parents

The PM says "a mother is someone who never puts herself first". He's wrong.

There’s no such thing as a “perfect mother”.

If there is one thing that is almost as hard as actually mothering a tiny baby, it’s dealing with society’s expectations of motherhood. It’s navigating the communal conversation about what a good mother is and what a bad mother is.

Good mothers breastfeed. Bad mothers use formula.

Good mothers rush into the room when their child cries. Bad mothers leave their babies to cry it out and soothe themselves.

Good mothers do tuck shop duty. Bad mothers barely make it to assembly.

Good mothers stay at home with their children. Bad mothers place them in child care.

Good mothers sacrifice themselves upon the altar of their children. Bad mothers put their own needs ahead of their child’s.

Which is effectively what Prime Minister Tony Abbott said yesterday in wishing us all a Happy Mother’s Day.

“A mother is someone who never puts herself first. A mother is someone who wants the best for everyone except herself and that is the quality of selflessness that marks out motherhood and which we celebrate today.”

Tony also paid tribute to the “mother I know best”, his wife Margie, who, “for much of her married life has been pretty much a sole parent while I went off chasing my own dreams “.

There is so much wrong with this sort of thinking.

It’s sexist, asking women to de-identify in order to be good mothers. It harkens back to a mid 50s ideal of family that barely functioned in that day and age, let alone now. It flies in the face of decades of research and thought that points to self-care being key to successfully caring for others.

We must be careful in our public conversation about good mothers. We must avoid unrealistic definitions of good mothers, we must avoid entrenching the myth of the perfect mother.

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“You haven’t done tuck shop duty in how long?”

In the swirl and storm of a first baby, the myth of the perfect mother can be destructive. Breaking down the notion of the perfect mother is often the first step in coming to grips with the reality of a child, the reality of a new part of your identity as wholly responsible for another human life and the reality that there is no one way to be a mother.

When I had my first baby and found I couldn’t breastfeed him, the first judgement I had to break through was my own. I didn’t even know I held it. But I instinctively felt it – because good mothers breastfeed. Part of my guilt and anger about not being able to breastfeed him was wrapped up in a bias I unconsciously held about who a good mother is and what she looks like.

We’ve come a long way in calling out the perfect mother ideal as bullshit. We’ve got a way to go. But an important part of breaking down that myth is dispelling the idea that a good mother sacrifices herself for her children.

Alys with her daughter.

Let’s be clear.

A good mother looks after herself so that she can continue to care for her children. A good mother seeks fulfilment in all the places she finds it, be that her children, her work or her other interests. A good mother builds a whole identity for herself, whether that is entirely as a mother or where a being a mother is just part of who she is.

The best lesson I learned about how to be a mother is this: There are no rules. Be the mother you want to be. Mother the way you want to mother. Love and care for your children as best you can. The rest will take care of itself.

So, what else has the Government done for women recently?

Happy Mother’s Day: Treasurer royally screws over pregnant women.

Tony Abbott as Minister for Women: A Report Card.

Tony Abbott wants to raise family violence “awareness”… while cutting funding for support services.

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