A Mishmash of Thoughts Around Mama, Mommy, Motherhood and Blogging

Last Monday I stumbled across Elissa Strauss’ Longreads piece titled “The Rise of ‘Mama.'” An entire 4000-word piece on a term that is very common in the South? Sign me up! I call my mother “mama.”  Mommy is too childish and “mom” seemed too harsh to me. I called my father “daddy” too.

Strauss’ piece is about how many women on their blogs and other sites starting in the 90s prefer to use “mama” for lifestyle reasons and to reflect the kind of mother they plan to be:

…I noticed a number of alternative moms who referred to themselves as “mama.” This was the radical homemaking, attachment parenting, extended breastfeeding bunch, and “mama” was right at home with their folksy, back-to-the-earth approach to motherhood.

Mothers prefer “mama” over “mommy” because it connects them to the past and has connections with “mama bear.” It is also helps them avoid cliches around motherhood. How many times have you been referred to as Kid’s Mom or subtly condescended to with “Mommy ____,” insert your own hot button term. Mommy blogging. Mommy politics. Soccer mom. Mommy tracked. Helicoptor mom. Strauss points out that “mommy” has become a term that replaces a woman’s individual identity and name.

All of this is very interesting and true I suspect, but I thought the strongest part of Strauss’ piece was the last third when she delves into feminism and how it has influenced current mother practices and behavior.

Notes Strauss:

It’s not an understatement to say that feminists completely struck out when it comes to getting communal protections for mothers; we are one of three countries in the world without a universal maternity leave policy, and we also fall very short when it comes to making sure that all working families have access to safe and affordable childcare. Yet, this doesn’t mean we as a culture don’t place much emphasis parenting, because we do—it’s just all on the parents, and it’s driving them many of them nuts.

Word.

While our mothers juggled their role in the workplace and parenting, often favoring the workplace, we strive to do both and overcompensate with our children. I love that Strauss also ties the pressure to have a drug-free birth, breastfeed and practice attachment parenting to this.

There’s also a link between the stalled gender revolution—we’ve seen a rise of stay-at-home mothers in recent years, going from 23% of mothers in 1999 to 29% in 2012—and the idealization of motherhood. The bigger, and more important, a job we make motherhood, the harder it is going to be for those women who have the financial choice to go the office to do so. Especially as long as our work culture remains so inhospitable to parents with young children. If it is the “most important job in the world” (mothering) vs. some office job where one constantly feels both undervalued and a nuisance because she made the decision to have children, who, if money is not a factor, would choose the office job?

This is not meant to be a knock on anyone who believes in and practices attachment parenting, stays at home, or preferred to breastfeed.  It is about the increasing pressure to do all of this and I’ve felt that in some ways, the rise and promotion of many of these practices are meant to keep women divided so that workplace and societal changes never make progress.

But all the while we are still without real choices. So at what point does this mama pride become, consciously or not, a way to accommodate the fact that mothers still don’t have equal access to economic, political and cultural life?

***

Dooce announced a few weeks ago she was going to stop blogging which I thought was a nice footnote to Strauss’ piece.  Dooce was proclaimed “Queen of the Mommy Bloggers” and helped kick off moms sharing their lives online – the good, the bad and the ugly – what has been referred to as a radical act.

What does it mean that Dooce is shuttering her blog and moving on to other opportunities?  Is it the beginning of the end for “mommy blogging,” that hated pejorative? Just this week, two of my blog friends have announced they are going to quit blogging. They have both blogged for years. Are we facing a mass exodus?

i don’t think so. I think the allure of blogging, the sharing, is what will keep it going. Though derided my many, mothers blogging enables them to connect to a wider world and has provided so much companionship and recognition that you are not alone for mothers around the world. That “me too” epiphany is powerful and not easily done away with.

Maybe Dooce’s exit is for the best. Maybe it will end the “mommy blog” perception and allow a smaller spotlight on the practice so that the bloggers can return to the true point of blogging: catharsis and connection.

Dooce also pointed out that the increase in other social media channels – twitter and its ilk – had changed blogging.  Yes it has. It has increased the number of platforms involved to cultivate community. And that’s hard. We have all talked about how hard it is to have a conversation when some is on the blog, some on FB, and some on twitter. But that’s not going to change. Mommy blogging has reached the point in which its long-time practitioners can remember the “good ol’ days” and long for them wistfully. Change happens even in this sphere.

