap from Czechoslovakia, single-origin chocolate, organic coffee and green cars. Consumerist behaviour is very effective at convincing large swathes of people that their life isn’t good enough. Motherhood is hard enough without the added pressure of “buy this way or you suck as a mother”.

(You can find all the many other responses in this series here. If you’d like to respond to these questions yourself you can either email me your answers and I’ll put them on blue milk as a guest post or you can post them elsewhere and let me know and I’ll link to them).

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Guest post: Flo blogs at Black dog ate my homework . Clever blog name huh? She lives with her partner and their young son and she writes mostly about the difficulties she encounters living with a partner who has chronic depression. Here is her response to my 10 questions about your feminist motherhood.

Of course I was smitten by her experience of having been raised by a feminist father. I can’t even begin to imagine. Apart from that aspect I related to much of what Flo had to say about her version of feminist motherhood, and I think you’ll find as I did, that she is terribly thoughtful in her approach.

(You can find all the many other responses in this series here. If you’d like to respond to these questions yourself you can either email me your answers and I’ll put them on blue milk as a guest post or you can post them elsewhere and let me know and I’ll link to them).

1.  How would you describe your feminism in one sentence? When did you become a feminist? Was it before or after you became a mother?
I was brought up a feminist by my father (who is a staunch feminist). He encouraged us to learn, to be educated in maths and science and history and English. He pushed my sisters and I into the public sphere with every confidence and expectation that we could do as well as anyone. He bought me a t-shirt saying “Anything boys can do I can do better” when I was eight. He kept our hair off our faces.
2. What has surprised you most about motherhood?
Motherhood has surprised me by it’s all consuming nature, by exposing me to the world as one big raw nerve and by how tired it’s actually possible to be.
3. How has your feminism changed over time? What is the impact of motherhood on your feminism?
I think when I was young (I’m 35 now) I was a lot more judgemental as a feminist. My view of what constituted a feminist was a lot more narrow in terms of what we looked like – certainly no-one in high heels and makeup could have been a feminist.
Motherhood has allowed me to feel much more connected to many different women. I also recognise how hard it is for women not to lose ourselves when we become mothers. I used to wonder why some women seemed to leave themselves so open to being taken advantage of. Now as a mother I live in a constant state of being needed and I struggle to meet my child’s need. What time is there left for thinking about anything or anyone else? It’s hard.
4. What makes your mothering feminist? How does your approach differ from a non-feminist mother’s? How does feminism impact upon your parenting?
I have a son and I’m so glad to have the chance to bring him up as a feminist. I encourage him to express himself in ways that are considered traditionally feminine and masculine. I am teaching him to communicate his feelings openly and effectively. I am trying to teach him that he deserves to be heard, but that others are entitled to the same level of attention, time and love as he is. I am trying to show him that sometimes people can be left out and that it’s important to reach out to them. I am trying to show him by example that men and women can coexist happily by working through things, talking, sometimes yelling, always apologising and working towards resolution.
5.  Do you ever feel compromised as a feminist mother? Do you ever feel you’ve failed as a feminist mother?
Yes, when I look at the roles in our household I definitely do the majority of the housework. I hate what this models for my son. I feel like I’m failing him in terms of his future relationships with women (and failing those women too).
6. Has identifying as a feminist mother ever been difficult? Why?
Sometimes it’s been difficult in mothers’ group situations where people come from broad ideological backgrounds, some quite conservative. In my need to fit in and connect with others, particularly when my son was a newborn and I was lonely for company, it was sometimes hard to speak up.
7.  Motherhood involves sacrifice, how do you reconcile that with being a feminist?
I don’t know! Perhaps this will get easier as my son grows older. (He’s only three now.) I definitely think about this quite a lot. I guess my idea of feminism has changed. I think now that it’s possible to include the sort of bottomless love for a child (which invariably involves sacrifice) within a sense of self. I feel like I am more than what I was because of what I am able to do. It’s astounding really what I’ve found myself to be capable of.
I choose motherhood – an amazing right that women have fought for and continue to fight for. And I continue to make choices about what motherhood means for me. I’m lucky because I live in a first-world country with child care and health care and women before me have fought for my right to access it. I have choices to make and I guess my feminism involves exercising those choices and continuing to make sure that they exist for me and for others.

