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|Written by Roxy Munro|
|Friday, 20 November 2009 07:27|
With my 26th birthday fast approaching, I am optimistically entering a new phase in life. The "adult years" are here and that means my mind is preoccupied with my career, my partner, buying a house, and, eventually, having babies.
Thinking about motherhood prompts mixed emotions. Sure, there's curiosity and some excitement. But, there's also fear . . . a lot of fear. On a superficial level, I'm afraid of the physical changes my body will inevitably go through and I'm afraid of potential feelings of social isolation (like when everyone's sipping martinis and I'm throwing back juice).
On a deeper level, my biggest fear is probably being subject to judgment, as so many mothers are. I also fear losing my identity. What if my career goals are pushed aside in order to accommodate the needs of my family and "be a good mom"? Even with an understanding partner who pledges to commit equally to the workload, I can't help but anticipate carrying a disproportionate burden. After all, I'm part of a generation that has been dangerously exposed to the "women can do it all" myth. Yes, women are equally capable as men and (ideally) can have everything they want - a career, a family, and a life. No one, however, can have a high-powered career, raise a family, maintain a perfectly clean household, have a satisfying sex life, volunteer in the community, work out regularly, look as good as Victoria Beckham and maintain their sanity without, at least, hired help and a lot of money. But that's a bar that has been raised by society, and when you're a Type A like me, you want to surpass that bar. To do anything less would result in a lot self-imposed, but culturally-influenced, guilt.
Being a mother is an important job, but I don't see it recognized as such in today's society. Motherhood remains seriously undervalued and the work that mothers do in the home routinely goes unrecognized as "real work." The situation is no better if mothers re-enter the paid workforce. According to a recent Globe and Mail article, "the uncomfortable truth is, many working mothers confront the persistent assumption in the workplace that once they have children, they become not only less committed to their job, but somehow less competent."
Needless to say, I have reason to be afraid. I know I'll never give up on having a career in the paid workforce, but it may be possible that, one day, I'll be like so many other women and reach the "intentional glass ceiling." That is, I might not climb to the highest rung on the career ladder because it would compete too much with my other full-time job of being a mom. Sacrifice seems inevitable.
My pre-emptive decision to continue working after having (or adopting) children instils my last big fear - judgment. I fear being judged by society and by other mothers about choices I may make with regards to my motherhood. I know I'm not alone, either. Numerous parenting magazine articles and motherhood blogs document the tensions that exist between mothers who stay at home and those who also work outside the home in paid employment. There's apparently so much judgment happening, it has become a trendy topic of conversation online and in print.
In an article for Today's Parent covering this topic, Felicity Stone commented, "Whatever choice a woman makes -- to work, to work part-time, to stay at home, to stay at home until the kids are in school -- it feels like there's someone wagging a disapproving finger at her." So, basically, you're damned if you do, and you're damned if you don't.
My fear of judgment, in particular, is most troubling because I've often caught myself judging other mothers. I'm childless and barely know how to hold a baby and yet, I have opinions on the choices other women have made about their motherhood. There's no clearer example than my outright hatred for Kate Gosselin of TLC's Jon and Kate Plus 8 fame.
When the show first aired a couple of years ago, I didn't want to watch it. Even though friends of mine were big fans, I was turned off by the whole concept of the show. In my mind, it was exploitative and I wanted no part. Nevertheless, when the show moved to the TLC network and repeats started airing nightly, I started to tune in.
I found it interesting to watch how the parents managed the eight kids. I also predicted the break-up of Jon and Kate's marriage from my first episode, so I kept watching to see the predictable downfall. I hated Kate from the start. Not only was she bossy, but she was too conceited. Far too often, she would speak to the cameras during her interview time or whenever they were focussed on her, really, and go on about how everything she did was for her kids. She was constantly crowning herself "#1 selfless mom."
Yet, once she got her plastic surgery, her bigger house, her free vacations, you had to start wondering - who was she really doing this for? Some of you will rightly point out that Jon and the family reaped a lot of those benefits, too. But Jon always looked like the reluctant participant in the show. I never liked him either, but at some point, it seemed clear that he didn't care to be on TV and he wasn't the one calling the shots. As for the kids, well, of course they would enjoy the vacations and other elaborate gifts, but many of us are left wondering, at what cost?
When the tabloids blew up a few months ago over Jon and Kate's split, I figured this would be the end of the show. Not surprisingly, I was wrong. Jon and Kate's messy tabloid fighting has been nauseating. But worse are Kate's efforts to get herself on every possible morning show and weekly magazine cover to defend how she's a selfless mother and how everything she does is motivated by providing for her kids. I don't know about you, but I have a hard time believing someone is selfless when she has a made a business of getting rich and famous by exploiting her kids and leaving them in the care of others. She has acknowledged herself that she is sometimes away from her kids on "business" - which are either speaking engagements (presumably, to talk about being "Kate Plus 8") or book tours (books that she wrote about raising her kids). It's kind of ironic that Kate's business is the result of the very thing her business prevents her from doing -- being with her children.
And therein lies my judgment.
I don't at all want to promote the misinformed idea that women thrive on hating other women. Rather, judging Kate Gosselin, or any other mother, for that matter, does reveal how quick we are to judge the choices mothers make. Whether Kate's doing the media circuit because she truly believes she's doing what's in the best interest for her kids or because she's addicted to fame doesn't change the fact that she is providing her children with financially secure futures and material opportunities that a lot of kids never get to experience.
Whether it's choosing to hire a nanny or choosing to return to work outside the home, one has to wonder if fathers face the same judgment in these choices as mothers do. The answer is pretty obvious -- it's no.
My fears about motherhood are rooted in a very real, rich history of relegated subservience and discrimination that women and mothers have faced for centuries. Thankfully, roles and attitudes are continuing to shift in positive directions (such as more involved fathers and recognition of the importance of work-life balance in the workplace). Scrutiny of mothers' choices, however, is a remnant of an old way of thinking. In order to fully appreciate the dynamic role and challenges of mothers, there needs to be a collective effort to look inward and question and challenge the need to judge.
I realize that I am complicit in this problem. I am learning that I can't judge and not expect to be judged in return. So, I'll think twice the next time I am about to look down upon a mother's choice . . . starting with Kate Gosselin.