Sharing the mother role

In the course I am taking about mothering and motherhood, as students we are asked to write journal entries after our readings. This particular entry is based on readings in Maternal Theory Essential Readings edited by my professor Andrea O’Reilly.

Maternal Theory

The mother role as defined by patriarchal institutionalized motherhood is misogynistic. As mentioned in this entry, a mother is expected to be a super caregiver. She is to be a nurturer, labourer, doctor, chauffeur, therapist, chef, stylist, liaison, authority figure, and homemaker. Despite the perfection demanded in these roles, the work put in by a mother will not be acknowledged unless she fails at it. So, if the laundry is done, that is to be expected and no thanks is required. When the laundry is not done, a mother will hear about it. Now, if a father does the laundry, or clears the table of dishes – for the mother to wash – then he will be celebrated. This is what we were all trained, in Western culture, to accept and expect.

Susan Maushart quotes feminist theorist Dorothy Dinnerstein in saying, “Only by empowering fathers to assume the real work of ‘mothering,’ will the hateful hegemony of female power be mitigated.” Sara Ruddick echoes this sentiment in ‘Maternal Thinking.’ Ruddick argues that maternal thinking is a social construct. There is no reason that only mothers should be doing what we refer to as mothering. Mothering is already affected by the ideas and advice of others such as fathers, teachers, doctors, moralists, and therapists; so transformed maternal thinking looks at sharing mothering among all these people. “It is now argued,” says Ruddick, “that the most revolutionary change we make in the institution of motherhood is to include men equally in every aspect of childcare.”

The pieces are there; this change can bring good. Not only does it relieve aspects of mothering from the mother, allowing her to live and identify as an individual human being and not a robot, but also this transformed maternal thinking can change misogynistic societal expectations. If children will see men involved with mothering as normal. With men being active mothers, the work world will finally need to change in favour of the necessities of parents. “Child rearing, inherently a splendid experience for many, is not a source of money, status, or power in society or even in the family. If it were more men would probably choose to rear children,” writes Shari Thurer. Right now, employers not only make women’s life at work near impossible, they do not even hire women in the first place because of the mere potential that they can one day become mothers. We already know institutionalized motherhood is not the only way. We see other versions work just fine, like with single mothers and gay parents.

The term parenting being in place of mothering is like the word humanist replacing feminist. Right now, we need to identify the people being oppressed. November 9, Andrea O’Reilly asked the class, does the word motherhood discourage men from parenting? Or does it honour the work of women as mothers?

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