“I want to be a mum” – the cry of many a woman’s heart. But how are we approaching the motherhood dream in the 21st century?
I often find myself writing about fathers. Being a guy, I guess I sort of gravitate towards that side of parenthood. The restoration, preservation and equipping of fathers is something that is very close to my heart. I most recently wrote about my thoughts on the men who stay and the men who leave, and what we might be able to do in those more difficult situations.
But recently I’ve been finding myself in conversations about motherhood. No, I’m not expecting, and that’s not how it works… but I’ve had a number of the women in my world recently bring up this desire to be a mother, and bring it up rather emphatically. And not just, “hey yeah cool I’d like to be a mum one day”, but more like “seriously this is the biggest desire in my whole life”. Younger people, older people, and all those in between – it’s been amazing just how many people have been talking about it so openly.
Motherhood is a beautiful thing. Every single one of us comes from a mother. The famous Gustave Courbet stirred controversy with his painting L’Origine du monde (The Origin of the World), ultimately pointing out all of us come from a woman. We’re all grateful to our mothers. They’re the ones who taught us how to stand on our own, looked after us, nurtured us and sheltered us.
But the motherhood dream is often a difficult topic for many people. It’s very close to our hearts. How are we treating something so important in our society today? Let’s have a look.
Traditional roles and culture
I guess we can’t really start a discussion on motherhood without first considering gender roles in society and culture. I’m writing this in a Western country, where we live on the other side of a large insurgence of women joining the work force, which occurred between the 60s and early 70s (nearly 50% of the growth in that period). Prior to this however, society operated under very different expectations and goals. Mr Classic Haircut Man was your bread winner, and a woman would (usually) look after the home and stay at home with the kids. Not saying this is right or wrong, this is just how our society was. So growing up, most girls were raised seeing the older women in their lives with a priority towards building home and family. Even today our movies and stories still kind of look back on this phase of good little housewives in one of two ways – discontent, or humour.
In the past, I guess you could say our entire society would usually push men and women in these directions – if you’re a boy, get used to working and providing, and if you’re a girl, get excited about building the family. This was not seen in a negative light – it was seen as something entirely desirable.
I’m not sure what country you live in, but perhaps in your country, the dream of being a mother may be all you were raised with. In many cultures even today, these more traditional gender roles are still in effect.
Liberation and options
As we already noted, enter the 60s. All of a sudden, women were actively joining the workforce in droves. This was great – women were being liberated of restrictions they had felt had been placed on their lives, and they were able to pursue not just the Stay-Home-Mum dream, but also the Corporate Mum dream. Society began to change to encourage young girls in this direction, too. We now live in a society where women’s rights have come a long way (which is a great thing, by the way), and women now have just as many options as men… in most cases. As an IT professional, I am very aware of the ongoing conversation about the salary gap, for instance… but that’s a topic for another day.
But as good as these things are, a whole new world of considerations became available to women with regards to having children. It’s not just how do I get good at sewing on the kids’ buttons (which dads should also learn to do IMO), it’s also now how do I get a university or college qualification to stay competitive with my male counterparts? Do I put off having kids til later and pursue a career now, or do I do the opposite? Do I put the kids in day care once they’re a certain age, or do I see them through to their teenage years? Do I have children at all? How long will my body let me put it off? All very big considerations that are as unique as the individual are.
As a guy who has a number of female friends who really love being mothers or really want to be one, I have observed there has been a casualty in the liberation. And that is that many women who have dreamed so fervently about being mothers have been made to feel bad for their desires. “You can’t just want to be a mum, you have to get qualified”. “Don’t let children hold you back”. “You’re not going to be able to live if you have kids now”. “There’s no guarantee you’re going to find someone, anyway”. For some reading this, these statements that you may have heard before come across as kind of funny. But to some, these are crippling and hurtful.
But if you know that you know that motherhood is on your heart, how do you negotiate the pressures of being a business professional and the expectations of society? I reckon true liberation would be empowering these women to pursue this dream as much as the corporate dream. A lot of our women are carrying broken hearts under our current treatment of what they want.
When it’s out of our control
The hard reality for a lot of people is that you don’t actually have full control over the factors that lead to motherhood. If you’re single, or have had heartbreaks or disappointments in that area, the feasibility of achieving your dream starts to come under fire. As life would have it, even when you do get with somebody, it’s not always easy to have a child – health factors, age factors, his fertility, hers, perceived financial constraints. One of my friends who is a financial planner drew our attention to Time’s magazine article about what age it is cheapest to have a child – that’s a factor for quite a few people. Or how about your views on adoption or IVF? These are big considerations for people.
Oh yeah, and your body is reminding you about it once a month.
And when it’s out of control, the dream becomes a tormentor. Your friends are falling pregnant and you’re still working out whether or not you have any potential suitors in your life at all. Or you’ve tried and tried but you and your man just can’t seem to fall pregnant. Children are really a gift that not everyone gets the opportunity of being able to experience.
A beautiful dream
When I think about it, I think that every woman is actually capable of being a mother. More than the physical, motherhood is the nurturing and production of life. It’s keeping people safe when the storms of life come crashing in. It’s being the listening ear when the heart is broken or lost. It’s reaching out to those who lead a woman’s touch.
The motherhood dream is a beautiful dream. It’s so sad for me to see it come under attack so many times, whether in our media, in our society, or even in our conversations. Let’s be men and women who champion this dream. Sure, there are hundreds of practical considerations to keep in mind when approaching the reality of being a mother, but the heart of motherhood needs to be protected and championed.
Don’t lose it. Don’t undervalue it. It truly is a wonderful thing.
What are your thoughts on the motherhood dream? Do you think it’s treated with the respect it deserves? Or do you think it gets blown out of proportion?