***

Yesterday I finished Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed, a book of essays by prominent writers about their childless-by-choice lives.  Strange reading choice perhaps? Maybe I wanted to see how the other half lives. It was a good book, and I enjoyed all the essays. I was especially curious to read Lionel Shriver’s because I read We Need to Talk About Kevin late last year, and it disturbed me. It was supposed to disturb me, but I also felt like Shriver got a lot wrong because she does not have children. Perhaps that is presumptuous of me but when one is writing a book about a disturbed child and maternal affection, it might help to have experienced it. Something rang false in the book.

Anyway, the majority of the women did not want children because of terrible childhoods and also because they recognized it would be difficult to achieve their professional and personal goals if they had children.  To be fair, while these women loved children – dispelling the myth that child-free women hate children (duh) – none of them had ever longed to start a family and that is truly the primary reason they didn’t.

I come back to the economic motivations not to have children and how doing so can impact their professional lives. I know that writing isn’t your typical 9-5 profession and might be filled with more economic uncertainty than other professions – I wish she had included non-writers too. But that ties in so neatly to what Strauss wrote in her essay. Most of us know that when we become mothers, we are going to lose a lot of freedom. Most of our freedom. No more sleeping in. No more jetting off to an exotic vacation or any vacation at the drop of the hat. Sometimes, though, I think the professional sacrifices we end up having to make are unexpected. Sick children. School vacations and teacher workdays. Special needs and therapies. Appointments. Inability to stay for meetings after a certain hour. Trying to call in to a meeting with a needy child in the room. I’m not saying those things are impossible, but they are HARD.

You do find yourself making choices that aren’t really choices because they are the only option you have. And as Strauss pointed out, thanks to policies in this country, it is up to the parent to figure out all of this.

I admire these women for knowing what they didn’t want and sticking to their guns. Because being a working mom is hard.

***

As the title says, this post is a mishmash, my attempt to reconcile and connect a jumble of thoughts going through my head. Hopefully it makes a tiny bit of sense.

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16 comments

  1. I need to click over and read Strauss’s piece, but she has interested me since her article a few years ago about the Sabra parent (and yes, she specifically says Sabra parent and not Sabra mom because the role isn’t only performed by women!).

    My understanding of Dooce’s decision — and I definitely need to reread that post because I seem to be the only person who read it this way — is that she plans to continue to blog, for herself. Not on a schedule, not to write sponsored posts, not to stress about a blogging calendar, but just writing for herself in that space when she wants to write in that space and not feeling any pressure to do otherwise. I didn’t take it as an end to the blog insomuch as a taking back the blog. But I may be totally off with that.

    I do think you’re spot on with the pressure that is on mothers when you call it the most important job. How do you decide otherwise if you have the ability to stay home?

    1. I thought the same about Dooce’s post – and she had posted since then, so I’m guessing she didn’t actually intend to close up shop but simply change how she connected with her blog and her audience. She’s the first blogger I ever read – I really do hope she sticks around.

  2. I took my understanding from this paragraph:

    “Many friends who know about all the changes in my life have asked, “So, what will happen to dooce®?! Will you shut it down? What is your last post going to say?” And I always stand there and shake my head. I have no intention of shutting this space down. There are too many memories in these pages, and frankly, I still like to write stories. I still have a few contracts that I need to see to completion, and I will continue posting here. But eventually I’d like to get back to the reason I started “living online” in the first place: writing for the love of it, writing when the story inside is begging to be told.”

  3. Thank you for posting this article and sharing your thoughts. I’m still digesting it all. We’ll see if I come up with anything meaningful to add to the conversation. 😉 But either way, thanks for sharing!

  4. Oh thank you for the reminder about that book. I had meant to put it on hold at the library and they hadn’t ordered copies yet. Off to do that now…

    One of the blogs I like, Balancing Jane, had a post this week (http://www.balancingjane.com/2015/05/the-shelf-life-of-mommy-blogger.html) about how she posts less frequently (in conjunction with the cessation of a number of ‘mommy’ blogs. She has always used her blog as ‘her’ space, but her posts about parenting are becoming fewer as her daughter ages, because she’s very conscious that now she’s telling her daughter’s story, not just hers. I feel the same way about my blog. I can’t see closing it down, but I do post much less about E.’s life now, because I don’t feel it’s my place to put those stories into the public domain without his permission.

    The work/motherhood balance is hard. I am at home right now, not exactly by choice, and even though I can accept that E. is my GOOD WORK at the moment, I know I need more. But I also know that our household can’t sustain two full-time professional careers at this point. And I’m finding the opportunities for meaningful work that fits into school hours few and far between, unless I go into freelance, which is still pretty scary right now.

