Rejecting Perfection: On the Ideal of Motherhood

Photo by Jeffrey

Yesterday was Mother’s Day for many people. While in the UK it is celebrated in March, such is the reach of Facebook, that I twitched at the thought my mum might think I had forgotten to make a fuss of her. I’m ambivalent about commercial days like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Valentine’s Day. Even Christmas seems to me to be over the top nowadays. We constantly seek to rein in the exuberance of family when buying gifts for the children. I crave the simplicity of a small token and nourishing love, as opposed to the cycle of competing grand gestures.

Social media encourages picture perfect representations of ourselves and our relationships. I tire of the layers of manipulation we instinctively employ when presenting ourselves. I’m guilty of it too. We share good news, use filters and rhetoric to hide our flaws at the expense of obscuring reality. Yesterday, in the midst of reading the posts I found myself thinking about the white space between the status updates, the absences: the mothers who have lost children; the children, who have lost mothers; the women, who are told that motherhood is the ideal to reach, and who either don’t want children or are unable to have them.

Photo by Raúl Hernández González

My own mother is magnificent. She mothers not only me, but others with whom she does not have a biological tie. Mothering is as natural to her as breathing, and I am in awe of her ability to give and guide. I do not, however, subscribe to the school of thought that says women without children cannot understand or replicate the bond between mother and child. Empathy exists regardless of experience. I see nurturing women playing active roles in their communities daily; they are sisters, aunties, friends, neighbours, carers, managers, teachers, librarians. It is irrelevant whether they have their own children or not.

I reject, too, the idea that mothering is a superior path. There are many paths women choose to live, and each is as valid as the other. Having children does not make me complete. That is too narrow a focus on our talents and contributions. It places the burden of perfection on mothers. It puts too much pressure on our children. I hope I will be here long after my children need me, and that they always feel able to come back into my arms, to rest, and recharge. Even so, their dependence on me lessens with each passing day. It may not be noticeable, but sure enough, their wings are unfolding. Each day takes them away from me and towards futures of their own choosing.

Photo by Kismihok

By the time our children are grown, many people will have had a hand in their upbringing. I hold a host of women dear, who played a mothering role in my life beyond my own mum: aunties who babysat and showered me with love; teachers who encouraged me; my Brownie group leader; my German exchange’s mum, who led me to my first political texts, and who is one of the most compassionate listeners I know; a woman, who together with her husband, took me under her wing during my year abroad in a tiny village.

So thank you to all the women, mothers in name or not, who go out of their way to be a listening ear or a warm place to those who need nurturing. Thank you to the mothers who strive for the mothering ideal but fall short. That is the reality of mothering: not a saint, but a flesh and blood woman, who is flawed, but still tries her best.

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