Years ago, my daughter’s preschool teacher pulled me aside at pickup time to “discuss an important matter”.
The matter was this: my daughter’s lunchbox contained a chocolate crackle, and chocolate was a contraband product at the preschool.
I explained that the offending treat was made with cacao powder and coconut oil, and in return received a lecture about the consequences of childhood obesity.
Watch: Be a good mum. Post continues below.
Despite the ridiculousness of this interaction, something inside me cracked.
At the time, I was a mum of two kids under five, struggling to keep my head above the ocean of overwhelm that threatened to engulf me. I was scrambling to prepare food from scratch whilst limiting screen time, keeping my kids stimulated, teaching them to read early, organising play dates and squeezing writing projects in between.
And as I worked harder than I’ve ever worked in my life at mothering — the thing I cared the most about — I truly felt like there wasn’t a single person in the world who cared about me.
Yet, there were plenty like the preschool teacher who were ready to pounce anytime I failed my children.
Years later, I discovered something that illuminated the real cause of my complicated emotions around this interaction: intensive mothering.
This ideology of motherhood is characterised by what the American sociologist who coined the term, Sharon Hays, described as a style of mothering that is, “child-centred, expert-guided, emotionally absorbing, labour intensive and financially expensive”. This ideology sprang up in the 80s and is still going strong.
Discovering intensive mothering was a revelation to me because it validated what I knew in my gut — that mothering was never meant to be this hard.
It also revealed that it wasn’t my children who demanded that I set aside my dreams to wrap them in cotton wool and ensure they were better than other kids, it was the messaging around motherhood that I had internalised.
What must be acknowledged is that I am a person of considerable privilege as a white, middle-class woman living in Australia with a supportive husband. At the time of the preschool incident, I could afford to set aside my dreams and goals to bake quinoa and sweet potato cookies for my babies.