Is motherhood really that hard?

Jacinta Tynan is asking. Before I unpack this article, I just want to say that I’m very happy that Jacinta is enjoying being a Mum. That is fantastic. However, she is only one woman and her experiences do not reflect those of every woman. Sometimes motherhood really is that hard. I think there may be a fair whack of unexamined privilege there.

1. Yes, there are sleepless nights (many of them, in a seemingly endless row), but there is nothing difficult about being up all night with the love of your life. Not all women are able to  be up all night without consequences to their own health, happiness or general wellbeing. Some women can’t afford to be up all night because they have to go to work the next day in order to pay the bills and put food on the table. Some have health issues which don’t allow them an all nighter. Some don’t have the option.

2. But it is not hard. Hard is being tied to a soulless job for 80 per cent of your waking hours. Hard is fighting cancer, or having a child who is. Or not being able to conceive a child when you ache for nothing more. But soothing a crying baby who won’t sleep for love nor money is a privilege, not a hardship. Wiping spew off your jacket before bolting out the door to a meeting is funny, not a drama. Soothing a crying baby who won’t sleep for love nor money is a privilege? Trying to help a baby screaming their lungs out in pain that you can’t seem to counter is a privilege? Walking around until you feel like your arms will break seconds before your heart does is a privilege? This smacks of ‘just because you were lucky enough to have a baby and now you’ve got what you want why don’t you shut up your whinging?’ We don’t say to athletes who have just won a gold medal – well you’ve got what you wanted, so don’t you dare mention about how hard it was to get here, how much you have sacrificed, just be happy you got what you wanted and shut up, yet we are happy to say that to mothers who dare suggest that motherhood is not all love and roses all the time.

3. It is not fashionable to say so. Uh huh, that’s why it’s an article in a national newspaper. Yep.

4. And it can be. It just doesn’t have to be. Absolutely. With enough money to pay bills, run a car and shop occassionally or have access to good public transport a sling/stroller or other baby carrier that you can wear without straining yourself, access to the internet for internet shopping (where available), a partner who does their share of the housework and childrearing, access to childcare, a flexible part time job if you want it, a circle of supportive family and friends, a healthy baby, two parents with no major health difficulties or difficulties adjusting to parenthood, or depression or post natal depression, or trouble breastfeeding, or inability to breastfeed it can all be a breeze. Unfortunately not everyone is able to tick all those boxes. Some parents can’t even tick one. Are they allowed to say that it is hard?

5. But I do think we could learn a thing or two from our mothers and grandmothers. You never heard a peep out of them about mucking in to double the kids and double the workload, with no online groceries or disposable nappies. Sure, they didn’t work (most of them) but they also appreciated that being a mum was one of the better things in life. What rubbish. I’ve heard more than a peep all of it fully justified.

6. How tragic to begrudge it because we can’t find time to read a book. I don’t begrude having children because I don’t have time to read a book. I begrude being expected not to take the time to read a book while my partner goes about and does his own thing as if the children weren’t his responsibility (this is not the case anymore, but I had to fight for it). I need time out to myself to read to feel comfortable and whole. If I don’t get time to read I feel unbalanced and unwell. It is a need, not a want.

7. cherish those moments when it was just my baby and me together, the only light on in the street. I too cherished those moment, but then I chose not to put the light on and have only street light. I didn’t have a situation where the streetlight was the only light because the electricity had been cut off the week before, or I didn’t put on the light because I was wondering how I was going to pay the electricity bill. Not everyone has my level of economic privilege.

8. I am blessed to have a stimulating part-time job and good childcare. Good for you. Not all mums have this option. Flexible part-time jobs, which not only pay but also allow you to have a sense of yourself outside being a mum can be hard to find or something that you have to give up if the realities of having a child in your particular circumstances don’t allow you to keep your job. Good childcare costs money and not everyone has access to quality childcare. Not all children can go to childcare, for whatever reason. Having access to these things is part of what makes parenthood easier. It is also a marker of privilege.

SotBO: This is only one opinion, and my dissenting opinion is only one opinion. If you are having the time of your life with your child good for you, I’m happy for you. But please don’t tell me how I should experience child raising because you aren’t me and I’m allowed to have my own experience and be heard and believed.



