The Devaluation of Motherhood (and Why it Matters).

It is almost Mothering Sunday in the UK, so I felt it pertinent to spend some time exploring the value of motherhood in the modern age.

Mothers today are the least valued when compared with mothers at any other time in history. Motherhood is increasingly ill respected and ill regarded. Mothers lack support and guidance and their contribution to society is seen as lacking. Throughout human civilisation, mothers have been at the core of the family and indeed society itself. The family matriarch demanded respect. Hers was a position of authority and huge value.

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The last one hundred and fifty years have consistently eroded the position of ‘mother’. We have swung from a matriarchical to a patriarchical culture. Women are still not afforded the same respect and opportunities as men. Of all women though, mothers are deemed the least contributory to society. In paricular, mothers who choose to stay at home and raise their children are seen as an unecessary drain on our society’s resources. How many stay at home mothers do you know who apologetically say oh, I’m JUST a mother” when asked what they do for a living?

Our politicians pay frequent lip service to the family and child mental health. If they genuinely believed in their pledges they would start by elevating the role of motherhood to the position it rightly deserved and indeed once held. Women are only considered valuable if they work and contribute to the economy. Once she has given birth, the new mother is afforded very little in the way of financial or emotional support. She is encouraged back into the workplace as soon as possible, often far too early for both her needs and the needs of her child. Millions of pounds are spent on free and assisted childcare places. Why though do our politicians not consider the impact of mothers staying at home for the most important years of their child’s life (the first three)? How ironic that we push new mothers back into work so that they can afford to pay a stranger to take care of their child.

If mothers were supported to raise their babies and toddlers without pressure to provide financially, this would have the singularly biggest positive effect on public health. Breastfeeding rates would increase, infant mental health would improve as would maternal mental health. The next generation would grow stronger and healthier in body and in mind. No politicians think long term though. They are concerned only about short, measurable results before the next general election.

In biblical times women used to gather in ‘red tents’. Communities of women at all stages in their life who would support each other from menarche to menopause, but especially during pregnancy, childbirth and parenting. Western culture has lost these metaphorical villages. Gone is the shared wisdom of the wise aunts and grandmothers and mothers are left to navigate new parenthood alone. Alongside our patriarchical economically obsessed society a new role, that of ‘the baby trainer’ has surfaced. This role exists predominantly because mothers today cannot cope with the primitive demands of their babies and the demands of our modern consumerist society. Our babies are trained not because there is a problem with their sleep, but because the world we live in today is so far removed from being able to meet the normal needs of our babies and their mothers. We must train them to fit into our busy lives. This is no good for babies or mothers.

gentle parenting, what is gentle parenting, gentle parenting expert, parenting expert, baby expert, toddler expert, attachment parenting, attachment parenting expertIt’s time once again to understand the value that mothers provide. It’s time to stop viewing them as mere consumers and tax payers and to see the phenomenal impact they have upon society. After all, no job is as important than growing humans. The generation of tomorrow lays not in the hands of the politicians and policy makers, but in the arms of mothers. Motherhood matters, more than anybody would care to admit. We need to listen to their voices more and provide them with the means that they need to do their job, that means emotional and practical support. A movement needs to exist to override the patriarchical authoritarian voice of ‘the baby trainer’ and indeed replace it with nurturing shared maternal wisdom. Mothers matter. One day per year is not enough to show gratitude for their contributions and sacrifices. We need to move back to a position of valuing them every single day.

Sarah

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About SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.
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9 Responses to The Devaluation of Motherhood (and Why it Matters).

  1. daffodil111 says:

    Thank you Sarah

  2. wittgensteinsbunny says:

    What a beautiful post. I’m “just” a stay at home mum to my two girls. I’ve no idea how I would balance their needs if I worked away from home; yet I often feel that despite working the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life and with love and passion too, I’m not considered a “hard working” mum because I don’t earn a wage any more. It makes me feel at best sad, and at worst truly awful about myself. Thank you for your kind words, so refreshing and really reminds me that I’m doing A Good Thing!

  3. Cally213 says:

    Here Here! I have been a stay at home mum for the past 12 years but am in the minority where I live and have felt ostracised at times because of this. Would not do it any differently if I had my time again though.

  4. Marid says:

    Bravo!

  5. Bec says:

    Great article! Got me pondering about whether mothers themselves have triggered a devaluation in motherhood by striving for equal rights, particularly equality in the employment. My Nan very much held a matriarchal role of a wife and mother, but women are having children later in order to establish careers – does that choice to prioritise economic value reflect poorly on the value of my Nan’s way of life? Can we have our cake and eat it? I was raised to be a strong independent woman, driven by education and achievements alien to my Nan. Surely the government and wider society need to support both the role of homemaker and money spinner regardless of gender and free of judgement. Hard to imagine in a Country struggling with debt and a flourishing population that cannot be sustained into old age.

  6. S Lahiff says:

    I resent the trrm “stay at home mother” Iwas a “full tome mother” and had the benefit of my NNEB qualification. New parents could consider basic training in how to manage the new role. Am at present supporting my daughter in law who has just had her first baby.

  7. Fara says:

    Thanks for writing this. I’m a stay at home mum and now my youngest is school age I feel society views me with diminished value because I don’t have a career anymore neverlone any job. I find that incredibly insulting given I am raising 3 children, 2 of whom are special needs and were suicidal in the school system so now I homeschool them. To illustrate this point, I’ve had to fight hard for years to enable us to move to an area that is better suited to my children’s social life, education needs, specialists and liberal mindedness in the community – because I don’t earn money apparently I don’t have any voting rights. Now that we are moving, a number of family members have commented that my husband must be very sad and that they feel sorry for him, despite the fact he knows no one in our current community and travel to and from work won’t be affected by the move. No one has asked what I want, if I’m happy here, if I want to move or anything about my feelings or wishes. Sums it up really. I believe woman often devalue other women and that our gender could be much stronger if there was much less judgement. My mother told me when I was little in our country community, women who were married and who worked at all were deemed as non-maternal. Within 1 generation, its not only normal to work and have kids in childcare and before/after school care, but if you don’t you’re considered to be a drain on society and frankly, lazy. Why can’t we accept that we can all do things differently without being righteous about any one role we women make have in society?

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