    Great post. Lots of things I mull over too.

  5. Hm…I really don’t know what I think about that article and the author’s opinions about why the term Mama has been on the rise. I guess I was raised in a house where our parents were “Mama and Dada” when we were younger and it slowly morphed into “Mom & Dad” as we aged for no particular reason that I’m aware of. My kids both call me Mama at this point (age 1 & 3)… but it wasn’t a conscious decision on my part to teach them that. I think it’s just easier for little kids to say? So anyway… I’m not sure where that puts me on this topic. I had drug free births and breastfed my kids more than a year and co-slept (bed-shared) in the first few months, but I have never considered myself an “AP” parent – I just do what feels right for me at that point of the journey. I’m also am a WOHM and have no problem letting my kids do overnights at their grandparents when they’re not even a year old and don’t really care if they watch a little too much TV, so what kind of parent does that make me? Mama? Mom? Mother? I wonder if sometimes a word is just a word?

  6. I can add one little point to this. I have to think too much for the rest of it. Haha.

    I don’t have to work. I work because I have a career and I am defined by my career. I work because only 11% of female engineering graduates practice after college. That being said, since I became a mother the bullshit I put up with from my supervisor is astounding. Just the other day when discussing my upcoming travel he made reference to me leaving my baby (I guess the 4 yo doesn’t matter) for a week. I got pissed and shot back that no one would ever say something like that to a dad. He replied that babies miss their mothers more. Fucker.

    That makes me more determined to climb the ladder. Fuck societal pressure to take my place in the kitchen!

    1. Wow. What an ass! I can’t believe he said that. Our exec director is an engineer and was the first female president of the national society of professional engineers.

  7. I should go and read that post! Even today I posted about my struggles as a working mom and how I feel like there are expectations about where my time and energy as a mom should be spent. Sometimes I wish being a mom was just something between you and your own kids. I hate that motherhood is on display for everyone. I hate feeling like I am always doing it weong

  8. What if you could stay home, financially, but you choose not to? Does that mean you are putting your duties as a mom on the back burner?

    1. That’s tough. I don’t think there is anything wrong with wanting and liking to work. Why do women have to be either or? I read about a study that just came out and it found that daughters of moms who work outside the home have higher levels of educational attainment and their sons are more likely to help out around the house.

  9. There was a specific line in one of the quotes you posted that added to the complexity of this whole parenting and working vs. staying home that I had not thought of before. “The bigger, and more important, a job we make motherhood, the harder it is going to be for those women who have the financial choice to go the office to do so.” I think that is so true. Thank you for sharing some of your thoughts on this complex subject. We just added a second child to our family and we have always wanted to foster and/or adopt. Right now we feel that with me working 30 hours a week and my wife working 40 that 2 is all we can manage. In order for us to take on more kids we feel I need to be at home. I have always wanted to be a stay at home parent (while I am Mama I still feel it changes how people see it when I say stay at home parent). The financial reality of me being home full time is difficult to put it mildly. And I do feel that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. My children are growing up too fast. I want to live a life of purpose and that purpose is not to build wealth but to make a difference. This makes me feel selfish to fear giving up my income and all my financial security as well as the few extras we enjoy in order to be at home and parent 2 more kids that have no one in their lives to do that right now. Sorry, I’m going down a rabbit hole on this. Back to the point, yes it is important to recognize the important role parents have in our society, but we need to balance that with the reality that there are many ways to be a successful parent. We need to support everyone’s right and ability to do that well by appreciating the parents at home full time and the parents that work full time and everything in between.

    On the Mama question I am a lesbian parent. When we were expecting our first child we discovered that both my wife and I wanted to be called Mom. I had always called my mother Mom and my wife felt that it suited her. I was the gestational and biological parent for both our daughters and her brother is our donor. Since my role as a parent was already defined and recognized by society so I tried to let her get her first choice on other matters and this was one of them. She is Mom and I am Mama. With my parents being from the north, my father working for a brewery and our being Catholic with me attending a Catholic school I was surrounded by people not from the south in spite of my being raised in south Georgia. So my culture is not very southern and Mama was not the name I was used to and I wasn’t sure if it suited me. As soon as out first child was born all that fell away and Mom and Mama have felt right and worked well for us. But looking at what lesbian parents choose to be called by their kids opens how I look at this. I had never thought of Mama as being more feminist than Mommy or Mom, but I think what you bring up form the article makes a lot of sense. I never thought of Mama that way.
    Melissa in Durham

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