parents

The politics of motherhood are complex and passionate

Jacinta Tynan

As soon as I opened the magazine a few weeks ago, I knew it would end in tears. The headline was “The Big Easy” and it was a story about one woman’s breezy experience of motherhood. During the few minutes it took to read, I nodded, I winced and I could hear the sound of incoming artillery so loud I almost had to duck.

The premise of journalist Jacinta Tynan’s explosive piece was her exasperation that so many women downplay the good bits about motherhood. I understand this idea and sometimes I’m guilty of it myself. For example, I had terrific, straightforward births with two of my kids but I always feel the need to speak louder about the birth that was difficult.

I also had two problem-free breastfeeding experiences but I always rush to detail the nightmare of getting mastitis seven times in eight months with my third. The subtext being: See! I’ve suffered! I’m not smug!

I know Jacinta a little bit and so the next day, I organised to interview her for Mamamia. With my video camera in my bag, I high-tailed it to Foxtel studios where she was on day shift as a presenter for Sky News.

Approaching her in the tentative way one might approach an unexploded bomb, I quickly understood she had no idea what she’d unleashed. The vitriol of a thousand angry women had not yet reached her. Soon it would.

We talked. I gave her the chance to correct some misconceptions. Like the fact she was rich (no), had a full-time nanny (no) or a perfect baby (no).  I re-published her original article, along with the interview and then I stood back. The comments began within seconds and in a few days there were more than 1100.

The debate was passionate and it’s still going on.

The next time I saw Jacinta, a week later, she looked shell-shocked. Shaken. Bravely, she’d come on to Mamamia and responded to many of the comments, trying to clarify her position, fluctuating between mortification and defiance: “I wrote what I thought was a positive opinion piece – my opinion – on my experience of motherhood with all the caveats of my baby being only nine months old and in good health, and me not having post-natal depression. That is in no way a judgement on mothers who are doing it tough, and I am sorry if some of you felt that was the implication. I have absolute empathy for those mothers and apologise if my joy has in any way highlighted your difficulties. That was never my intention.”

The politics of motherhood are complex and passionate because I think we’re all secretly terrified of stuffing up our kids. And the way we deal with this fear is to be defensive about our parenting decisions. Whether it’s how we gave birth, what we fed our baby, how we handled routine and discipline….it goes on until they’ve left home at which point I can only assume we take a small break before resuming the debate over how best to be a grandparent.

Men do not appear to do this. Internet forums are not rife with heated clashes about any aspect of parenting from a male point of view. Not that I’ve seen anyway.

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Quite soon after having my first child, I realised that those with the worst experiences often shout the loudest. And so they should. Thank God they can.  Because a generation ago, there was only one blueprint for motherhood: the happy housewife.

There were no outlets for mothers to express negative feelings or admit their fears, frustrations and anxieties. So they drank. Or took Valium. Or became depressed. Or suffered in silence. Sometimes they harmed their children, harmed themselves or just walked out.

Some mothers still do these things. Many are unable to admit they’re doing it tough and this is tragic.

Generally though, in the past few decades women have slowly begun to feel more comfortable about asking for help. Gradually, we’ve found our voices and our courage and started to admit when we’re not coping (or confess we loathe playgrounds). It can be exceedingly difficult to do this for fear that anyone might think we love our children any less fiercely. We don’t. Or that we don’t know how lucky we are to be parents. We do. But sometimes it helps to vent.

So why such an aggressive reaction to Jacinta’s claim that she finds motherhood easy? Perhaps it’s because we’ve fought to shrug off the shackle of the perfect mother portrayed in Margarine commercials. Perhaps we’re threatened by the implication that finding motherhood hard means we’re crap at it. Perhaps we’re jealous that Jacinta’s ride has so far been a smooth one. Perhaps she didn’t make it clear enough that she wasn’t judging women who find it tough. Perhaps.

But if we insist on smothering different voices and perspectives, we all lose. Every parent is different, every child is different, every day is different.

Declaring you feel a particular way or made a particular choice does not automatically imply that everyone who feels or chooses differently is wrong. We’re all just doing our best. Well, most of us. But that’s another column….

NOTE: This post is my newspaper column that appears on the East Coast on Sunday. I chose to write about it for the paper because when I posted Jacinta’s column and my interview here, it received the most comments ever on a post. Similarly, Sunday Life received more letters about Jacinta’s column than any other article they’ve published in a year. So clearly, it struck and nerve and that is always interesting to me. So I didn’t necessarily write this specifically for the Mamamia audience since yes, we have canvassed it pretty thoroughly.

Still, with the benefit of a couple of weeks to cool off, I thought it could be interesting to revisit it. Please, if you’re feeling really passionate about it still, take a couple of breaths before you hit ‘submit’ on your comment.

Tags: kids , motherhood , postnatal-depression
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