Categories: gender & feminism, health, media, parenting, relationships, work and family

30 replies

  1. I saw the title of this pop up in Twitter and had an instant gut level response of “YES! Today it really IS that hard.” I’ve just had a phone call from my 11 year old’s dance school, apparently she’s been clashing with another kid in one of her classes to the point where she actually slapped him across his face. And on top of that the teacher of that class feels Caitlin isn’t responding to her attempts to address the problem. I’m mortified and really not looking forward to the conversation I’ll be having in about 15 minutes time when Caitlin gets home from school. Especially as I got about 3 hours sleep last night because my flexible part-time job suddenly dumped a crisis on me that meant I had to do 3 days work in 1.5 days. /rant
    Point 5 made my head asplode.

  2. @ Mimbles ((((hugs))))
    I don’t envy you that conversation. I wonder that the other child said to her? I hope you can resolve it soon.
    Point 5 was an interesting one. I have tried not to go into what Jacinta may have been thinking, because I’ll never know for sure, but I did wonder about that comment. Perhaps they too enjoyed some privilege which made it all a bit easier?

  3. Ack Mim! Much sympathy, that sounds like a really difficult sitaution.
    Point five makes me feel a bit cranky, too. Not to mention confused. Is she really saying that because imaginary Mum & Gran stayed home all day keeping the house and children clean, boiling terry squares for their bottoms and hauling them to the supermarket on their own in order to feed them and her husband, we should never ask for or want anything better?
    The Good Old Days aren’t what they… were. Or something.
    Since my pregnancy I’ve taken to asking my older relatives about their own lives as new mothers. I can’t say ‘not a peep’ really comes anywhere close to what they’ve told me.

  4. Ye gods, what planet of parenthood is this woman from? Being up all night is not difficult? Hell yes it is. And mum and gran didn’t work? Hell yes they did. They slaved their guts out looking after their family and keeping house etc. It isn’t done to begrudge not being able to read a book? Hell yes it is, especially when books are what keep me sane and functioning! I would really like to shove this article in front of Ms Tynan the very first time she whinges about something motherhood related. With a hella healthy dose of ‘I freakin’ told you so’.

  5. Also, hands up if your mum and/or gran did housework, laundering, mending, ironing, bookkeeping etc for other people in order to make the household ends meet?
    This romantic view of how motherhood worked in previous generations is so fucking classist.

  6. Maybe the reason for not hearing a peep from the older generations is that some entitled people nowadays don’t bother asking? Or maybe that the older generations grew up with the knowledge that “this is just the way it is” and learned never to complain?
    Not a peep. Fuckin’ A.
    I’ve spoken to my mum and my granma at length about what their lives as mothers have been like. My granma worked friggin fulltime as a teacher while raising three kids and keeping house. Sure, my grandparents were affluent enough to have a house-help (young lady) in the earlier years, but there’s a reason granma had to work fulltime in the later years without any help at home. And grandad sure didn’t lift a finger in cooking and cleaning or anything.
    Complaints? Nyeh, if she did she probably would’ve been shouted down by him. So she learned not to.
    But not a peep? Well – I bothered asking, becase I cared. Maybe that’s what it takes.
    My granma was awesome, she was on top of everything – and I betcha she planned even her death. She died on Mother’s Day this year.

  7. Sure, they didn’t work (most of them)
    I feel she felt obliged to tack the “most of them” on as an afterthought. Try “some of them”, sweetie. The ones with the wealthier husbands.
    But I do think we could learn a thing or two from our mothers and grandmothers. You never heard a peep out of them about mucking in to double the kids and double the workload, with no online groceries or disposable nappies.
    Are these the same heroes who post on threads in the MSM about progressive changes such as parental leave, with “I brought up 17 kids and never had any money from the govmint!@!!!!! The young things of Today should just Suck it Up and Suffer Like I Did!”?

    Not all women are able to be up all night without consequences to their own health, happiness or general wellbeing. Some women can’t afford to be up all night because they have to go to work the next day in order to pay the bills and put food on the table. Some have health issues which don’t allow them an all nighter. Some don’t have the option.

    Yes yes YES. Maybe Tynan’s second won’t be as easy. She’ll be shocked, shocked I tell you. Why didn’t the feminists warn her???????!!

  8. Mimbles, I feel for you. Just had Big Talk with son’s home room teacher; Like your Caitlin, nothing earth shattering just AARgh and EEp and WTF and Please can I have a gin and tonic now.
    And the way in which the difficulty presents itself varies so much from family to family.
    For my first, the nights were very difficult but otherwise she was a breeze. No. 2 I coped OK with the nights, but he’s still messing with my head!
    And then they start going out CLUBBING and DRIVING…..

