Motherhood isn’t a religion.
Mothers aren’t by nature the most selfless people on earth. I have met many mothers as selfish as misers. Mothers aren’t better than other people or more pure than non-mothers. I can’t stand hearing people talk about motherhood as though it automatically elevates you to some higher status than non-mothers. I can’t stand it when women (or others) rhapsodize about the beauty of motherhood, the selflessness and nobility of giving birth to babies and raising them.
I can’t stand it when people fetishize anything.
And people love to fetishize everything. Motherhood, diets, sex, clothing, shoes, art, people (celebrities), careers, power, money, sunshine, beauty, objects, spirituality. There is literally nothing humans won’t turn into an unhealthy obsession.
There is no bad moment to tell your mother you love and appreciate her. There is literally no bad day to tell anyone in your life who has been kind and good to you that you value them. No one needs a nationalized day to remind you. Or at least you shouldn’t. I always give my mom some appreciation on mother’s day because it’s expected and if I didn’t she might feel left out. But I show my love an appreciation to her often and without any prompting because that’s what you do for those you love and appreciate.
I’m a mother too and as far as I’m concerned it’s okay with me if Max never does anything for me on mother’s day because it is meaningless to me. What is meaningful and poignant for me is when Max tells me randomly how much he appreciates that I “let”* him just be who he is, my problem child, and that I don’t punish him for being different or challenging. That – coming from my kid – is pretty great.
Being able to get pregnant and give birth to babies is nothing special. All fertile humans can do it without even thinking which is evidenced by the high rate of unintended pregnancies that occur all over the world. It takes no skills and no nobility of purpose and happens to every kind of person from the very best down to the most base and horribly unfit people. I imagine this fact might add extra insult to injury for those people who desperately want children and can’t get pregnant. As infertility becomes a bigger and bigger problem among humans – the most you can say of being able to get pregnant is that you’re lucky to be able to do it on purpose, but being able to get pregnant sure doesn’t make you special and it has nothing to do with your worthiness as a potential parent.
I believe the fetishization of motherhood is backlash from feminism. Women used to have babies not necessarily because they were dying to be mothers and that was their life’s ambition (though obviously there have always been women for whom this is their main desire) but because it was expected of them. How many times have I heard older women talk about the days when all women were expected to get married and have babies even if they didn’t really want to? Can’t even count ’em. But as the feminist movement picked up steam and power – many women started to view having careers outside the home as the new noble thing. You CAN work outside the home so you SHOULD. Women who finally felt free to nurture professional ambitions looked down on those women who really wanted to stay home and have kids. Or stay home and no have kids. Suddenly there were all these women who believed that feminism was about women freeing themselves from the yolk of wifery and family and lost track of the point of feminism which was to promote women making choices for themselves.
Women pitted against women is stupid and just as destructive as chauvinism is to free choice and empowerment of self.
Now my generation of women has taken motherhood to a new level of competitive sport. Different parenting methods and philosophies have become warring religions and women rise up and call other women “abusive” to their children when what they really mean is “You’re not doing it like ME” and somehow having kids now confers a golden halo of light around you that makes you more worthy of any non-childbearing women. That’s fucked up.
Motherhood may be challenging but so is being the CEO of a fortune 500 company.
Choosing motherhood is NOT a selfless act. Having babies is, in my opinion, the single most selfish thing a woman can decide to do. This wasn’t true in the middle ages when there were a hell of a lot less people on earth. They died off in plagues more frequently and devastatingly and there were seemingly endless natural resources. Chances were good that if you had kids – half of them would die by the age of 5. So having kids, and having as many as you wanted or could have of them had very little impact on anyone but yourself and your family. But this isn’t the middle ages and there are billions of people on earth and limited resources. Every single baby you give birth to (mine included, obviously) is a selfish act in which you bring another being to life who will take more resources from the people already here. It does not matter how much you recycle or reuse things or how small your carbon footprint is – your children will need water and air and they will shit into toilets that will fill either holes in the soil or sewage systems.
And that shit doesn’t make good fertilizer.
