As a mum to two girls, a teen and a pre-teen, I’ve grown well-versed in the continual ways my identity is splintered and my performance as a mother is assessed: by my family, my community, my colleagues and my culture.
I’ve tried on lots of different hats over the past 13 years: breastfeeding mum, bottle-feeding mum, co-sleeping mum, cry-it-out mum, bake-sale mum, P&C mum, soccer mum, home-schooling mum, working mum, and so on – but the one I wear most frequently is exhausted mum.
I’m not just frazzled from everyone else’s expectations, but from my inevitable internalisation of them, which means I never (at least by my own assessment) reach the fictional finish line of 'successful mum'.
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I’ve had countless conversations about mothering with my mum friends. Sometimes these are joyous, as we share in our children’s growth and achievements; but rarely do we bask in our own successes.
As a collective, we constantly worry over the many ways we are failing these dependent humans who look to us 24/7 for love and guidance; but we don’t talk about how we have been set up by western culture.
Instead, we struggle with the demands of work and home, and blame ourselves for not meeting the mothering standards doled out by media articles, discussion forums and casual conversations.
We feel helpless against the surge of social media, but we know our children are watching us, and we always could and should do better.
So, we work around rigid childcare, workplace and government systems that would rather lengthen school hours than allow a mother to leave early to pick up her children; who provide no rebate for sick or absent children even if a mother’s salary barely covers childcare in the first place. We are too busy to complain; too tired to push for change.
But now, a culture close to ours has stripped away women’s fundamental bodily autonomy, deeming a mother’s life as 'worth less', and denying a woman’s right to determine her own future.