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.
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.
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.