8. If you have a partner, how does your partner feel about your feminist motherhood? What is the impact of your feminism on your partner?
My partner is well educated in the struggle for women’s rights and he is supportive. He went part-time when our son was born so that we could both work part-time and share the care of our son. It’s very unusual for men in his industry to sacrifice career for family. And it was indeed a sacrifice as he found out.

9. If you’re an attachment parenting mother, what challenges if any does this pose for your feminism and how have you resolved them?
I didn’t find that the attachment part posed any challenges of itself. The challenging part was dealing with the judgements from others. I found (and still find) that to be difficult to cope with. People seem to presume that things like co-sleeping for example are a sign of weakness on my part, insufficient strength to stand up for myself. Often I find myself too upset by their judgement to make a coherent argument.
10. Do you feel feminism has failed mothers and if so how? Personally, what do you think feminism has given mothers?
I don’t think feminism has failed anyone. But I don’t think it’s been able to deliver yet some of what I need as a mother – better support for my partner in his workplace so that he can take more time off and be more involved with his son without being pressured to work longer hours; more honesty about the difficulties of motherhood, the insecurities, the anguish really; less division between women who are mothers and those who aren’t.
I think feminism has given us the ability to exist as mothers in the public sphere rather than being confined only to the home. And benefits have flowed/ are flowing on from that – healthcare, maternity leave, social status, a voice. Feminism has meant that my concerns as a mother can be legitimately voiced in a public forum.

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Guest post: Stephanie blogs at group blog, The Hand Mirror. She lives with her partner and for almost half the time with his 5 year old daughter also. Consequently Stephanie has become a step-mother. Here is her response to my 10 questions about your feminist motherhood.

Stephanie’s response to these questions as a stepmother is a first and a very appropriate addition. In her response she raises some fascinating questions of her own (including many I’ve never previously considered) around the identity of motherhood and its preoccupation with biological mothers, in addition to the way biological mothers and stepmothers are pitted against one another.

(You can find all the many other responses in this series here. If you’d like to respond to these questions yourself you can either email me your answers and I’ll put them on blue milk as a guest post or you can post them elsewhere and let me know and I’ll link to them).

1. How would you describe your feminism in one sentence? When did you become a feminist? Was it before or after you became a mother?
I think I was a feminist before I realized there was feminism! ‘Girls can do anything’  was the government-sponsored mantra for girls growing up in my era. My liberal parents were very careful not to enforce stereotypical gender roles on their kids so growing up I thought nothing of joining the school’s cricket team even though I was the only girl and then I went to a liberal multi-cultural girls’ school where we learned feminist texts and had to take on leadership roles. It was only when I went out into the big bad world and realized that the ideals I had been raised with weren’t mainstream, they were considered feminist.

2. What has surprised you most about motherhood?
That I’ve become one! I think this is true for many stepmothers who don’t have biological children, one day we are own person the next we have these little people that are suddenly in our lives. There’s no period of getting used to the concept of being a parent through pregnancy and no birth to officially ‘mark’ the point in which we become a parent.  I think that’s why feel like I  gatecrashing some exclusive party. Biological motherhood is placed so high on a pedestal that any questioning of the status is akin to wondering if there is a god. And by our very existence, stepmothers question the status of motherhood which is why our experience of motherhood is frequently belittled by the admonishment all stepmothers love to hate,  ‘you’re not the child’s mother.’  I am aware I am not the child’s official mother, the child is aware that I am not her ‘real’ mother. Now that that has been clarified can everyone just move on?

Because despite not having the official title ‘mum’ I have done tasks we associate with motherhood. During my time as a stepmother I’ve cleaned up vomit, diffused tantrums, and generally tried to impart some of my knowledge on this kid to help her take her place in our society. I’ve also had to make all these sudden adjustments to my life now that the Child is my life. When the Child lives with my partner and I, my life is no longer entirely mine. 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 acknowledgment 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.

