Of course when we celebrate our mothers, we are celebrating their virtues and the gifts they have given us: life, nurture, shelter, and forgiveness for our teenage bite. But exactly what is it about motherhood that society is celebrating? Who is the celebrated mother–actually, let’s just ask the damn question: who’s the good mother and who’s the bad mother?
Every culture and age shapes its own narrative of what constitutes a good mother. We all know the ultimate dilemma of the career mother is balancing work and parenting, but the dilemma of the stay-at-home mother is perhaps that she is not providing an ‘empowered’ model of a woman’s career potential for her children. The ‘green’ hippie mother that insists on all organic, natural parenting is ‘crazy, obsessive’ and the relaxed, casual mother that brings home fast food once a week is ‘poisoning’ her children. Mothers are left little room to make ‘mistakes’–motherhood is now a treacherous dance between the office and the home; the frozen foods aisle and the produce section.
This fine balancing act of being a good mother also has serious economic consequences for women in the 21st century, already overworked and financially strapped. Having children poses financial costs, particularly on women parents who often are the ones to take leave for children in the U.S. (let’s be real, almost always the ones taking leave) and who can face pay discrimination for being mothers. The extra time, effort and money that it costs for women to do it right can make the pressure to be good mothers overwhelming.
Understanding that practices of motherhood are often informed by socioeconomic class is an important step in diminishing our tendency toward judgment and critique. Love, support, and committment are not determined by how many chia seeds a woman can afford, whether she breastfeeds or opts to use formula; whether she be a single mother, a half in a partnership, or one among a community of othermothers.
In the spirit of Mother’s Day, let’s revisit the mothers we perceive to be ‘bad’ mothers and question our relationship to the meaning. Happy day to all mothers, in every form they take.