10 Myths of Motherhood

10 Myths of Motherhood

Today’s thought provoking guest post is from Dr Bron Harman. You can follow her on twitter and facebook.

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I am a psychology lecturer and researcher. My research program is on various aspects of parenting and resilience. Dislikes cauliflower. I am a mum, wife, diva, guest blogger, blunt, opinionated, LOUD! Using research to keep parenting real. My internet home is drbronharman.com.

10 Myths of Motherhood

1. Good mothers instinctively know how to mother.

Motherhood, while viewed as instinctive by society, does not come naturally for some mothers. Women are often not prepared for motherhood and the responsibilities it brings, and the expectation of what motherhood will be like is usually very different from reality. New parents will often seek the support of family and peers rather than ‘experts’, however, this can further fuel the good mother syndrome. New parents today have both time and resource pressures, and have therefore become vulnerable to the belief that child rearing is a complex and precipitous business. Any instinctive feelings mothers may have about their child’s needs can be undermined by conflicting advice from both ‘experts’ and groups of other mothers, which can result in oppression, whereby new parents lack confidence and surrender control to the professionals. Family members can become too supportive in that they take over the mothering role, which makes mothers feel inadequate because they do not instinctively know what to do.

The thing is, though, that I would say that the majority of women do not instinctively know what to do. We might read about it (books, magazines, blogs, the internet) or ask family or friends or health professionals, but that is educating ourselves because we do not always know the solution. Often the response to a baby’s cry is not instinct, it’s a process of elimination – I just fed her, so she can’t be hungry, maybe she’s thirsty, hot, cold, has wind, needs a nappy changed, has a pin sticking in her, maybe she’s tired, wants a hug… or one of many other things. If you don’t know why your baby is crying, you feel like a failure, but you’re not – you just haven’t figured out what she wants yet, because motherhood is learned not instinctive.

2. Good mothers breastfeed their babies.

I agree that there is nutritional value in breast milk, and that there is research that shows “breast is best”. However, breastfeeding is not easy, nor instinctive (see above). Some women biologically cannot breastfeed, no matter what they do, and some women choose not to for whatever reason. I tried and tried in vain with my first baby, to no avail. I had some success with my second, but it took between one and two hours per feed, a fact that my then 18 month old toddler was not especially pleased with. I gave it up within days, the baby was no longer hungry, and I could give more attention to my bigger girl. So while not denying that breast may be best, breastfeeding alone does not a good mother make.

3. Good mothers do not use disposable nappies.

Sometimes they do. It’s as simple as that. Yes, they are not good for the environment or the budget, but I know some mothers who would turn into a screaming lunatic wreck if they saw another bucket of poo and wee stained cloth nappies waiting for her attention. What a mother chooses to use is up to her. If that’s disposables, so be it.

4. Good mothers are stay at home mothers.

Don’t start me on this, because I can go on about it for ages. The reality is, not every mother returns to paid employment because she wants to. There appears to be a general feeling that the really good mother is a full time mother, who nurtures her family and considers care giving to be more fulfilling than paid work. The perception is that working mothers, faced with the image portrayed by the media as being neglectful of their children and endangering their emotional development, desperately attempt to be ‘supermums’ who can juggle a career and motherhood while maintaining a blissful marriage. Stay-at-home mothers, in the meantime, are immersed in the ideology of the good mother, aware that her success is measured by her child’s achievement. In summary, you can’t really win. If you are in paid employment, you will be viewed as neglecting your child (even if you work part-time). If you’re a full-time stay at home mother, people will ask if that’s all you do, like you are a chocolate munching, soap opera watching, couch addicted sloth. You cannot win this argument. Stop trying.

5. Good mothers do not yell at their kids.

Uh-huh. Well, that just deleted 99.9% of mothers from the good mother list then, because I reckon only the most saintly women have never yelled at their kids. Probably the amount of yelling is a factor, where you should probably not yell at your kids all the time. In my own defence, I am a very shouty person. My kids are used to volume. I would think the vast majority of mothers have shouted at their kids at some point.

6. Good mothers do not have children who bite.

One thing I learned at playgroup was not to be too quick to be pious when another child went through the biting stage, because you never know when it might be your child next. The problem stems from the fact that your child’s behaviour validates your mothering. It is highly likely, however, that at some stage your child will engage in some sort of socially unacceptable behaviour. This does not mean you are a bad mother. It probably means your child is testing boundaries.

7. Good mothers bake.

This is an ideal. It’s great if you have time to bake, but with everything else you have to do, it’s unlikely you have time. My MIL often cites the case of a family friend who “bakes everything from scratch…. Everything”, which drives me insane, as the implication is that she is such a wonderful mother purely because she bakes. Do not get me wrong; if you bake, that’s terrific. I used to bake, but like many women, I just don’t get time to think of something different for dinner, let alone bake (I’m very grateful to those of you who do cook for your families and blog your recipes). The reality is that most mothers will have a limited repertoire of meals that work, relying on the occasional (or regular) take-away meal, or resorting to baked beans on toast or a sandwich for dinner. The bottom line is that the kids are fed. Maybe it’s not always nutritious, maybe it’s not at a regular time, but they’re fed. Don’t beat yourself up about it.

8. Good mothers (and their kids) always look immaculate.

Ha, ha, excuse me while I have a little giggle over this. My mother gave me one piece of advice when I became a mum, which was to get dressed before 9am. Brilliant advice, as I know some days I would never have gotten out of my jarmies (not that there’s anything wrong with that). So, I was always dressed and my kids were always dressed, the clothes were always clean-ish, and they sometimes matched, but I would never say “immaculate”. I remember one time a family member brought her little kids to my daughter’s birthday party in the park. She dressed them in designer clothes, and they weren’t allowed to play in case they got their clothes dirty. So they sat looking miserably at the other kids screaming around the park. They didn’t have any fun, but boy, they were immaculate!

9. Good mothers do not use day care if they are not going to work.

This is ridiculous. All mothers deserve some relief from the 24/7 job they have, and how they get this break is irrelevant. That is all.

10. You’ll love being a mum.

You might not actually. Some days, there’s very little to like. Often women have given up a prestigious career to pursue motherhood, and they are now at the beck and call 24/7 of someone who doesn’t always know what they want. Their days are usually made up of endless cooking, cleaning and washing. There’re dirty nappies to change, vomit to clean up, and food splatters to wipe down. You have to do it day after day and nobody seems especially grateful. To top it all off, people often talk to you like you lost half your brain in child birth and society does not seem to value your role. If you don’t like the role of motherhood, I don’t blame you. That doesn’t mean you don’t love your kids. To maintain your sanity, though, I suggest you stop trying to be a good mother and continue as you are. Like the rest of us, you’re probably doing a better job than you think.

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In your time as a mum, have you come across myths of motherhood?