New stepmothers often have to deal with so many commonly held negative prejudices around us from being wicked to the children or the stereotypical ‘other woman’ that broke up the first marriage. Moreover most of the community don’t recognize our relationship with our stepchildren as being *real* until we marry our partners even if we have lived with them for years. We also have two external conflicting emotional demands to contend with. Firstly we feel pressure from both our partners and sometimes from our stepchildren of feeling like we have to love the children involved immediately as ‘our own’ while at the same time we have all and sundry constantly reminding us that we should be not loving them in the same way as ‘their’ mother. This makes it hard for us to develop our own relationship with our stepkids which will likely be different from a biological mother-child relationship but will hopefully still have value and worth.

If I was to encapsulate the stepmother experience in one sentence it would be ‘if you think raising your kids is hard, try raising someone else’s.’

3. How has your feminism changed over time? What is the impact of motherhood on your feminism?
I would say that my feminism changed a lot when I went overseas and realized how much my wealth and skin colour really do give me so much freedom. As for stepmotherhood? I’ll get back to you in 13 years 😉

4. What makes your mothering feminist? How does your approach differ from a non-feminist mother’s? How does feminism impact upon your parenting?
What makes my mothering feminist is that I do think critically about the experiences we give our stepdaughter and  the way that decisions over small things  help shape her character. The child’s mother is a non-feminist which creates inherent tensions. The child has so much pink princess stuff it looks like a flamingo threw up in her room and  for the last six moths I’ve been silently grinding my teeth as Ive heard ‘Girls do this/Boys do that’ replayed millions of times and wondered why no one could tell her about the different body parts with their real names so that we could move on from forcing outdated gender stereotypes on this little girl. But part of being a stepmother is knowing which battles to pick. While pink frilly stuff and baby language for body parts annoy me, they are things I just let go as the shitstorm that would ensue from describing the actual difference between boys and girls would outweigh any benefits. Where possible I try to offer alternatives some of which the child likes others of which never see the light of day.

5. Do you ever feel compromised as a feminist mother? Do you ever feel you’ve failed as a feminist mother?
Constantly! The division of labour is a huge issue in our household. My partner works in a high pressure job with the attached hours and earns far more than I ever will which has equity implications. I do a lot more of the ‘housework’ and he brings home more of the cash  Because I don’t share as a closer bond with the child as my partner sometimes has difficulty understanding why I need time to take a step back from the Child when I feel like she has exhausted all my energy. 

The other problem I have as a feminist stepmother is that I feel that I am constant warfare with the child’s biological mother. Feminism teaches us that we must support each other as women in our roles, even if we disagree. To that end, I try to be respectful of the relationship that the child has with her biological mother, never saying a bad word about her within earshot of the child and helping the child make Christmas cards and Easter eggs. Unfortunately this respect has not been reciprocated and from day 1 I’ve been the enemy. I’m mature enough to realize that the personal attacks and constant badmouthing from the maternal family aren’t about me personally but more about my position as a stepmother. But that still makes me feel like I am failing at stepmotherhood because no matter how hard I try to care for the child, my efforts are never going to be good enough because I am not the biological mother of the child .

There isn’t the same inherent tensions in the biodad/stepdad relationship which I find interesting and I suspect is because it is acceptable for men to derive identities from multiple sources while motherhood is pushed on girls as being the only real choice from before we can talk.

6. Has identifying as a feminist mother ever been difficult? Why?
Amongst the other difficulties associated with stepmotherhood, my partner is involved in a rather messy custody dispute with his ex. Our parenting decisions are literally being judged by others on frequent basis, whether that be by the child’s mother or the officials involved in the case. Some of my ideas go against ‘mainstream’ ideas of what a ‘good’ stepmum should do and I constantly worry that these ideas may cost my partner the relationship with his child.

Writer after writer urges stepmothers to step back and defer completely to the children’s father when it comes to discipline, leaving all responsibility to him.  I don’t believe that is healthy for anyone in our family for me to  say “oh well, let him handle it” while I passively stand back and remove myself from a situation that is intimately entwined with my life. And it seems that step-parents are the only group in society that are routinely told that we have no authority over the children we care for. Adults in other settings with young children like schools, pre-schools, babysitters, sports teams etc. are never to told just be the kids’ friend and leave discipline to someone else. So I think telling stepmums to just ‘stand back’ infantlizes us and tells us that our value as a person is always going to be diminished by our stepchildren.

