An Uncomfortable Truth

June 1, 2014 § 4 Comments

Graduating in Women's Studies, 1998. Sol and I had just begun living together.

Graduating in Women’s Studies, 1998. Sol and I had just begun living together.

As a young feminist at University, I vowed that my future life would be immune to stereotypical ideas about ‘women’s work’ that devalued the role of mother and home maker.  I drank in all that I learnt in Women’s Studies: the subtle and not so subtle ways that women’s roles are presented as less important, and the loss of identity and prestige that can occur once a woman becomes a mother.

Within two years of finishing my degree I found myself with a baby. And since then….four more babies over ten years have provided ample time as a mother and home maker to put my ideals to the test.

As a younger mother I revelled in creating a beautiful home and raising my children. I used my crafty skills to decorate my home, I spent hours cooking healthy yummy food, and played with the kids, took them to the park, painted with them, read to them. I think back to those days: with one, two, three children and see them as golden days – where my energy was inspired and mothering was my purpose, my vocation, and I was good at it.

I reconciled the fact that I was suddenly living a ‘traditional’ role by asserting that it was my choice, and feminism is about choice, after all. From time to time I would dream about possible future achievements, or experience some day to day frustration about the sometime mindless repetitive nature of motherhood, but I channelled this energy into my daily tasks.

When I look back to try to pinpoint when things changed, I think it is around the time Zara was born (my fourth). We had moved from Queensland back to Sydney, but were living with my mother. Suddenly I had no control over my physical surroundings: the ability to create my beautiful home was taken away from me. And the limitations of our living environment also brought unwelcome influences to how I could parent. I felt a loss of control in that area too.

For the time that we spent living with my mother, until Zara was one year old, I packed away large parts of myself. There were benefits to that living arrangement, but I did not feel free.

Another turning point came when Robin (our fifth) was born and then was ill in hospital. Again, another prolonged situation where I experienced a deep loss of control, and restrictions on my movements and freedom. But this brush with mortality had another effect on me: it prompted me to seize the day and go for some of my long dormant goals. Suddenly being a mother was not enough. Or maybe it was too painful.

Since beginning all the projects I currently do: blogging, running craft workshops and selling craft items, I feel I have become more and more entranced with the ‘outside world’ – making money, building a reputation and body of work, creating something substantial.  And as financial pressures have increased in the last few years, I have wanted to contribute to the family this way, as well as feel important and valued outside the realm of the home.

But as my activities in this so called ‘outside world’ have increased, I notice that my respect for myself as a mother has decreased. I no longer think of myself as a great mother – every time I do one of these activities ‘for myself’ I feel I am taking my energies away from my children. I simply have no time to sit and play long games with the children now, as I once did years ago when there were just two or three children. I no longer think of myself as a great home maker: meals are as quick as they can be, and I would rather do a thousand other things than tidy up and clean all day.

And the greatest irony of all: the one thing I excel at – mothering, and bringing authenticity and awareness to the role – the one thing I have experience in and wisdom to share about, this one thing is something I could make money from, but inside I run screaming from the idea. Why? Because I feel like it is not glamorous or meaningful enough.

I feel like the biggest hypocrite in the world right now. I’ve turned into the very thing I had vowed to avoid: someone who does not value raising future adult human beings as the ultimate vocation. I’ve been saying the words for years, but now I wonder if I ever truly felt it, deep in my heart.





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§ 4 Responses to An Uncomfortable Truth

  • Heidi Hodder says:

    Unfortunately I don’t think we can be totally immune to these cultural influences despite being fortunate enough to have an awareness of them and a feminist education which so many people do not have. I think I have settled for the awareness that I am not immune if that makes sense, that I too am a product of my culture as much as I might rebel against it’s unjust conceptions of women and motherhood.

    The thing that really resonates with me is the nostalgia of this post. My situation is fairly different to yours but I think the main reason I had a third child (something my husband really didn’t want) was a desire to recreate the golden age of motherhood, it was almost out of fear of moving on to the next stage of my life, resisting ageing. But things rarely pan out the way we imagine they will. We inevitably change. I think there is also an element of ‘been there done that’for me when it comes to certain mothering activities. Of course I didn’t anticipate this and I am a bit ashamed of it but it is just the way things are

  • There is great value in raising future adults, but it is not the ONLY thing of value that women CAN do. I have seen many people talk about this issue, and it’s one that both men and women face. The issue is lack of variety in tasks. You have mastered being a great mother, it is no longer a challenge. You didn’t yearn for something “more” or devalue the role of mother. You needed something different.

    Have you talked to your husband about this because I expect that he “needs something different” just as much as you do.

  • nelumboflower says:

    Thanks for sharing this Kirrilee, and putting words around something I’m feeling strongly these days.

  • Maryen says:

    I believe you believed. I know you did from the way you just wrote about your mothering.
    But as human beings we are constantly evolving… Becoming your future self does not devalue your past self . You are both perfect.
    Thank you for sharing… I feel deep empathy for you, and you have given me insight into my own journey.
    We are not alone!!!!

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