The Myth of the Mother-Type

A modern, romantic young woman imagines her future. She sees before her limitless opportunities and potential. She considers the foreign lands she will explore, the intellectual truths she will uncover, the suffering she will prevent. As her mind wanders, she passes a young mother pushing a fussing baby in a stroller. Suddenly she visualizes that unconsidered possibility: becoming a mother. Images flash through her mind of what that life might look like: a life of making sandwiches, driving children to soccer, weight gain, and cleaning up throw-up. A repressive feeling descends on her. She is made for so much more than that. She shudders at the idea of wasting her passion and talent on such ordinary tasks…she is not the Mother-type anyway. She returns to her dream of a life of influence and recognition.

Generations ago, a romantic young woman imagines  her future. She sees before her the path her mother and grandmothers walked.  She sees the handsome young man she will meet, who is kind and strong. They will fall in love, marry and eventually have their own small cottage.  She envisions her cute and obedient children…she will be more cheerful than her mother; she will ensure her children feel loved. This spirited girl imagines the merry home she will create – with laughter and music.  Her husband will hug her as he returns from work and they will tell each other stories in front of the fire while the children play.  

Both girls are honest and sincere in their desires.  Their dreams are largely a product of their time and culture. Both will find that reality will not match their imaginings.  The first girl has opportunities the second could never imagine. The second girl will face hardship and limitation – but those limitations bring a focused purpose that is easily lost in the first’s sea of potential.  

Each woman throughout human history is a product of her time, but also distinctly unique, with varying talents, interests, and passions.  Yet all women share one commonality. We are able to create and renew humanity. The perspective individual women hold of Motherhood determines the course our society will take.

I want to focus on the first women’s perception of motherhood –  one common among young women today. The idea that motherhood is a “limiter” is widespread in our modern affluent society.  With the invention of birth control, for the first time in history, motherhood is now a choice, not just the natural byproduct of life.  Rather than inevitable-motherhood being the driver of decisions – today it is often an afterthought. Increasingly, women are choosing against it.*  Women point to many reasons for forgoing motherhood, and I hope to elaborate on many of those reasons in the next few posts, but a primary rationale is the oft stated, “I am not the Mother-type.”  

The Imaginary Good-Mother

A recent post on Facebook featured the complaints of one typical young mother. She said, “Motherhood does not come naturally to me…people criticize my lack of knowledge in motherly things like cooking…I don’t really enjoy kid’s activities, I feel my soul gets sucked away with kids’ day to day demands and activities.” The problem is not that this woman is not suited to motherhood, it is that she has adopted a vision of it that she could never enjoy.

“Often what is refused is a straw-man caricature of Motherhood, raised for the purpose of rejection. Marriage and Fatherhood inevitably follow a similar fate.”

Patrick Webb

Being a “good mother” has nothing to do with “liking kids activities.”  I doubt Mary spent much time playing hopscotch with the young Jesus. Marie Curie didn’t play dress-up with her kids.  Mary did nurture and guide Jesus in light and truth.  Marie Curie did train her future Nobel-prize winning daughter.  She used her God-given passion and intellect to bless the world not only through her own work, but through her children’s.

“Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained.”

Marie Curie
The widowed Marie Curie with her daughters

 The stereotypes of mothers doing crafts, fussing over hairstyles, and continually running their kids to sports or dance lessons are modern-day inventions.  Throughout human history, women have not had time for such distractions. Generations of children got along without these luxuries. In the past, women didn’t ask themselves if they were the “Mother-type”. Instead they asked, “Will there be enough bread?”

We are fortunate in our lives of comparative ease to be able to focus on the emotional, social, and intellectual areas of our children’s lives. We have the opportunity to be more mindful and intentional in our mothering than any previous generation. Having more time to play with our children is wonderful. We are fortunate if we happen to have interests which line up with the demands of motherhood – such as homemaking. However the shallowier aspects of practical mothering are not what defines motherhood anymore than the church choir represents the gospel.

Our culture has narrowed Motherhood down to such an inadequate definition that it is no wonder young women are shunning it.  Constrained motherhood has never been, never could be, and never should be reality. The opposite is, in fact, reality. Good Mothers must be as diverse as the unique spirits born to them.  

“You can do what I cannot do. I can do what you cannot do. Together we can do great things.”

Mother Teresa

Cookie-Cutter Angel Moms

When I was a little girl I remember being upset by angels. I somehow extrapolated from various sermons and lessons that if I was a good person, I would someday become enough like Jesus that I would go up to heaven and become an angel.  I imagined a heaven full of clone-like angels, all reacting and conversing in the exact same manner. Being an independent and head-strong girl, I didn’t like this, and I even told my mom that I didn’t want to be an angel. I had worked out in my young mind that if we were “righteous” we would all unite as cookie-cutter angels. Even as a child, I was aware of my strengths and weaknesses, I rationally extrapolated that the old me would be gone forever, replaced by a perfect person, foreign to my current self.

My mother attempted to correct my misinterpretations but I think, unfortunately, this false idea of “common goodness” remained with me.  Part of the reason I initially was apprehensive about my new seemingly all-encompassing role of mother is that if I tried to do it right, which was my desire, I would find myself on the assembly line of “good mothers”.  I feared a loss of self. All my opinions, experiences, and idiosyncrasies would be lost to the “higher calling”. 

I had an underlying belief that motherhood would be a means of controlling my nature.  I saw my opinionated and strong-willed personality as an impediment to becoming a good mother; now I see how these attributes have aided me. Motherhood does not control us into submission.  Motherhood allows us to use our gifts to their most worthy ends.   

