The Real Motherhood Challenge
So, by now you have all seen the motherhood challenge.
I don’t like it. It made me feel uncomfortable. And no, not because I don’t have children. Plenty of mothers don’t like the challenge either. I don’t like the way it’s framed and it brought up a lot of other thoughts for me on the representation of motherhood in general.
It’s hardly a challenge firstly is it? It’s a way to tag those you think are ‘good’ mums, and they share photos. Facebook is already full of photographs of people’s families.
Now I love photos of my friends’ kids. I even pester them to send me more! I love seeing my friends as mothers and share in their journey. It makes me happy, proud and excited for them.
But I don’t understand this challenge. And of course it’s a motherhood challenge not a fatherhood challenge. Because women are judged by whether they procreate men are not, and mum who aren’t ‘good mums’ are not ‘good women’. Whereas a man turning up for his fortnightly trip to McDonalds is doing a stellar job.
To me it compounds the dominant discourse of ‘real women are mothers’. And the only ‘true worth’ of a woman’s life is having children. Even if I decide to have children, you can rest assured I won’t want to be solely defined by my reproductive system. What an insult. I saw a comment on facebook from a mum Dani Seddon who said her worth isn’t determined by what comes out of her vagina! It made me laugh. But the point is this is not mums versus non-mums.
Many of my friends have children now. But they are still people outside of their mothering role. I find it so sad when people ask “have you got children” the second they meet you. The kind of people who don’t have anything else to talk about. The kind of people I don’t mix with voluntarily because I find them incredibly dull.
Under the articles critiquing the challenge are the usual hateful comments about childless women.
Even the ‘hilarious’ satire of the trend positions child-free women as selfish individuals with an empty life. Heaven forbid they have fulfilling rich lives with diverse interests and help people in various capacities.
As a married child-free woman who does not know if she wants to procreate, and has leaned towards no for most of my life, let me shatter the myth we are selfish and cold. Many of us love children, but see our roles more as aunties or mentors. We are not selfish, we want to play a role in our wider community and helping friends with children. Perhaps we don’t want to pass on hereditary health conditions; perhaps our mental heath would not allow us to be the mothers we would like to be; perhaps we are too physically ill to have children and be the mums we would want to be; perhaps we don’t have suitable housing; perhaps we don’t have a supportive network to help us raise a family. It is often the selfless option for people to not have kids even though they would like to. And personally I have every respect for these people.
I know many will disagree with me here, but I revoke the notion having children is a human right and anyone who feels like having one, should have one. The magnitude of child abuse and neglect in this country shows me that is not true. Frankly many people should not be having children. And I rarely feel sorry for these parents. I feel sorry for the children who didn’t ask to be born and are the victims. Which is why I will never make it as left-wing academic.
We can ask people who they don’t have children, but we can’t ask people why they do.
It reminds me of one of my favourite poems by Phillip Larkin.
This Be The Verse
“They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself”.
I liked this article on the challenge. Because sharing hashtags about being #blessed and motherhood being an enchanted #blessedjourney is a social construction and idealizes motherhood. It does nothing to support those mums who are socially isolated, those who struggle to get out of bed in the morning and dress their kids. Those who don’t have custody of their kids due to health problems. Those who adore their children, but are not enjoying motherhood. The reality surely is not the nicely filtered instagram version.
And we should be sharing the reality. Women should be able to decide if they want kids or not based on a reality. Not a glossy version.
Here is Rosey @pndandme on why she does not like the motherhood challenge.
Because the perfect happy photos and idealization of motherhood does nothing for the women suffering from pre and post natal depression and other mh challenges.
So here’s my idea for 2 new challenges.
Let me propose a real motherhood challenge; one that allows mums to support and uplift one another. Share photos that represent struggles of being a mum.
And let me propose a woman challenge. Share 10 photos of the things that bring worth to your life. Children, friends’ children, friends full stop, a spouse or lover, a teacher. Perhaps you volunteer, play piano, are a carer to family beyond children, are studying, play a sport, are writing a novel, etc etc. Because women should not be defined by whether they have kids or not.
Share your thoughts with me @princessjack. I might do a follow up post with the discussion.