I was reminded this morning when I ran into a local woman pushing her two babies in a pram – sweet little blue-eyed cherubs covered head to toe in texta-coloured scribbles. We talked about how children love to draw on themselves and I mentioned a book I’d read that talked about adornment and the development of self esteem in girls.
Only five minutes before I’d been sitting with my coffee writing my morning pages and asking myself what my purpose is – why is my life where it is today and what direction is it taking?
It was good to talk about these things and it pulled me back into myself and my passion for archetype, ritual and culture – in particular about the mother archetype and its shadow ‘the witch’.
It also reminded me that four years ago I wanted to write a book about motherhood, about raising girls in particular – and not just because I had four of them of my own at the time.
A series of events and circumstances had shown me something I’d previously pushed aside – something I refused to see. I’d found myself in a trap, caught in the complex seduction of ideas and illusions surrounding relationships, marriage and lifestyle.
It wasn’t just that I woke up one day and discovered that I was a woman in my thirties with four young children with a man (at the risk of sounding spiteful I do use that term very loosely) who appeared to refuse to take any of the responsibility for the work of our relationship.
It wasn’t just that I just couldn’t stand pretending to be a ‘happy family’ anymore – that I felt like nothing more than an unpaid babysitter for a man who would take all the credit for the beautiful home, the beautiful children and the beautiful life we supposedly made together.
It wasn’t just that when I left – packing the children up in the car my mother had bought me for the purpose of having some independence from my ‘beautiful husband’, leaving behind all the ‘beautiful things’ that I was now told didn’t belong to me – I found that none of my ‘couple friends’ wanted to know me.
And it wasn’t just that I didn’t have a better excuse, a solid sense of my own self-worth or any idea of how important the work that I do raising my daughters is. I wasn’t depressed, although my doctor would have me believe so (I later found out I’d had glandular fever). My sense of alienation was never from my girls, or from my own strength, or from men and fathers.
I just knew – and still do believe – that without a doubt there is an undercurrent of anger surrounding motherhood, mothering and mothers in general. And its not just overworked, unappreciated and undervalued mothers who are perpetuating it.
I set out to find out why it is that the world hates mothers.
You may now ask me ‘what do you mean the world hates mothers?’ What a load of rubbish! The world loves mothers, we idealise them if anything. Mothers are essential – without them the human race would be extinct. Raising children is the most important job there is, right?
Er, yes. That’s all true too – on the surface.
Maybe I only feel it – this undercurrent of anger and hatred – because I’m a single mother – and even though there are a damned lot of us women raising children alone, we aren’t exactly part of the ideal.
Being without a partner or husband means not being ‘legitimate’ and it means that you find out in no uncertain terms just how much value the work of a mother has in this world. You find out, not just in dollars and cents, but also how much of what you do as a mother is tied up with the currency of being a wife – and how much you ‘contribute’ to the macro and micro economies of society,community and household.
The first man I dated after leaving my husband was a social worker for the department of family services – he’s the guy who extracts kids from homes where there’s domestic violence and abuse of all kinds. He told me he found my approach to parenting unique;
him; wow, you’re great at this – you should work with children.
me; I do work with children, I have four of them
him; no, I mean you should do it as a career
me; I do – this is a career
him; No, I mean you should get paid for it
me; I do get paid for it, its not all that much, but I get paid.
him; no, I mean it should be a proper job.
me; (withering glare) right.
Even a social worker, a professional in the ‘caring’ field doesn’t see that mother-work is actual work that warrants status as a ‘career’. He gave daily witness to the direct manifestation of the anger of and against women and children and couldn’t be educated to my point of view. We didn’t date for very long.
So, anyway, four years ago I set out to answer The Question and then write a book about it. Along the way I found my answers, and a whole lot of other questions – the subject is HUGE. I began to feel like it was all too much, and that I was too small, not qualified enough, not opinionated enough, just not enough – to even begin to write a book about it.
I went to some of the most highly qualified people I knew – my professors at university, all women, all mothers, and they didn’t know where to begin either (and they had no time as they were winding up the Gender Studies department and heading to Canberra to lobby for better pay and conditions for childcare and aged care workers, ironically).
I read books and articles and scoured the internet. I talked to other women. I got my big Answer and I felt defeated.
I still do. I have five daughters now, and two men telling me I don’t deserve any child support. The children are my choice, I’m told. Suck it up.
I’m getting fired up again.
Speaking with my father yesterday, he tells me that forty percent of Australia’s children are being raised by single mothers. Forty percent! Alarm bells are ringing but the fire brigade aren’t coming.
So, I have something to say to the world about the work of being a mother – and a renewed sense of purpose beyond blogging fiction and treading water until my children grow up and I can be a woman again (yes, there is a difference between being a woman and being a mother).
Its time to start placing a great deal more value on what we do, raising children. Its time to let go of the victim-martyr and ‘not enough’ mentality that takes over when it gets rough. What’s not enough is to say ‘the world hates mothers’ and ‘I’m angry about it’ and leave it at that – its time to do something about it.
Starting with me, here and now.