Mothers, Mothering, Motherhood

Sophie Sharps

Many points in both articles really resonated with me, either because I had never thought of them before or I was able to relate to them or, most of all, they were just shocking and appalling. Beginning with Hollingworth’s “Social Devices for Impelling Women to Bear and Rear Children,” the comparison of child-bearing to the work of soldiers is really awakening to think of what so many women endure and the reasons for it. It reminded me of the “Nacirema” article and the idea that if we step back and take a look at our “normal” practices, they can appear very different once we rid ourselves of all social and cultural attachments. It is true that childbirth is necessary for human existence, can be and has proven to be incredibly dangerous, and involves a great deal of sacrifice. Hollingworth discusses the expectation placed on women to have children, to the extent that if a woman either does not or does not desire to have children, she is considered “abnormal.” This weekend, I experienced an interesting example of this. At President Bergeron’s Inauguration this weekend, I heard a parent ask her daughter if President Bergeron had any kids. When the student replied that she did not think she did, the mother seemed confused and mildly disgusted. I took note of this as a great example of the expectation we place on all women to desire children and the stigma that women receive if they do not have children, as though they are not truly women and are not fulfilling their duties and responsibilities.

Hollingworth also discusses the “illusion” of childbirth and the tabooing of the actual process of childbirth. This made me think of how movies and television shows often depict childbirth. In many ways, it remains a mystery in which the mother pushes the baby out in a few different clips of filming and then holds the baby and the childbirth process is over. In the media but also in conversation, we fail to recognize the dangers and pains of childbirth but rather magnify the “joys and compensations” of childbirth.

Moving onto Walzer’s “Thinking About the Baby: Gender and Divisions of Infant Care,” this article made me extremely angry because there was so much obvious irony in all of the expectations and gendered imbalances for mothers and fathers. I appreciate Walzer’s focus on mental labor, as this is something that I have never thought about and is an added form of labor that often goes undiscussed. Walzer quotes mothers who explain that they worry that they are “bad mothers” or are “inadequate.” However, it seems incredibly ironic that mothers are constantly worrying that they are “bad mothers” but that in doing so, they are making themselves feel like “good mothers.” This just proves how socialized mothers are to believe that they must worry and be thinking about their baby all the time in order to be a good mother. Furthermore, Walzer quotes a father who saw it as his job to tell his wife to “lighten up.” The irony in that statement is that because fathers often are not the ones doing the work that must be done, if the wife did “lighten up,” these tasks most likely would not get done. Walzer quoted a father who stated that he just didn’t have time to read parenting books. This article was especially frustrating to me because at the same time as reading how absurd this gendered division of labor is, I also recognize how common these issues are and can even relate them to my family and the gendered dynamics of parenting between my mother and father. While fathers may not want to read parenting books, they also are not expected to. Walzer points out that parenting books are not written for fathers; they are written for mothers, with maybe a chapter or two in them directed at fatherhood. Therefore, this issue is so sociologically rooted in multiple systems that influence the actions of individual couples. And, as if mothers do not do enough work taking care of their children, they then have the added burden of delegating tasks to their husbands, because apparently husbands are more than happy to do the task but only after they are asked. We would never consider mothers “helping out” when taking care of their children, but when men aid in the parenting, they are considered so helpful.  Additionally, women are probably happy to just do the work themselves because this is the only way to ensure that it gets done quickly and correctly.

Over spring break, my family had brunch with family friends who had just had a baby. The father talked about how he took his four-month-old daughter on a walk through the park and stopped in a restaurant to change her diaper. He described the challenges he had when taking her into the men’s restroom, trying to balance his daughter on the toilet seat or on his knee to change her, because men’s bathrooms do not have changing tables. This proved to me how ingrained we are to believe that women change the baby, and made me realize how we do not even attempt to let men engage in equal parenting. While it is true that not all restrooms have changing tables, the establishments that do have changing tables most likely only have them in the women’s restrooms.

Lastly, speaking about diapers, I decided to choose a diaper image as my depiction of Hollingworth’s devices. Diaper commercials, but also the packaging for diapers themselves, depict happy babies with their happy, smiling mothers. These images speak to the “public opinion” device, in which these mothers appear to be very naturally engaging with their children, using their “maternal instinct.” Additionally, it glorifies motherhood (especially relating to diapers!) and is in some way an “illusion” because it focuses on the joys of motherhood.  Pampers


5 thoughts on “Mothers, Mothering, Motherhood

  1. Sophie, you discussed the double standard that mothers and fathers face when it comes roles in the family. One thing that really stuck with me was the idea that “good mothers” worry constantly worry about their children, but that husbands/fathers then get annoyed with their wives for worrying too much. It makes me wonder if there is really a happy medium in which both the mothers and fathers are happy and satisfied or if this is just one of the stresses of childbearing that couples have to make it through.

  2. Carly Ozarowski

    Sophie, that is so interesting you brought up the changing table debacle because I too have seen people men have that concern when trying to changing a baby. In the instance I was present for the father then brought the baby back to the table and had the mother bring the child to the women’s room. While yes, the man was initially willing to change his baby, I wonder if this will affect their future and if he will even offer to change his baby’s diaper in a restaurant again after this incident. I also like the image you chose, it is not at all surprising that there is not one father on the packaging of these diapers.

  3. Sophie,

    You mentioned in your post something that always frustrates me so much about parenting in our society: the idea that when fathers do something with their children, they are applauded for “helping out.” I remember reading a blog where a mother thanked her husband for “babysitting” their children while she was out over a weekend (not really sure why I was reading a parenting blog, but oh well). I have never once heard a mother describe her care taking of her children as “babysitting.” Just because the fathers are not the primary caregivers, it does not make the children any less theirs, and it is completely absurd to describe watching your children while your wife isn’t home as babysitting.

  4. Haris Kuljancic
    I’m very glad that you touched on the various expectations mothers and fathers have once a baby is brought into the world. Not only does society have different expectations for them, but they have different expectations of each other. Although the father might occasionally change a diaper and help the mother with some chores surrounding the baby, the main parenting is done by the mother. That’s where the problem lies. We need to understand that we should be jointly parenting our children instead of taking turns helping out.

  5. Luis Ramos

    Cassie brought up an interesting point, but at times, I feel like it’s reasonable to applaud them for small, yet stupid little things. I’ve depended on my mother for practically everything, that I don’t recall ever thanking or applauding my father for being supportive. I mean, he is, but not in the same ways that my mom is.

    Sunday night, my father called me late at night to check up on me. Keep in mind that this is extremely unusual and totally random just because my dad and I exchange conversations at least once or twice a year. Also, my dad is not the type of man to ever share his feelings out loud, therefore it was kind of scary to hear him talk about how disappointed and big of a failure he felt for never being there for me when I needed him the most. He was especially referring to the notion of me always going to my mom for help.

    My father might not be the primary caregiver, but he’s definitely the primary provider. I feel bad about never actually thanking him for anything. He might not have been there for my siblings and me most of the time, but that doesn’t make him any less of a father. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way of being a parent. It’s something that one must perform and learn how to become when they get the chance.

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