Being a feminist stepmother means that I refuse to give up the right to being an adult in my home just because the child’s biological parents aren’t living under the same roof.  The argument that stepmothers should not disrupt things for the sake of the child often leads to stepmothers being treated poorly by our stepkids, our partners and the biological mothers of our stepchildren which I don’t think is healthy for anyone and it is so unnecessary. In general stepmothers didn’t disrupt the family’s routines, the divorce/death meant that family life was often already disrupted before we entered the picture and no matter how hard we try to pretend life is always going to be different for the child/children of that family. Stepmothers shouldn’t be punished for the biological parents’ separation and shouldn’t be the only ones always compromising who we are for the ‘best interests of the child.’ We deserve to have ours needs met just as much as the other members of our families.

I think things would be a lot easier for everyone if there wasn’t this horrible dichotomy for stepmothers of being either some spiteful, evil woman or a selfless Mother Theresa-type giving of her everything to her husband’s first life. In reality, I’m just a woman who happened to fall in love with a guy that had a little bit more of a past than most and I love him enough to accept that past as part of our future together.

7. Motherhood involves sacrifice, how do you reconcile that with being a feminist?
In many ways I think stepmothers have it a bit easier on the ‘you must sacrifice everything for your children in order to be a good mother’ front.  There have been times where I’ve had to detach from a situation stating ‘not my kid, not my problem’ in order to keep sane. But then I also have to deal with the weight of constant third party scrutinization of my decisions means that in many ways I have to sacrifice my feminist ideals in order to manage our parenting relationship.

An excellent example of this sort of power plays in a stepfamily in our house was the laundry situation. The Child would often go through 3-4 outfits over the course of the day all of which ended up dumped on the floor by the end of the day. Guess whose responsible for laundry in our house? That would be me. When my partner was solely in charge of setting the rules, the child’s happiness was seen as being the only determining factor so anything would go and I ended up feeling very angry and resentful of all this unnecessary work being created by her stays. I eventually offloaded the responsibility of laundry on to him if I wasn’t going to have a say in setting the house rules involving the creation of laundry then which lead to even more chaos and resentment. Eventually we were able to come to the conclusion that the child would not be permitted to have multiple wardrobe changes and that she would be responsible for tidying up her clothes. The child wasn’t too happy about this enter biological mother and grandmother who were outraged at the new rules being set down down due to my presence. This incident prompted repeated torrents of abuse directed at my partner about what a horrible person I was for trying to lay down some ground rules in our house.

So just a simple family situation can lead to quite intense scrutiny of my motives and also of me as person. Somehow my feelings are more suspect because I am the stepmom. If I express displeasure about something, I must be bitter. If I express happiness about something, I must be selfish. If I criticize the biological mother, I must have an inflated sense of importance, because who the hell do I think I am—I’m only Daddy’s girlfriend. In the end we stuck to our guns on the laundry situation but we are constantly asking ourselves ‘how will the maternal family/a judge interpret our decisions.’ Even in a non-acrimonious situation the parenting decisions we make are not always our own and this involves sacrifice.

8. If you have a partner, how does your partner feel about your feminist motherhood? What is the impact of your feminism on your partner?
My partner was raised by a feminist mother and pro-feminist father so feminist mothering isn’t some alien concept to him. He knows he has to be involved and in someways will always have the leadership role in parenting the child. But I do think my presence has prompted him to start think critically about the parenting decisions he makes and the experiences he gives his daughter. It will be interesting to watch how the dynamics of my family would change if my partner and I were to have biological children together.

9. If you’re an attachment parenting mother, what challenges if any does this pose for your feminism and how have you resolved them?
Obviously as someone without any biological connection to my child who came in later in the piece, attachment parenting doesn’t really figure into the stepmothering equation so I will flip the question and ask what challenges does stepmothering pose for feminism?

I think the biggest challenge stepmothering has is that it reminds us all that it is easy for women to fulfill ideals of feminism in the good times but they don’t mean anything if you aren’t going to live up to them in the bad times. Women can’t expect equal division of housework and childcare with our partners, then use parenting time as a weapon after the relationship with the partner has ended.* One can’t go without the other. A parent during the relationship is still a parent after it. I find it interesting that father’s rights campaigners and feminists often behave like opponents instead of partners but don’t they ultimately want the same thing: equal parenting? Perhaps the dialogue that needs to happen between these groups might come through stepmothers. I will hasten to add that in no way do I endorse the tactics that some fathers’ rights groups have used such as intimidating judges and lawyers but we aren’t going to understand each other if we don’t start having this dialogue and perhaps stepmothers are the ones who will bridge this gap.

