I missed my son’s maturation clinic.
He was the only child in the entire fifth grade not to have a parent present. There was no mom sitting by his side as the functions of testicles and ovaries were explained. There was no parent making the topics of ejaculation, sperm, vaginas, and fallopian tubes even more uncomfortable.
He was overjoyed. I was devastated. I internalized this as a personal failing. A symbol of misplaced priorities, selfishness, and poor time management.
I had no good excuse because for mother’s, there aren’t any. We are expected to juggle everything, and if we can’t, it’s because we’ve lost sight of what’s really important, a label we readily assign to whatever ball we just dropped — a work meeting, a child’s tennis lesson, a veterinary appointment, or the mildewing towels forgotten in the washer. Yet, although we’re expected to keep all balls in the air at all times, we are rarely credited for doing so.
Motherhood does not count on a resume.
A mother is not a manager, although she keeps a home and everything in it running. She is not a leader, although she rallies the most obstinate of followers. She is not a mentor, although she is literally raising humans. She is not skilled at time management, prioritization, or delegation although a non-mother stepping into her role would likely struggle to achieve in one day what she does by the time her kids need to be picked up from school. She is not paid with anything more than lip-service. Adulations and celebrations of mothers and motherhood — the pinnacle of womanliness, the strength of society, the teacher of morality and values — break as easily as dropped crystal when she finds herself isolated, misunderstood, and stereotyped.
She is not given credit, but she is held to account.
As a society, we judge mothers harshly, often without empathy or understanding. Children’s temper tantrums, school struggles, personality traits, injuries — mothers are blamed for them all. I once rushed a child to the urgent care after she fell off her bike, cutting her chin to the bone and breaking three teeth. Already savvy to the oncoming judgment, I made sure to tell the doctor she’d been wearing a helmet. He proceeded to reprimand me for letting her ride without wearing a chin guard. “A helmet is not enough protection,” he said sternly.
When mothers respond with increased diligence, we are critiqued for “helicopter parenting.” When we give up, we are stereotyped even more harshly. Our symptoms of depression become another measure of our failing. We are judged for the clutter of our homes, the weight gain of pregnancy and loneliness, the frumpiness that comes with placing family needs ahead of our own. “She really let herself go,” we hear whispered behind our backs.
If we continue to work, we’re judged for that. If we stay home with our kids, we’re judged for that. There is simply no winning. One might say that another’s opinion doesn’t matter. That mothers shouldn’t care what others think of us. They would be right, but only partly.
Humans are social creatures. We live in cultures made of both spoken and unspoken rules, dependent on each other to meet our needs, conforming and conceding in certain ways to get along and be included. So, it does matter.
Interestingly, we understand this when looking at other marginalized groups. We talk about Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion, forming task forces, and scheduling meetings. We’re quick to acknowledge that judgements based on race are damaging. We realize stereotypes about sexuality are unfair. We even address gender identities and issues, curiously leaving discussions about motherhood unspoken. I’m not sure why.
Most of the time, stereotypes, callousness, and misunderstanding result from a lack of exposure. We’re often judgmental of groups we don’t belong to, people different from us, or religions we don’t understand. But, when it comes to mothers, we all have one. We all have at least one experience from which to draw. Could it be that this is the problem? Could it be that in our attempts to avoid personal responsibility for our own failings, we blame our mothers? Could it be that this sets a precedent for the blaming of all mothers?
I don’t know, but it’s something to think about.