We want to let you know that we see you, mama, and acknowledge that this gig is not all rainbows and butterfly kisses. Yes, it’s filled with wonder, giggles, boundless joy, and unshakeable love – enough to tinge the darkest days with glimmers of sunshine. But the admission price for all of this beauty is sacrifice, worry, and an altered sense of self.
And compounding these trickier bits is the fact that society isn’t set up to support mothers. There are inadequate subsidised resources, supports and activities for mums of young children, to promote our health and wellbeing. Many mums don’t have access to adequate paid parental leave, often having to chip into our savings to remain at home with our children. Or, having to return to work before we feel ready, causing considerable stress. Many dads and partners also don’t have access to adequate parental leave pay, leaving mums to take on the lion’s share of parental and household responsibilities.
If we do choose to stay at home with our children while they are little, we might lose years of income and superannuation and compromise our job security and career advancement, placing us at risk of financial abuse, and elder homelessness. If mums do want to (or have to) return to work, access to suitable childcare arrangements isn’t guaranteed, or even permitted to some families. And childcare is expensive, sometimes prohibitively so, essentially taxing mothers for our return to work.
And if we dare raise our voices against a system that is rigged against us, we are told to pipe down and be grateful for our children. But we’re not complaining about our children. We’re unhappy with the structural inequality and lack of support that makes it harder to give them the care they deserve. Mothers expressing negative feelings about motherhood is shamed and stigmatised, which not only endorses our suffering and isolation, but intensifies it. And what many people don’t realise is that when mothers aren’t supported, children aren’t supported. We want to give our children our happiest, most loving and fulfilled selves, but this can be tough to do when we are pushed and pulled in multiple directions, hurling towards breaking point at 100 WTFs an hour.
It isn’t surprising then, that the majority of judgement mums receive, comes from other mothers. It is at our weakest and most beaten down, that we pour our hurts and insecurities – our sense of never being or doing enough for our children – onto others who are fragile. How often do we see mums jumped on for advocating breastfeeding, or bottle feeding, or organic food, or packet food, or homeschooling, or mainstream schooling, or complementary medicine, or conventional medicine…? No one judges or criticises others when they feel confident and secure.
We’ve all been guilty of this in our weaker moments, whether we’ve judged loudly or privately, but it doesn’t serve us, or mothers as a collective. While we’re busy critiquing the performance of other mums, we’re not coming together and raising our voices to demand the support, resources, and systemic change that we modern mums so desperately need. Every mother does the best darn job she is able to, with the knowledge, support, and resources she has. We know this is true of ourselves – we love our children so much that we want to give them everything, and we are hyperaware of how much more we could be doing for them or giving them – so of course it is true of other mothers.
One mum celebrating her parenting choices doesn’t invalidate another mum’s choices. We need to be able to celebrate our victories and even just our okayness when we aren’t able to give our children something that we wanted for them. Because, almost certainly, behind every mum who openly celebrates her breastfeeding milestone, or her decision to switch to bottles, as just one example, there are many hidden hurts and doubts that we don’t see. Motherhood is challenging enough. Why shouldn’t we take our wins when we can get them and let other mums enjoy theirs, without viewing them as an affront to our own perceived failures?
We applaud diversity of size, ethnicity, love, and talent in other women, why should diverse approaches to motherhood not be valued in the same way? Our parenting styles are the product of a rich tapestry of life experience, which has shaped who we are. No two mums have walked an identical path, so of course we won’t all parent the same! And why would we want to, when there is so much to learn from stories and perspectives that differ to our own?
It doesn’t matter so much that a child is breastfed or bottle fed, bathed with organic soap or conventional, wrapped in cloth nappies or disposable, that that child is happy and loved. Criticising another mum doesn’t improve her child’s life in any way. If we truly care about the impact of a mother’s parenting choices on her child, we can show her grace and empathy instead. Offer encouragement and support and listen, really listen, to her story. Only then can we impact her child’s reality in any meaningful way.
There is a powerful sisterhood waiting for us, if only we can accept and respect our different choices, if not celebrate them. Speaking up and sharing our stories can unite and empower us, but in focusing too much on our differences, we ignore the fact that we are all strong, loving mothers and women, doing the best damn job we can, under pressure. We need each other, ladies. We were never meant to mother alone. We must turn to each other, regardless of our differences, and take back our village by any means necessary.
Together, let's celebrate all the many different types of mothers – biological mums, step mums, foster mums, mother figures, adoptive mums – and your rainbow of parenting choices. We see all of your selflessness and sacrifice, your joy and heartache, and how you love your babies with every cell of your being. We will never stop advocating for the coming together of mothers and for every mum to have the care and support she so deserves.
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Beautiful image credit: @charlie_mamas