Your child will compete for jobs, housing, land, money, partners, oil, power, not only with other people’s children and older people who are losing opportunities to the young every day but they will also compete with your other children for all those things. Every time you bring another kid into the world you are taking another chunk of limited resources for the sake of your own satisfaction. For your own selfish desire to have more kids because it pleases you.
I am not here to say anyone shouldn’t have kids. And obviously if you have kids I hope you do your damnedest to be a great parent to them because you’re the reason they’re here and none of them asked to be born. But don’t, for fuck’s sake, suggest that anything about having children makes you some kind of hero or selfless. So have your kids – as many as you see fit – but don’t imagine that you are doing the world any favors, because you’re not.
It is far less selfish to choose not to have children.
I personally went the selfish route and had my baby. I don’t regret it for a second and I love him best of all people in the world. But I sure as hell didn’t do any of you any favors by having him. Even if he becomes a person who changes the world for the better. Even if he really does do something heroic. I’ll be able to say I nurtured the good in him – but if Max grows up to be someone fantastic that other people are thankful for – I won’t have ME to thank for it. Max will have himself to thank for it.
That’s the other great myth that I can’t stand. We place so much importance on parenting – as though bad parenting will result in bad people and that good parenting will result in good people. Every child that parents bring into the world is an individual and while you can certainly break people with abuse – the fact that there are many people who come from abusive childhoods and go on to do great things and be great people is proof that no matter what kind of parent you are – ultimately the child you gave birth to is their own person who has responsibility for their own choices and there are a million factors that can contribute to who they ultimately grow up to be. There are also dedicated loving parents whose children grow up to murder people, steal, or just become douchecopters.
So when Max grows up and becomes what he becomes I will not be congratulating myself nor hating myself. I will either be proud of the choices he’s made or I’ll be sad about poor choices he’s made. He is not clay in my hands that I have the ultimate power to make into a good or bad or mediocre adult. A lot of who he will become has to do with who he came into this world being.
My job as his mom is to do the best I can to set him up for success and as far as I’m concerned – being a “good mom” is about being there, being present as much as I can and meeting my kid’s needs while still living a full life as a woman whose life ambitions far outreach the scope of motherhood.
If motherhood is your main ambition in life – go for it. Be a mom. If it’s what will fulfill you as a person – then I support you doing it because I support women choosing the life that will best fulfill them. Whatever it is. If you want to have kids but also pursue a professional career – do it. Make the best of it that you can. If you don’t want kids at all – thank you – you’ve done a kindness for the earth and for the people who are already fighting for its resources. There’s room for us all to make different choices. The choices I have made are not superior to the choices anyone else has made. And your choices are not inherently superior to the ones I’ve made.
I want to see women support each other in the full range of choices available to us and I want to see women support each other in the full realization of our individual gifts. The world needs women taking part in all aspects of civilization and it should be our guiding light to help each other find and use our gifts – whatever they are.
To do that we must stop fetishizing our life paths. Stop making our choices into religions or cults. Stop fighting each other over the “right” way to parent children or the “right” kind of job to pursue or the “right” kind of relationships to develop. Stop fighting over what life choices are most noble or righteous or beautiful or magical or fun or fulfilling. We’ll never agree and it’s okay. That’s the beauty of it. We don’t have to agree with each other all the time – we just need to respect each other.
I had a lot of other things to say about mother’s day and motherhood but Anne Lamott got there first in her article called “Why I Hate Mother’s Day“. I don’t actually hate mother’s day but otherwise she basically spoke my mind.
Mostly I just want people to be real. Honest and real.
And to keep things in perspective – especially if my views anger you or hurt you in any way – remember that I do not think human beings are all that awesome. I believe we are the worst virus this planet has ever had inflicted on it. I think ants are more valuable to the ecosystem than human beings. I think the worst dog has a more pure heart than the best human.
So there you have it. I think us humans need to stop thinking so highly of ourselves as a species and make ourselves worthy of the space we’re devouring on the planet.
*As if I could make him be anyone else.