* I acknowledge the flip side of this argument is that
men can’t expect to be more than an ATM for child support post marriage when they were nothing but a salary while they lived with the mother and kids.

10. Do you feel feminism has failed mothers and if so how? Personally, what do you think feminism has given mothers?

I think feminism has both failed and and has the potential to save stepmothers.  As I touched on earlier, I think that the inherent tensions in the stepmother/mother relationship stem from the fact that being a ‘real’ mother is the only real yardstick for which women’s success in life is measured while men’s identity can be derived from multiple roles. Perhaps the constant battles that break out between stepmother and biological mothers would be avoided if motherhood wasn’t the only role on which women are judged on. Biological mothers wouldn’t be so threatened by another woman being on her ‘turf’ and stepmothers wouldn’t feel the pressure to be the ‘perfect parent’ from the word go. Feminists need to be mindful in our discussions of parenting not to leave out those of us who, for whatever reason, are raising children they are not biologically related. While I think the biological processes such as pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding are important parts of the motherhood equation that should be part of feminist discussions, they are not the only part of what makes a parent.

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Guest post: StatisticianMom is partnered with three children –  a son and two daughters. Here is her response to my 10 questions about your feminist motherhood. It is probably one of the most revealing responses I’ve received yet, I found myself wanting to know more and more. My curiosity stemmed partly from her experiences with equal parenting and also partly because sex was such a big part of her answer to my questions and that’s a first for a theme in the responses.

(You can find all the many other responses in this series here, the variety in parents responding has been quite something and the stories are always thought-provoking. If you’d like to respond to these questions yourself you can either email me your answers and I’ll put them on blue milk as a guest post or you can post them elsewhere and let me know and I’ll link to them).

