The Cult of Motherhood Redux

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Inspired by Izzy's excellent idea to occasionally re-hash some old fav's from our earlier blogging days, I give you the genesis of the "Cult of Motherhood" t-shirt. And BTW- I don't think the Cult is limited to motherhood. Women have lots of cults to dodge - the skinny cult, the boob cult etc, etc.
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This is a letter I sent to a friend today:

I have also cried as my daughter - who is now on her own set of brain fixing drugs - refused to sleep, refused to remember her numbers, answered "Yellow", (but pronounced it "Lello") to every question she was asked between the ages of 18 months and 3 years of age, had a brain injury diagnosed that I surely must have caused because I put her in her crib too hard at some point in my exhaustion and craziness

Because it is all my fault. I am her mother and it is all my fault- just like everything was my mother's fault.

But, it isn't.

There is a cult of motherhood and it is a vast and powerful network. It has been around since the dawn of time. We are not meant to fight it, nor are we even meant to know it exists. We are simply supposed to take up the torch and perpetrate it on the next un-suspecting woman who stumbles our way into motherhood.

That is why mothers with six squaling infant on Discovery channel shows are supposed to look like the Madonna herself ( and I am talking the Jesus Madonna - not our cultural Madonna) - Or maybe they are supposed to look like both - alluring, fit, fashionable and all sacrificing wearing sack cloth and preparing organic meals.

While I am not talking about a vast right wing conspiracy here, I am talking about what women allow to be done to them, when we accept this fake version of what is really happening in our homes and in our lives.

You can't smile and be supportive EVERY time you are wiping up shit off your childs ass - or you've been puked on AGAIN, and you are so tired that you find yourself washing your face with shampoo. Sometimes - when your kid has decided that the only food item they will eat without a Massive tantrum is full on nitrate-ridden hotdogs - even though you have prepared their all organic meals up to that point when a family member introduced them to the wonder of hotdogs and now that is all they will eat and you think "I am the adult, I can tell her to eat the peas and I will stand here until she does so"

And after three days of your baby not eating, you crumble and boil her a hotdog and hand it to her.And now all she will eat is hotdogs and Kraft macaroni and cheese.

And when you cry to your real friends and your therapist, they ( all realistic mothers) say - "Honey - she's eating something right? Then it is no big deal"

When each of my friends approaches motherhood, I give them this gift. At some point before their baby is born, I sit with them and say "I am the mother that you can tell that you HATE being a mother, You hate this child and you hate your life." I will not judge you. I will agree that motherhood sucks and that you may well be going crazy. I will agree that the husband who planted this demon seed in you is an evil, evil person and this is clearly part of his plot to bring you down. And yes, his genetics are the reason your child acts this way. Then I will help you make a plan to get through this - because that's what real mom's do - they get through it- however they can."

The best gift we can give our friends and daughters is the truth. Motherhood is hard and we are human. I don't want my daughter to be thinking "How did my mother do this?" as she cries over her newborn. The best gift My own mother gave me was when I said to her "I just want to drive away from her - I can't stand it anymore" and she laughed and said "Honey - there are so many times I wanted to drive away from the three of you - so you tell a real friend and they agree and then you don't. You don't drive away forever - you may need to take an occasional break -but you come back. All mothers want to leave - they just don't talk about it."

That is the cult. The cult makes sure that most mothers don't talk about it - don't even acknowledge it is happening. Cult's isolate and make insiders feel superior - which is what the race to be the uber-mom is all about. I can bake, I can work full time, I can paint the house, I can give my husband sastisfying sexual relations, I never need sleep, I can sew ALL the costumes for the school play and read to my child every night so as to encourage their brain growth. I can grow and can my own organic vegetables and fruit. I can grow, slaughter and process my own organic beef, chicken and fish. Did I mention that I grow and pick and mill the cotton that my families clothing, towels and sheets are made of? I weave and dye the cloth between the hours of 1 a.m. and 3 a.m., so as not to wake anyone else. At 4 a.m., I take an hour to throw and fire the clay plates we will need so that at 5 a.m., I am setting the breakfast table and ironing the clothes I have just finished making. Then I cheerfully sing my family awake with the song that I have composed on the lute I have crafted from the willow by our house. And the forest animals and birds come to sit on my porch and rejoice in the beauty that is my voice as they all agree what an excellent mother I am.

19 Baleful Regards:

Mom101 said...

This is haunting and poignant and honest and heavy and amazing. I'm so glad you dug it up and reposted for those of us who came to you a little later than others. The best advice my mother has given to me is that everything you do as a mother is right, and everything you do as a mother is wrong. Once you accept that it all gets so much easier.

Meanwhile, I just realized you are not on my blogroll which is an absolute travesty of justice.

Lisa said...

You are so right! Its part of the reason I started my blog. I didn't want to be another one of those blogs about how motherhood is so beautiful 24/7 and how my child isn't a pain in the ass, he's spirited. He's not stubborn, he's tenatious! Yeah ok.

Motherhood is hard. Once when I was at a playgroup, I joked about needing a happy hour by 10 a.m. most days. I asked these women, "do you ever feel completely emotionally beat up before 4 p.m. EVERY DAY? They looked at me like I was crazy. I left that day and cried because I was sure they thought me total trash. And I needed some friends in the area (my oldest friends live an hour away near my hometown.)I need a safe place to talk.

Now we all know each other better but I've noticed that since I've started admitting I feel overwhelmed a few have "let down their hair" enough to admit things like that too.

I think if enough of us admit motherhood can be difficult, raw and exhausting then maybe it will make other moms feel more comfortable about their feelings too. Bravo to you Dawn. I hope a few overwrought moms happen to see this post. It would do them a world of good to feel they aren't alone.

