Questioning Motherhood

Brittany Juliano

Honestly, these articles on the pressures of motherhood made me never want to have children. Why do people want children? After reading these articles, I have no idea, because according to Hollingworth, the desire to reproduce is merely a manipulation of cultural rules while Walzer tells us that the product of first-time children is an inequality in emotional and physical responsibility within a partnership. I have previously read Sharon Hays’ chapter, The Mommy Wars: Ambivalence, Idealogical Work, and the Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood, and these other articles by Hollingworth and Walzer only reflect those same cultural contradictions that mothers face.

I really enjoyed Hollingworth’s Social Devices for Impelling Women to Bear and Rear Children, because I had never considered much of what was in the article. Childbearing and rearing is valorized within our society—just, as she says, are the troops of our armies—and this concept had never really occurred to me before. Mothers should be appreciated, and frankly, I can give no adequate praise to a woman who has physically made another human being inside of her, however, appreciation is transformed into something else by our society. This appreciation ultimately transforms into a regimented set of ideals about birthing and rearing kids.

This article resonated with me despite its age because even as a twenty-year-old woman, I already feel the pressures of future motherhood. Many of my good friends already know and are excited that they will have kids some day, I on the other hand am unsure. I already have a nephew who I care for much of the time and as much as I love him, he is a big pain in the butt. I have had a large taste of motherhood, and I’m not sure that it is the right path for me. Similar to Hollingworth’s point, this uncertainty and skepticism about becoming a mother occasionally labels me as abnormal. On one occasion in particular, my friends were having a conversation, eagerly anticipating the day they would have kids of their own. My contribution to the topic was a grimace. At this point in my life, the idea of children is burdensome, but apparently this was not the right reaction. Immediately, the girls laughed at “what a horrible person” I am. I like kids, but the fact that I am hesitant about having them is considered deviant behavior in a society where all women are expected to want children, and I become a bad person when I do not conform.

Another point she makes is about the maternal instinct. This term, although fake, tricks women into a deep insecurity when it comes to their children. The maternal instinct tells women that they should naturally want to rear kids and furthermore that caring for those children should be instinctual as well. This produces insecurity in women when suddenly they have a more difficult time than they expected and feel as though there must be something wrong with them, worrying why they are not naturally good at childrearing. The term “maternal instinct” results in mothers comparing themselves to an unattainable reality.

This connects to Thinking About the Baby: Gender and Divisions of Infant Care because the women within Walzer’s study express that their worry—termed “mother worry”—stems from questioning their quality of childrearing. Walzer says, “mothers worry, in part, because they are concerned with how others evaluate them as mothers” (223). Aside from her major thesis about unequal emotional responsibility in a couple with children, this excerpt addresses a separate issue. Women face unequal internal and external pressures when it comes to raising their children. No wonder their husbands describe them as “neurotic.” Their female partners are judged by and held to a much higher and realistically unattainable standard of motherhood; a standard that does not exist for the men.

One of the many fascinating images of motherhood that I discovered this week included a photo spread from Vogue Italia, which best demonstrates Hollingworth’s ‘public opinion’ theme. Reactions to the spread largely consisted of comments about rich women being bad mothers. One of the images is below, and the full spread is here:



One thought on “Questioning Motherhood

  1. Brittany,

    Do not feel alone. I love love love kids, but after reading this article, I basically had an anxiety attack about my future. I see myself having a family, especially because I’m an only child and I’d dreamed about big family gatherings, etc. However, the idea of having to balance a professional career, my children, my relationships, etc got me a little freaked out.

    I thought back to my babysitting gigs in high school. There was one day in particular when I took care of two kids (around 2 and 4) for 10 hours, and I was about to pull my hair out by the end of it. Don’t get me wrong, I loved them. They were honestly good kids. But like all kids, they needed constant attention and stimulation. I wanted to set them up with a movie, which would take care of 2 hours, but the family didn’t allow very much tv time. We spent most of the day in the backyard playing games or taking walks around the neighborhood. Already from that day I knew I could never stay home full time with my children.

    I forget which article said it (Mommy Wars?), but women pointed out one of the many positives of balancing work and home life: you get freedom to yourself as an intellectual/professional/etc and are even more excited to come home at the end of the day. While this is obviously very simplified–especially for women who don’t have the option to stay home and work multiple jobs to make ends meet–I appreciated that some women acknowledged their need for personal time.

    Emma Weisberg

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