The overwhelming pressure of present-day motherhood
Written by Irina Gallagher
Word of warning, this isn’t meant to diminish the importance of parental caretakers as a whole, but to shed light on the roll of the primary caretaker, who, in the U.S. is still predominantly the mother.
There I was, sitting in a room full of moms and kids all clanking old kitchen apparatuses. It had been a particularly difficult week – the moon and its impending fullness and Mercury and its retrograde-ness did nothing to help. As I clinked my red plastic plates together, I was thinking about how overwhelmed, overworked, frustrated, exhausted (sure in a sense of little sleep, but more so in an energy-deficient sort of way), and maxed out I’ve been feeling lately. Finally, here at music class, surrounded by a bunch of toddlers, there was a moment of respite – not in a complete silence way, but in the “thank goodness there’s a chance for me to just sit and rest for a minute and not have to engage in conversation of any kind, not have to keep my small kid from falling into a sink full of dirty dishes while slipping off a step stool, not have to harp on my big kid to finish a five minute bit of school work which she somehow transforms into a draining forty-five minute task, not have to give my opinion on anything, and not have to keep people from yelling excitedly while jumping from bed to bed or rolling off the couch” sort of way. While this 3 minute kitchen music play-along break was nice, I was in a negative mood this particular morning and was dwelling on my own issues rather than actually savoring the moment.
As I was thinking of an onslaught of responsibilities, my focus returned to the class. I looked around the room and noticed that most of the moms seemed to be lost in a bit of a daze while banging their spoons against ice cube trays. I don’t think it’s farfetched to think that I was not the only one in the room feeling maxed out – from the mom who works six days a week while managing to homeschool her children to the new moms adjusting to their completely altered lives as parents to the moms who are steadily (dare I say courageously) keeping their shit together while bringing a second, third, or fourth kid into the family units – here we sit, quietly and collectively exhausted.
I’m not sure how it is that we, as a group, are expected to remain sane with all that is expected of us on a societal level – from the feeding, clothing, nurturing, teaching (whether prior to actual school or if you are choosing homeschooling later), socializing, counseling, supporting, “extra curricularizing” of our children to keeping everything and everyone functioning on the homefront both physically and emotionally. And somewhere in that mix we are supposed to also make room for ourselves and ensure that while we are rearing genius scientist Olympic athletes who will simultaneously cure cancer and demolish global warming while running faster than Usain Bolt and playing a cello, we don’t neglect our own needs of personal and professional growth while becoming resentful martyrs a couple decades down the line. That’s great. There’s no pressure in that at all, especially if you’re an anxiety-prone type of person (ahem, I don’t know anyone here like that).
Somehow, women have crossed into this new territory of expectation that has assured us that we must do it all. We didn’t take the role of the women’s rights movement as an indication to choose our personal paths, instead we have turned it into an “all in” equation, a psychological frenzy of unattainable proportions. The same way that we’ve been convinced of the perfect unattainable physique, we’ve been urged to aspire to the perfectly unreachable state of the ideal motherhood – one that manages to bake the world’s most delectable cakes while becoming attorney general (all while having every hair in it’s perfectly positioned place of course) so as not to stifle the seeds of progress in our daughters and sons. But, we are, of course, our own worst critics. The pressure we place on ourselves is mostly self-inflicted, because we choose to care what everyone else thinks. We choose to let negatively-toned “Oh, you don’t work?,” “You don’t stay home with your children?,” “What do you do all day?” commentary infiltrate our psyches. More than that, we don’t let ourselves catch our breath long enough to stand back and realize what an enormously wonderful job we’re doing.
So, my fellow mothers, instead of making it our goal to reach unfathomable levels of maternal perfection, could we all collectively strive to achieve an even bigger goal? Could we endeavor to give ourselves a break from the insurmountable pressure that we put upon ourselves? We are strong enough to try.
The Muse of Discovery (above) by Meg White is part of the See Art Orlando public art sculptures project.