Society and Mothering

society and mothering

This week we move out gaze from the things we do, to the messages we get as mums.

We are surrounded by images and messages about mothers and mothering in our every day lives. In the media, social media, advertising, through the services we access (particularly health and medical), books and advice we read and via our families and other mothers. Whether we realise it or not we are constantly navigating ideals, norms and practices around mothering.

The way Mums and mothering are depicted sends strong messages to us about what it is to be a ‘good mother’ and to raise ‘good children’. Most often, what we see represented is a highly romanticised view of mothering (where mothers are still expected to devote all their attention to their child(ren) and love every minute of it’). A standard of which is impossible to achieve.

Mothers are expected to love and protect their children nonstop but caring, conscientious mothers are often labelled intrusive, meddling and controlling. Those who put their own needs first or work outside the house are at risk of being labelled cold and neglecting and because mothers are blamed for almost anything that goes wrong with their children, the stakes are high as most mothers want the best for their children.

Sharon Hays talks about what it means to be a good mother and agrees society and media representations of mothering are as Mum’s being nurturing and selfless at home and competitive at work.This pressure to be perfect is often demonstrated by highlighting the accomplishments of our children (e.g. comparing sleeping, eating etc) and creates competitiveness between mothers, where experts are seen as more reliable than other mothers for support and advice.

Mothering is increasingly constructed in ideal and perfect terms, with unstated assumptions that include:

  • no woman is complete without a child
  • women are the best caretakers of children
  • to be a good mother one must devote herself to her children 24/7
  • mothers need to prove and demonstrate being a good mother to other mothers.

Intensive mothering also relies on 3 beliefs:

  • children require constant and ongoing nurturing by their biological mothers
  • mothers must rely on experts to meet their childs needs
  • mothers must lavish enormous amounts of time and energy on their children (Holstein & O’Reilly)
  • Where Mum’s don’t ‘measure up’, they are considered ‘bad mothers’ and labeled so in the media and in the way mothers are treated in our broader society.

These impossible standards are the source of much ‘mother guilt and ‘mother blame’.

Use this week to observe the messages about mothering that surround you. It may be through books, media, social media, advertising, in art, how mothers are depicted on television or spoken about in social situations, or what expectations for mothers are within health or medical services.

How are Mum’s depicted? Is there anything that strikes you? How do you think mothers are perceived? How do you feel about expectations or assumptions made about you as a mother? What is your reaction to these messages? What type of media or representations of mothers makes you feel valued?

Some ideas?

Can you make a collage (just cut out images from newspapers, magazines, newsletter, information sheets and paste them, adding colour or texture from crayons, pens, paint, wool, household items such as cotton bud!) of images you find and collect about how mothers are depicted, what are the main messages about how and what mothers are doing/feeling/looking like?

Can you find some alternative views or descriptions of mothers that reflect your experiences of mothering? Why do you relate to these images? how do they make you feel?

Photograph advertisements that involve Mums or mothering 

Photograph ways in which your experience of a mother does or doesn’t reflect the images you see about mothering around you

Write a letter to:

  • the editor of a magazine, social media site, newspaper etc who depicts mothers in a way that doesn’t reflect your experiences of being a Mum
  • the editor of a magazine, social media site, newspaper etc who depicts mothers in a way that does reflect your experiences of being a Mum
  • the worse parenting book you read
  • the best parenting book you read
  • the most helpful health professional you have met
  • the least helpful health professional you have met
  • the ideal of a Mum
  • create your own billboard about mothering, what would it say, what image would  you use? 
  • your mother guilt.

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