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.
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.
It’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.