On this Mother’s Day: Imagine a world in which mothers stopped doing all the things

Mother’s Day has been a rough celebration for me—definitely in 2019, but really, increasingly so over the past five years, maybe even decade, more. I don’t do well with unacknowledged hypocrisy, you know, and this what Mother’s Day is to me: social hypocrisy run amok. Mothers celebrated in memes, photos, videos, song, through gifts, cards, brunches… and then left to clean up the mess made by the party.

Flora hates is—hates it—when I acknowledge that parenthood, motherhood is hard. I get her. When I first became a mother, and my  mother offered me support and respite care for my littles, saying, “I know how hard it is,” I hated and resented it—her—too. She’d say, “I know it’s hard, you need a break,” and I’d hear, “It was hard to have you, it was hard to your mother.” And then, I’d think, “She wishes she hadn’t had me, what the fuck.”

I do not regret having my babies. I would—hard as it has been—do it all over again, only maybe… sooner. Even closer together. I do not regret the sleepless nights, sore nipples, temper tantrums—and while I wish I could have just the happy, proud moments without the weeks in  hospital for Flora, the holes in the wall from Cinder, the three years of not being able to walk after Ender, the almost daily, paralyzing “Am I enough? Am I doing the right thing?” anxiety I have for all three of them—those dark moments are the price of the good ones, the cost of admission to this not-so-secret club.

I don’t regret motherhood, I don’t regret my babies—one of whom is now twice my size, two of whom now have bigger feet than I do, and one of whom is already smarter and more insightful than I ever was.

(Yes, I’m talking about you and your scary big brain, Flora. No, I’m not saying your brothers are dumb, why would you go there? I’m saying that I can still outthink them. I haven’t been able to outthink you since you’ve been seven.)

I don’t regret, not any of it. I’d do it all, all over again—yes, my darling girl, even if I knew ahead of time what 2018, 2019… and the first weeks of 2020 would bring. Without a moment’s hesitation.

But I wish someone had told me how hard it was really going to be. And that it wasn’t going to be hard for a year or three or ten—but forever.

Wait.

My mother tried to tell me. But I didn’t believe her, I wouldn’t listen…

Maternal love changes, everything. It must, of course: basic biology. It is pure evolution, the selfishness of genes in action.

And because it’s so basic, so big, so powerful, in a society that does not value the labours of motherhood and mothers themselves, but is happy to take advantage of them, maternal love fucks mothers over.

This is the part where Flora says, “See? You wish you didn’t have us!” And I scream, “No! I wish this goddamn culture, our schools, our workplaces, our medical system, every single one of our institutions didn’t simply assume that mothers would fill in all of their inadequacies. That mothers would pick up the slack wherever it exists, that mothers would make flawed systems and structures work—because that’s what they had to do to get their children through them.

This is what mothers do: whatever needs to be done.

(Look at this pandemic.)

Every single one of our modern social structures counts on—assumes—that it will be propped up by the unpaid labour of mothers.

(If you say, “But what about fathers?” or “But men also…” just stop, no. Today is not the day to discuss the glacial improvement in the de-gendering of childcare.)

Schools underfunded? It’s ok. Mothers will come in as classroom reading volunteers, lunch ladies, recess supervisors, organize bake sales and fundraisers for field trips and school computers.

Health care system overstrained? A nine-month wait list to get child to see the specialist, get a diagnosis, care, support? No problem. Mom will do all the things until then, quit her job, function as a 24/7 nurse, support worker, therapist.

No official day care supports by the governments or employers? Why bother? Mothers will find a solution, individually. They always do.

Suppose… just suppose, we didn’t?

Seriously, think about it, just for 30 seconds.

Suppose mothers stopped doing all the things. Getting shit done, problems solved.

Not for a day, the way most women, their tanks empty, sometimes do—individually, or, occasionally, in a 24-hour daily mass protest.

But for the long haul. Perhaps, forever.

Imagine. What would happen?

The world would come to an utter standstill—or descend into utter chaos.

But, don’t worry.