  1. How would you describe your feminism in one sentence? When did you become a feminist? Was it before or after you became a mother?
    I am a pissed off, ‘typical girl’-hating, man-loving, stubborn feminist mom. I was always a feminist without ever thinking of it in those terms. I drank with the boys, talked music with the boys, studied with the boys, worked with the boys, and hated every girl I saw. So, being female didn’t play a role in how I lived (except I got to sleep with some of my best friends). I first called myself a feminist after giving birth to a girl who I couldn’t help but like. It forced me to realize that I am female. When the party’s over and I have to be responsible, I can’t live like a bachelor any more. It has forced me to identify with my sex.
  1. What has surprised you most about motherhood?
    I used to be so selfish and now, even when I try my damnedest to be selfish, I have a hard time doing it. That has surprised me – and the intensity. Sometimes when I look at them I feel like I just might blow up with all the overflowing love and pride.
  1. How has your feminism changed over time? What is the impact of motherhood on your feminism?
    I was really mad about pornography because I grew up with a dad who looked at it. I was anti-porn. But, I love sex so I can’t really be anti-porn. I just want a new aesthetic. I want to see some women getting off (for real).  People say outlawing porn would be censorship. I agree. But come on! Porn is censored! Where are all the real women? Where are the female orgasms? Where are the real tits? Censored.
    Being a mom of one little boy and two little girls has made me more worried about the effects of the patriarchy on my kids.  I want my son to stay the sensitive and gentle boy he is despite the macho ideal.  I want my girls to stay stubborn and strong. I used to worry about little girls. Now I worry about all children. Little boys are being pigeon-holed too.
  1. What makes your mothering feminist? How does your approach differ from a non-feminist mother’s? How does feminism impact upon your parenting?
    We have a rule that we make no declarations about what’s for boys and what’s for girls. If they are interested in something, they can try it. They wear what they want. There are no television commercials in our home. They watch movies and PBS. All the dress up clothes are shared. My daughters dress as firefighters and brides. My son dresses as dragons and fairies. There are not girl clothes and boy clothes, girl toys and boy toys, girl bikes and boy bikes.  There are clothes and toys and bikes.
    Although we are not against pornography, we do not have it in our home and we will not until the aesthetic changes (which we don’t expect will happen). When my kids ask about their bodies, I make sure to tell them that mommy has a vagina, not that I don’t have a penis. I tell my girls they have a vagina. It is something worth having!
    My husband and I practice equal parenting. We each work two to four days per week and each of us has days home with the kids. He cooks, sweeps, mops, and does auto maintenance (he’s a mechanic). I do laundry, manage the schedule, and deal with the electronics (I’m a statistician and programmer). If he does the dishes, I do bath time – the next day we switch. We work hard to set an example of a loving relationship between equals.
  1. Do you ever feel compromised as a feminist mother? Do you ever feel you’ve failed as a feminist mother?
    I feel compromised all the time by the world around me. My son comes home from school and tells my daughters they’re supposed to like princesses and they can’t like superheroes. Family members continue to send cars to my son and dolls to my daughters. When I get rid of the gifts rather than telling my family how I feel, I feel I’ve failed. I just imagine them saying, “lighten up”. Sometimes I feel like the whole world wants feminists to “lighten up”. There’s nothing light about it!  Still, I avoid confrontations – especially with older family members.
  1. Has identifying as a feminist mother ever been difficult? Why?
    Identifying as a feminist mother has been difficult when I begin to fear that maybe my husband just wants a wife who can laugh at the stupidity of the society she lives in and just enjoy the society of her own family. I find it hard to tell people that I am a feminist because I don’t want them to assume that I hate men (I don’t). I also fear those times when I have to tell other moms “ Sorry, my kids can’t play at your house because Bratz dolls are against our rules”.
  1. Motherhood involves sacrifice, how do you reconcile that with being a feminist?
    This is the hardest part of being a mom for me. I didn’t plan on ever being a mom or a wife and the fact that I am still pisses me off sometimes. My husband is wonderful in that he buys me the books I want to read, the movies I want to watch, and the things I need in order to pursue my hobbies. We always make time for sex and each other. We make sacrifices for each other. He stays with the kids while I go to class or to the library. I stay with them while he hangs out with his motorcycle buddies. Guilt is an incredibly strong motivator for me and un-teaching the guilt I was taught is a constant process for me. I remind myself all the time that I want my children to pursue their passions and unless I nurture mine, I will only have a shell of a person to offer them.  My father pursued his interests while my mother stayed at home. My husband’s parents were the same way. We agree that is not the example we want to set for our children.
  1. If you have a partner, how does your partner feel about your feminist motherhood? What is the impact of your feminism on your partner?

I know he thinks I take it a little too far sometimes. Some days I get really angry. He reminds me that there is nothing I can do about those women who are digging their own paternalistic graves (and a few for their children).  He wants me to focus on how great our family is. He has changed a lot since knowing me – simply because he had not had reason to think about feminism. However, I think the main impetus of change for him has been our children and his awareness that what he wants for them has to start with us. I think my feminism makes him a little afraid to talk about sexual ideas or drives he might have because he doesn’t know what will offend me. That is something we are still working on.

  1. If you’re an attachment parenting mother, what challenges if any does this pose for your feminism and how have you resolved them?

I would not call myself an attachment parenting mother. I breastfed each child for about 18 months, they were in bed with us for the first 4 months, and we have a lot of physical affection in our house. If that’s attachment parenting, I guess I’m an attachment parenting mother. Being with my kids in the way I want to be with them makes me feel like a real woman and I like it. It’s the external expectations of the mother being ‘the parent’ that poses challenges for my feminism. But, the affection comes from my husband as much as it comes from me, as does the discipline. When we deal with our kids the way we want to (and try hard to ignore expectations), we don’t really have any problems.

  1. Do you feel feminism has failed mothers and if so how? Personally, what do you think feminism has given mothers?

Obviously, feminism has given mothers choices. However, I think that the image of the ideal mother still needs a lot more destroying. The image of the selfless and nurturing source of constant comfort is detrimental to women, men, and children. It is too much for women to bear, it offers men no outlet for their nurturing instincts, and children are left without a self-aware woman to emulate. Feminists can’t seem to figure out whether to defend that ideal or tear it down. Sometimes they do both at the same time.

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