Unity of Mothers

We want mothers to feel a sense of common purpose and unity.  This unity is not found in the expectation that we will arrive at the same place, but the knowledge that we are rooted in a common one. It is not in our interests, or our personalities, or how we raise our children that unite us – but our motherly love and the divine desire to raise our children well. 

“We are not living in a world where all roads are radii of a circle and where all, if followed long enough, will therefore draw gradually nearer and finally meet at the centre rather in a world where every road, after a few miles,forks into two, and each of those into two again, and at each fork you must make a decision. Even on the biological level, life is not like a river but like a tree. It does not move towards unity but away from it and the creatures grow further apart as they increase in perfection. Good, as it ripens, becomes continually more different not only from evil but from other good.” 

C.S. Lewis

Our natures should not change because of our new position, they should be fully engaged in aiding us in our new calling. Rather than feeling like clones of a good mother, we can create our own unique form of motherhood.

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord.

  1 Corinthians 12

If we feel inadequate or out-of-place in motherhood, we might be holding ourselves to some idealized version of motherhood that we created. We need to mother in a way that feels natural and utilizes our gifts. There is not one way to be a good mother, there are as many ways as there are mothers.

Bad Mothering

We should not judge other women, or “mom-shame”. Realizing the utility of diverse perspectives among women should help us resist questioning other mother’s methods .  However, just because motherhood takes many forms does not mean everything goes; subjective thinking is a dead-end. Validating statements like, “We are all doing the best we can,” are not accurate or helpful.  A more honest assessment is that none of us are doing the best we can, we do the best we are willing to do. However, it doesn’t follow that we are all worthless mothers because we fall short of perfection – but we do need to continually attempt to be worthy of the title “good mother”.

“Bad” mothering has nothing to do with discordant talents, interests, or personalities – but everything to do with their underlying philosophy.  (Hence the name of the blog). Improper philosophy (motivation and reasoning towards a purpose) is at the heart of our society’s misconceptions of motherhood.  What should be a mother’s underlying purpose? To raise resilient and capable children. What is her motivation? Her innate love for her child and selfless desire to maintain a good relationship.  In good mothering the child comes before self. When we sideline the best interests of our family to be “true to our self”, we have veered off course.  

Don’t Sacrifice Your Soul…

Yes this philosophy requires some sacrifice.  If we aren’t blessed with an innate love of cooking and organization, we have to adapt and do our best at developing those skills.  The first five years of a child’s life, particularly, require moderation of our own desires. But this reality should not be “soul-sucking” as the woman on Facebook suggested. Our soul can remain intact while doing things we don’t want. If we frame motherhood around purpose, and the areas where we are able to utilize our innate gifts- we begin to enjoy it. 

I hate cooking. With five hungry kids I have to cook a lot. I remember coming to the horrific realization that this would be a never-ending task. Once I finish one meal another is coming right up on my heels. This is a duty of motherhood I have to just buck-up and do. It is an area of growth and progression, that’s OK. I do the best I am willing to do.  I don’t believe magnificent meals are integral to a healthy childhood. I distract myself from the mundane nature of this task by listening to a podcast or reviewing spelling words with my kids. I am blessed to have a daughter who enjoys cooking, she is my chef-in-training. (Talk about the blind leading the blind). I am hoping she is my path to an early retirement.  What’s interesting is that if I look back on the last week I can’t easily remember one meal I have cooked. I guess it isn’t important enough to me to store in my long-term memory. If we really don’t enjoy an aspect of life, that doesn’t mean we don’t do it – but we also don’t waste a lot of brain energy and emotion dwelling on it.  

In motherhood it is best to focus on the positive. Let’s fill motherhood with things that are meaningful and engaging for us and drop or minimize what isn’t. We don’t have to be the source of all things for our children. My kids aren’t learning art from me, that’s what their aunt is for.

…Use Your Soul

The trick is to combine the pursuit of our interests with raising our children.  My artist-sister, rather than isolating herself in a quiet studio away from the distractions of kids, has made creative apprentices of them.  They go through a ream of paper a week at her house, the walls are continually plastered with artwork. Her teenage daughter, trained at her mother’s hip, is now an incredibly talented artist. (She recently surprised me with this pencil drawing of my daughter.)

My own mother loved to learn.  She was particularly fascinated by psychology and the brain.  After reading a book, she would excitedly tell us all she learned, regardless of our age.  She always managed to relate it to our level. I remember her explaining Freuden slips to me at the tender age of six – after  I began a prayer, “Dear Heavenly Candy…” My mother was able to use her interests and talents in the medium of mothering. Despite being a very intelligent, educated, and serious-minded woman, my mother never saw raising her seven children as hindering her talents, but rather the most important place in which to apply them. 

Two Woman

But what of the second young woman from years past?  There is no doubt that she lacked the opportunity and choice of our modern young woman.  That is certainly a shame. But let’s not underestimate this woman’s eventual contribution, poor and unappreciated as she may have been. She would use her talents, interests, and energies in raising her future children, she had little else to give them.  And for millions of mothers, that has been enough.

Perhaps our first “modern” young woman could reconsider her narrow vision of Motherhood. Instead she could imagine the limitless opportunities to be found there, the chance to expand and utilize her gifts towards a noble purpose. She could refuse to define herself by what mother’s “should” do, and decide instead to be fully engaged in sharing her love and gifts with her child. She may discover she is indeed, the Mother-type.

-Ally

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Resources:

Birth rates are at an all-time low in the US, and experts fear it could turn the country into a ‘demographic time bomb’ https://www.insider.com/record-low-birth-rates-could-cause-extinction-demographic-time-bomb-2019-8

Jordan Peterson discusses influence of Birth Control as well as the importance of family. Start Minute 12 – Highly recommend