It’s not an experiment or social action that you will see. Because it would make our children suffer—and we will do anything, everything for our children.

The worst thing about this on-ground frontline work is that it leaves most mothers too exhausted to fight the macro battles. I am not much of an activist, and that’s in large part because after I do all the things that need to be done—and then do my work for money, and then carve out slivers of time to do my work for love—then there are more things that need to be done, and cooking and housework and a crying child, a sick child, a frustrated child—I don’t have the energy to change systems, affect policies.

I am, very, very grateful to the people who do. But, too often, the fights they fight and the priorities they agitate for—they don’t reflect the reality of what I live. And me? I don’t have the bandwidth left to fill out the five minute online survey through which they try to find out what I really need.

So I’ll tell you today, ok?

I need a school system that isn’t driven by my unpaid labour. (I speak here as a homeschooling parent responsible for 100 per cent of her children’s education until high school—and appalled by the increase in my “schooling’ workload when my teenagers when to “real” school. Without parents’ labour, schools would not function. Is this fair to working parents, working mothers?)

I need a health care system that isn’t propped up by my unpaid labour. I won’t go into the details; I can’t right now. But if you’ve had a sick child—you know.

I need workplace cultures—and employment laws—that don’t penalize me for having family responsibilities. And that don’t assume my unpaid emotional labour and my integrity/ambition/determination will get the job done, no matter what obstacles are placed in my way.

I need reliable safe, and affordable childcare options that take the reality of workplace demands into account.

Most of all, I need a culture that doesn’t actively penalize me, judge me, despise me for not sacrificing all of me on the altar of motherhood.

Nobody objects to a woman being a good writer or sculptor or geneticist if at the same time she manages to be a good wife, good mother, good looking, good tempered, well groomed, and unaggressive.

Leslie McIntyre

I realize… I’m not going to get any of that, not in my motherhood journey anyway—Cinder is 18 this year, Flora 15, and my baby 10.5.

Sadly, though, I don’t think Flora’s going to get it either.

Flora: And that’s one of the reasons I just want to cut out my uterus now.

I remember my first Mother’s Day as a mother and what an amazing, amazing, incredibly joyous feeling that was.

These days, the feelings around Mother’s Day—and motherhood—are much more… complex.

I am very grateful for the tokens of love and appreciation from my children and their dad—who, in this fucked up patriarchal culture, does his best to lighten my load (but the solutions, people aren’t individual—they must be systemic!).

But I also think about all the challenges and frustrations of this path, and I also think about how I’ve experienced these challenges from a place of utter privilege. I’m overeducated (and white), and even when I think I’m poor, my line of credit (which is the result of my economic, educational, and social privilege) ensures my house security and food security are never threatened). I have an extended family to support me (thank you, Mom and Dad). I have a feminist partner and co-parent (I appreciate you a lot, Sean). I have friends who will pitch in with free childcare and meal deliveries when the world goes black (I love you very much, Paola, Dorrie, Valerie, Cathy, Lisa).

And with all of that… it’s rarely been easy.

Happy Mother’s Day to my fellow mamas. To my mama.

To me.

It’s too late for us, really, but do you think we can make the path easier for Flora’s hypothetical grandchildren?

Flora: I keep on telling you…

Jane: I said hypothetical!

Can we?

😦

“Jane”

 

We “celebrate” mothers but we neither value nor support them: if you’re not gonna walk the talk, take your hallmark holiday and shove it

Flora made me the most amazing, glorious card for the Mother’s Day, a work of art with every doodle a symbol—and a beautiful letter inside. Cinder, when he wakes up, will give me, I expect, chocolate, and Ender is out biking around with his friends, oblivious—but of course he will give me love, he always does. And Sean, yesterday, feted with a Cuban cigar, and today, will do all the things while I fuck off and spend Mother’s Day smoking sheesha, drinking Guinness, and perhaps writing—or perhaps not—but doing all of these things without my children.

Her: OMG, that sounds glorious, what a good idea.

Flora: You’re a weird mother. But I guess it makes sense.

