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.

What do you do? Every day mothering

Welcome to the first week of our ‘Month of Mothering’.

apples copy

We start with a focus on every day mothering – the day to day of being a mum, particularly the parts not usually seen or represented. Have you ever got to the end of the day and wondered what you did all day? Felt like you haven’t done much at all? Or wondered where the day went? Or have you felt that others around you can’t see what you do/have done?

Whether it’s the caring (care work) involved in raising your baby or children (nappies, feeding, settling, walking, playing, driving places) or the housework (domestic labour) washing, cooking, cleaning) or the mental labour (the keeping of lists, knowing where things are, who has to be where, ensuring they are ok) or the paid work (in the workforce, combined with mothering). Most of this effort is unrecognised and under valued in our society – still!

While raising children is often discussed as being important, on the ground where mothers live, the lack of respect and tangible recognition is still part of every mothers experience (Crittenden, 2010).

Little attention is also given to the everyday practices that mothers carry out on behalf of, and with, their children rather mothers are often judged by what they haven’t done or failed to do (Featherston, 1997).

Our aim is to make visible the often ‘invisible’ to you as a mother but also to others. Mothering, while one of the most important roles and jobs in our society, is still one of the most undervalued and we believe the first step in valuing what mothers do is to make it visible.

By focusing attention on the skills and strategies that women use to operate effectively across different spheres of endeavour (work in the home, raising children, paid work), we can understand not only how much and what mothers do, but that “being a mother” is a more complex, pliable and active state than is commonly assumed (Maher, 2004).

Some Ideas?

Count the number of feeds and hours it takes to feed your baby/child/children, or how many times you wipe, or clean up – can you represent this visually?

Write a letter to your day, what did you expect from it, what did you do all day? How did you do it? What did you achieve and how do you feel about it?

Invisibility – can you explore notions of how mothers and mothering are not visible? How could you make the work you do visible?

• How can you document what you do? In words, numbers, visually?

• Look around you and use some items you have to create an art work, a baby wipe, chux, old school newsletter, receipts, maternal child and health information sheet, odd socks, old medicine boxes or cotton balls!

• Photograph your everyday moments, the ones you don’t often record or see in representations of mothering (turning on a tap for a child, wiping their face, doing up a shoelace)

Photograph the meals you prepare for your baby/child for a day, a week, a month

Photograph the transitions between different activities, home and work, school and home, bed and breakfast, how do you make these transitions and how do you help your children to make them?

How many lists do you keep? Can you represent these visually? Make a collage or something out of them? A stack of lists after a week of mothering?

What do you have to ‘keep track of’ in a day? Can you photograph the important things that are held in your head?

Are there natural ‘sculptures’ in your home, piles of washing, of papers or toys? Can you reimagine these as art works?!

Join Motherhood Unmasked during August for ‘A Month of Mothering’

A Month of Mothering – survive the winter!

MOM flyer

Motherhood Unmasked is a community arts project providing a forum for mothers to reflect on their experience of mothering through creative mediums. Each workshop series culminates in a public exhibition, displaying the artwork and honouring the role of mums in our community. See “about us” for our story.

After four years of running workshops and exhibitions, Motherhood Unmasked goes ONLINE!

This is YOUR opportunity to participate in an innovative, simple way, in the luxury (as if with children) of your own home. FREE!

All you need is a camera and an Instagram account. 

We will post weekly themes & daily prompts for you to respond to, adapted from our Motherhood Unmasked workshops. 

Take the opportunity to reflect on your experience as a mother, stretch some creative muscles (as much as you feel comfortable) and connect with other mums who participate. 

Our challenge is for you to post something about your experience as a mother every day for the month of August! Photograph household items, create a collage, be as creative or realistic as you like! 

So, jump online, follow this blog and @motherhoodunmasked on Instagram for prompts and don’t forget to hashtag #amonthofmothering!

We look forward to seeing you during A Month of Mothering!

Motherhood Matters

2015-11-29 08.54.24.jpg

On Saturday, Motherhood Unmasked was privileged to exhibit at the APS Women in Psychology “Motherhood Matters” conference.

It was a great opportunity to share the Motherhood Unmasked journey with wonderful women who care deeply about the wellbeing and experiences of mothers.

A big thanks to our Motherhood Unmasked mums who contributed their art and reflections for this event! Your courage, honesty and creativity are an inspiration.


Let’s start valuing Mothers….everyday

Messages from Mums to other Mums...

Messages from Mums to other Mums…

Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers, soon to be mothers, mothers that have been and mother-supporters and friends! Mother’s Day is a day to celebrate our Mothers, to spoil them and thank them. But beyond the ‘Hallmark’ cards and chocolates (and hopefully cup of tea in bed), it is an opportunity for us more broadly to recognise the important role of Mothers, not only for their children but for families and societies as well.

So beyond Mother’s Day, how do we better value Mothers – every day?

Motherhood Unmasked has now worked with four groups of Mothers from diverse backgrounds and places. Through our work with mothers and from our own experiences, we believe the following are important for mothers to feel more valued in their complex, yet significant roles.

Enabling mothers to share their range of experiences honestly and without judgement is the first essential step. Whilst having children can bring immense joy and fulfilment, parenting – particularly becoming a parent for the first time – can be extremely stressful. The demands of caring for children (feeding, bathing, illness), juggling the multiple tasks of family life (housework, transporting to activities and appointments) and ensuring there is enough money to cover daily living costs, are just some of the ‘family issues’ faced by most parents. It is important the mothers are able to talk about these experiences as well as the happy ones we see in the glossy magazines, without feeling judged or guilty. At a broader level this means governments and media giving more attention to the voices of mothers too.

Secondly, motherhood can be an extremely isolating time for many Mums, with families increasingly living further apart and neighbourhoods rapidly changing many parents lack the support they need. Parents of children with a disability can feel particularly overwhelmed, and families new to Australia are likely to feel very isolated. Support networks are essential, allowing like-minded Mothers to come together in an inclusive and flexible way (because we know most children/babies are not predictable!).

Valuing the full range of what mothers do is also really important, as much of this work remains invisible and mundane, despite its importance. Some researchers have tried to measure the time Mum’s put into housework and the more repetitive tasks of child rearing such as cleaning, feeding and cleaning, calculating a 90 plus hour week. Other researchers have gone further to put an economic value on what mothers contribute, suggesting that based on the most time consuming tasks listed by mothers, it would cost over $100 000 a year to replace just one Mum!

Mothers and families deserve better economic recognition for their role, especially more disadvantaged Mum’s such as single parents or those living with a disability – so policies such as adequate family assistance and paid maternity leave are essential. Sharing family responsibilities like housework and childcare as much as possible are also important ways of valuing Mothers and children.

Finally, Motherhood Unmasked has shown us that we can draw on the experience of those around us. As Mothers we crave information to help us raise healthy, happy children, but the avalanche of advice quickly becomes ‘information overload’, undermining our confidence. Relying on ‘experts’ may mean we overlook the wisdom of others around us, whereas sharing our life experiences with each other and laughing together are important and often more empowering. After all, parenting is perhaps the toughest job of all, so not being too hard on ourselves or others and acknowledging that most Mums are doing the best they can with whatever resources they have available is probably just as important as that Mother’s Day card once a year!