Let’s talk about
mother-blame

I had the privilege of becoming acquainted with a fascinating field of feminist studies that is Maternal Theory in my years as a Ph.D. student. This field informs my approach to parenting education and coaching. In this blog, I want to explore the concept of “mother-blame” because it highlights the underlying issue of having needs met. I first identified my “mother-blame” assumptions when I researched mothers’ roles in developing and preventing eating disorders in girls and female adolescents. I realized how deeply permeated the discourse of “mother-blame” is in our society and how strongly it reinstates patriarchal motherhood’s pragmatics.

Patriarchal motherhood lies under binaries’ construction, such as the good mother and bad mother myths that function as moral regulatory parameters (Caplan, 2000). The good mother myths often consider mothers as biologically nurturing and effortlessly sacrificing everything for their children. In contrast, the bad mothers are those who do not put their children before themselves. Patriarchal motherhood makes us believe that when a mother puts herself first and has her needs met, she is a bad mother. Every time a mother feels guilty for taking the time to do what she loves or is too scared to ask for help, she is experiencing patriarchal motherhood. When a mother thinks that she is the only one who can handle her child’s tantrum or that she is needed and cannot take a shower by herself, she is experiencing patriarchal motherhood. This paradigm is ingrained in our society and lives in our unconscious mind. By seeing it, we can understand how “mother-blame” is society’s scapegoat for everything and anything that goes bad. Through the binaries of good and bad mothers, women become relegated to the home, doing all the emotional work of parenting, and slowly lose connection to the political movements that feminists had fought for decades. Modern mothering is one of the most critical aspects of women’s regulation nowadays (Walkerdine & Lucey, 2007).

 

The laws of mothering are not universal or timeless; they are specific to historical and political conditions to make mothering a function of the state’s operational practices (Walkerdine & Lucey, 2007). Media and public culture celebrate motherhood while setting up norms and practices that “promulgate standards of perfection beyond reach” (Douglas & Michaels, 2007, p. 620). Motherhood, in this context, is the factor that defines the quality of a child’s upbringing and wellbeing. The high standards set for maternity make women responsible for the domestic labor of the home and raise children independently without economic remuneration or social recognition; scholars often refer to this as “invisible “labor (Warner, 2007, p. 712). We see this is true more than ever with the pandemic. With children being at home, women are more vulnerable than they have been in decades. Not only are women taking up the roles of the “invisible” labor that we have been doing forever, but now we are also responsible for our child’s formal education, and we are doing so in isolation.

The most powerful step in the direction away from patriarchal motherhood is through the act of meeting our needs. Fighting the good/bad mother myth can only happen if we see our own needs, and we make it a priority to meet them. Although these are precarious times, finding the way to stand up for ourselves to satisfy our needs is necessary to ensure our well-being and our children’s. Start by paying attention to how you are feeling and honor it. Do you feel sad? Perhaps your social needs are not being met, and it makes you feel lonely. Go for a walk with a friend and don’t see this as other than a human right. Do you feel fear? Perhaps your safety needs are not being met, and you need your partner to hold you while you talk about your thoughts; make it happen. Meeting our needs is a strong political move; it breaks the mother-blame cycle and sheds responsibility on society.

Mothers, go out there and get your needs met.

 

Citations:

Caplan, P. (2000). Don’t Blame Mother: Then and Now. In A. O’Reilley, & S. Abbey (Eds.), Mothers and Daughters: Connection, Empowerment, and Transformation (pp. 237-245). Lanham, USA: Rowman & Littlefield
Publishers Inc.

Douglas, S. J., & Michaels, M. W. (2007). The New Momism. In A. O’Reilly (Ed.), Maternal Theory: The Essential Readings (pp. 617-639). Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Demeter Press. O’Reilly, A. (Ed.). (2007). Maternal Theory: The Essential Readings. Toronto, Ontario, Canada:
Demeter Press.

O’Reilly, A. (2015). Patriarchal Motherhood. Personal Communication, York University, Gender, Feminist and Women’s Studies, Toronto.

Walkerdine, V., & Lucey, H. (2007). It’s Only Natural. In A. O’Reilly, Maternal Theory: Essential Readings (pp. 224-236). Toronto, Ontario, Canada:
Demeter Press.

Warner, J. (2007). The Motherhood Religion. In A. O’Reilly, Maternal Theory: Essential Readings (pp. 705-725). Toronto, Ontario, Canada:
Demeter Press.