Aunt Augusta: What is wrong with you?

Nothing. As a mother, I spend about 350 if not more days of the year with my children; as a homeschooling and work from home mother, on most of those days, I’m with them or in their very near vicinity 24/7. The gift I ask for consistently, on Mother’s Day, on any holiday—is time for myself.

This particular Mother’s Day is a hard one for me. In the past six months, I’ve been absolutely the shittiest parent I’ve ever been… but also, more awesome, enduring, patient, determined—give me an overblown purple prose adjective, and it probably fits here—than I ever thought I’d have to be. And my feelings, thoughts about what it means to be a mother have never been more clear—and, simultaneously, more ambivalent.

Deeper than that I won’t go, because the damn children read my blog now, and some things, they don’t get to know, now or ever.

But I’ll tell you this—it’s also never been more clear to me that for all the lip service and pap we give to mothers, for all the pomp of Mother’s Day, for all the cliched-but-true quotes in Hallmark cards, for all the excess of Mother’s Day brunches, flowers, presents, blah, blah, blah—as a society, we don’t value mothers. We don’t support them. We don’t make anything easy for them. We remain, as a society, the children who simply expect mothers to change their poopy diapers, feed them, bathe them, soothe them, educate them, love them unconditionally—do all the things—and don’t really think about the effort and the cost that goes into all of that.

I don’t expect my children—your children—any babes, toddlers or even teenagers—to appreciate or understand the cost. I never thought about any of it when I was a child. It didn’t occur to me that my mom had something other to do than drive me to martial arts practice four times a week, or take me out for coffee and a cinnamon bun after working a 12 hour shift because I felt lonely. A loved child should take all of those things for granted, frankly. They shouldn’t think twice about why mothers do the things they do—it is so obvious, you are the Mom, you love them, you do it.

But once they grow up, and they become politicians, policy makers, employers, CEOs… for fuck’s sake. Time to grow up. Want to show your mother how much you appreciate everything she did for you?

Make it easier for your sister, your wife,  your daughter, your friend—every mother—to care for her children, earn a living, be a person. If you have power to shape legislation and policy, effect that change on a macro level. If all you have is the power to shape your workplace—or your individual interactions—do that.

Do that. Don’t send me GIFs of flowers and don’t post Happy Mother’s Day on my timeline, and then vote for governments, implement policies, and behave in a way that shows me you don’t value me.

Flora: You know, you could have just said Flora made me a beautiful Mother’s Day card and I’m so happy and left it at that.

Jane: You know, I rant like this to make things easier for you.

Flora: I’ve seen how hard it is. I’m pretty sure I’m not gonna give you grandchildren.

We have this conversation frequently these days, she and I. She asks, “Is it worth it?” …and I can say to that, “Fuck, yeah.” She asks, “Is it easy?” and I shake my head. I don’t know how much of the tightrope I walk she sees… at this age, she shouldn’t see most of the effort that goes into my balancing act, or how much it hurts when I fall off.

When she asks me, “Do you think I should have kids?” I generally laugh and say, “Definitely not yet.”

When she asks me, more in earnest, with more urgency, in her twenties, thirties… I don’t even know if then I’ll be able to tell her about the personal, professional, creative cost. I don’t want her to think she was a sacrifice. That she made things more difficult. After all, I would not be the person I am, I would not be capable of the type of work I do, without her and her brothers. They are part of my alchemy.

But in a society that celebrates motherhood without valuing or supporting it—there is a cost. And it is high.

If things don’t change, and Flora chooses not to have children because she does not want to bear it—that will be the logical, rational, intelligent choice. I will support it.

Flora: I’ll probably have cats. And snakes. Many snakes.

Awesome.

Jane: Just FYI, I’m not changing your cats’ litter boxes and I’m not feeding live mice to your snakes when you go on holidays.

Flora: Jesus. You’re already a terrible grandmother. When can I get my tubes tied?

God, I love her.

Happy Mother’s Day.

“Jane”

PS Mom? I get it now. Not all of it. But more and more of it every day.