Jess Riley said...

I'm not a mom yet, but this post still resonated with me. Well-written, beautiful, honest, and insightful. My hat is off to you and the other mothers out there.

Catherine said...

I've got to print this and post it over my bad wallpaper-removing job that almost killed my eight-year-old. Thank you for sharing this with us newcomers. BEAUTIFUL.

mama_tulip said...

This post is awesome, and so true. I'm really glad that you posted it, especially after the day I had yesterday, when yes, I did want to run. Far, far away, perhaps to Mexico, to ingest Coronas at an alarming rate of speed and not worry about the chaos going on at my house.

Thank you.

Praying for your Prodigal said...

Yes, LIFE happens! :)

/diane

Gurukarm Kaur said...

Perhaps not a right-wing conspiracy, but... a media conspiracy? Or at least all of them jumping on the same bandwagon: "See Cindy Crawford, lovely supermodel/mom who 'does it all'" [and oh by the way has three kids by three different dads], vs. "nasty welfare mom who has three kids by three different fathers - slap her on the wrist!" - this comparison from "The Mommy Myth" - well worth reading, check your library!

Cheers,
Gurukarm

V said...

Sing it sister....
My best friend and I have had this exact conversation. Beautifully written...defintely time for motherhood to be outed.

MrsFortune said...

I agree with what everyone else said, and ... can I have your phone number so that I can tell you how much I hate it when I feel the need? Just kidding, but I totally resonate with what you're saying, even though my son hasn't quite arrived. I HATE that "fake" version of motherhood that we're expected to espouse.

mothergoosemouse said...

Dawn, I really appreciate your honesty on this point - on ALL points, but on this one in particular.

I try to be honest with people, at least when it comes to describing my own experiences. I know that not everyone's child-bearing/child-rearing experiences have the same level of suckitude, but it never hurts to be honest about how much it sucked for me (and sometimes still DOES suck).

My mother used to threaten to leave. It scared and confused me when she would do that. Now it makes me sad to think that she had no one else with whom to share her frustrations. I feel so fortunate that WE DO.

Meghan said...

Right on sister.

Perfection is annoying. And also a blatant lie. I don't want to know any perfect mothers or perfect people. Because they are full of crap-o-la. They perpetuate the lie that keeps women feeling badly about their secret shameful failures as mothers. It's so NOT empowering!

Bobita said...

This post is excellent. I sent a similar comment to Kristen at Motherhood Uncensored...

Any time one of us who KNOWS what it is really like to be a mother...sheds some light on the truth...we are helping to change the myth...or the cult.

I am writing my dissertation on this very topic and have read many books that also help to dispel the myth of mommy-perfection. At every opportunity, I share the list with friends who are moms and friends who are not yet moms.

The list: The Mommy Myth, Misconceptions, The Price of Motherhood, The Mask of Motherhood, the Bitch in the House, The Beauty Myth and Mothering without a Map.

Thank you for your honesty. And thank you for being the friend that others can turn to...when they experience the truth of motherhood and need an understanding ear.

Sugarmama said...

Especially nice last paragraph! This totally reminds me of my vision of motherhood before childbirth--organic foods only, vegetarian only, no t.v., no synthetic fibers (?!), homebaked cookies, ad nauseum. I know only do a few of those things. Well, kinda. O.k., actually only the homebaked cookies because sometimes I just NEED as many as I can scarf down while no one is looking! The rest of it I have completely let go. My older daughter has begun asking me lately on my bad days, "Mama, is it hard to have 2 kids?" Oh, yes, darlin'. Harder than you know...
I've been thinking about the whole "conspiracy" idea all day, though. If I can clarify my thoughts, I may blog them tomorrow myself. Personally, I think the expectations we struggle with are mostly internal. At least, for me they were. Something to think more about...

Nancy said...

Wow. You know it's a good post when it leaves *me* speechless.

You're so right, sister.

Christine said...

That is an amazing, poetic post. I dont have children myself, but somehow felt that there was more to motherhood than the cheery Baby Story on TLC proclaimed. "Yes, he's an angel". I would like to have a child soon and it's good to know what I'm getting into.

Now big question that every childless couple has: Are you happier with children than without? If you had to do it over again...

I'm sure I know your answer, but I've never heard anyone say, "don't have kids", once they've had them.

IzzyMom said...

This is an amazing post. You've tapped into some of my innermost thoughts. Thanks for recycling it and thanks for the link :-)

Starr said...

I found this blog to get some instant help on how much my daughter just makes me feel soooo insane, when I love her sooo much yet I can't stand being a mother.
This post says so much...
To CHRISTINE.. I only have one daughter, alot of my friends think I'm "mary poppins or super nanny" etc even though I talk to them about problems and issues with motherhood...AND I have said to people DON"T HAVE THEM!!!!
Problem is its a nasty thing call instincts, hormones and they are cute.
I knew for years I didn't want to have children then along came those hormones etc that just said BABY BABY BABY.
I have tried SO hard to do all those things right like eating organic etc and have had some great times but the Other not so nice feelings seem to out weigh/take over the good ones..
I would like to hear some things to help get rid of those awful feelings, but not the "It's so awesome being a mum" ones.
Its not that once you have them you wish they were gone but you grieve the life you had, and would go back to it not knowing the child..still what 's its all about??
I just wish it wasn't so hard and complicated.

Anonymous said...

Small correction to another comment: Cindy Crawford doesn't have three kids by three different men, she has two kids by one man, to whom she is still married. Somebody got their facts wrong.

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