  9. Thanks for all the hugs and sympathy everyone. It wasn’t too traumatic in the end, I didn’t have the energy to do anything other than have a very calm very controlled conversation 😛 Cait reckons he kicked her before she hit him and it was a once-off anomaly, they get on just fine usually. Anyway we discussed the unwisdom of losing one’s temper and she apologised to her teacher in class this evening. I think I may need to try and have a chat with the teacher still. *sigh*
    Helen, I refuse to think about cars and clubs yet, it makes my head hurt.
    My grandma (now 99 years old) had twins in July, I’ve heard the stories about having to farm out loads of laundry to the neighbours to be dried around their fires in order to keep them in clean nappies, she certainly never sounded like she thought that aspect of it was one of the better things in life.

  10. Soothing a crying baby who won’t sleep for love nor money is a privilege? Trying to help a baby screaming their lungs out in pain that you can’t seem to counter is a privilege? Walking around until you feel like your arms will break seconds before your heart does is a privilege?
    It shouldn’t be. But it is.
    Ask a mother who has had to give up her child for whatever reason–she was bullied into placing a baby for adoption; Child Protective Services interprets her autistic daughter’s bruises as signs of abuse; her country doesn’t recognize her as a mother because her now-deceased partner is a woman and she has no legal rights.
    These are women who would *die* for the privilege of sleeping 2 hours a night and feeling like their arms are about to break.

    • Willow, while I think your points above are a valid privilege check, I would hate for anyone who is feeling that “fuck yes, motherhood is hard” to now feel silenced because their privilege in respect to women who don’t have children at all has been raised.
      Motherhood is often physically and emotionally overwhelming, especially since the modern nuclear family structure, especially in suburban islands, often leaves mothers isolated from adult company for much of the day. The lack of social support from outside the family is often more stressful than the lack of shared childcare within it, because the gender roles have been established as what to expect (challenged though those expectations need to be!), but the wider social isolation often comes as a very nasty surprise.

  11. Oh, wow, I did come across rather strong. I am sorry to anyone who feels silenced.

    I wonder, if society started to treat motherhood more like a right than a privilege, would the social isolation/oppression of mothers diminish?

  12. @ Willow – Interesting question. As you correctly identified hetero, cis gendered, white women generally don’t get treated as if parenthood is a privilege, apart from the odd newspaper article.
    I think we would be a better society if everyone believed and acted as if parenthood were a right for all women people regardless of their sexuality, gender orientation or colour. Then we’d have to be careful not to marginalise women people who choose not to have children or who are unable to become parents. Very fine balancing act which, IMHO, we as a society aren’t terribly good at.

  13. My apologies, I should have said “hetero, cis gendered, TAB white women

  14. ….
    I am terrified of being a mother, I have been for years, because if I go without sleep for any length of time, my body collapses, and I start to lose my grip on reality – ie I get completely paranoid, angry, confused etc. and I’m so scared of the effect that could have on the child. (I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.)
    That said, becoming a mother is a difficult proposition in the first place, as I’m not allowed to adopt, and where I live doesn’t allow help with my fertility, and I have some pesky standards, health and otherwise, as to who I’d choose for a turkey baster donor.

    • Kite, it sounds as if you have enough to be going on with, definitely, without adding motherhood to the mix unless you were very strongly longing for it.

  15. Oh I am so glad you took this to task.. I was going to and then just ran out of time, you know, with all my loving every second of motherhood I sometimes don’t find the time to do anything else but be ecstatic.

  16. @ Mindy,
    I have a feeling that if we, as a society, did the mental and emotional work that a fundamental revisioning of “parenthood” would entail (i.e. viewed it as a right rather than a privilege–although I want to be careful here that there are limits on the right to fatherhood in that NO man should have the power to force a woman to have a child she doesn’t want), the marginalization of childless women would be less of a concern as well. Right now motherhood is seen as a privilege and something we should *aspire* to, and if you don’t want it (because if you’re unable to have kids for whatever reason, it’s really just ‘cuz you don’t want it enough, of course) something is very, very Wrong with you. Visioning motherhood as a right takes away that justification for passing judgment, IMHO.

  17. Right now motherhood is seen as a privilege and something we should *aspire* to, and if you don’t want it (because if you’re unable to have kids for whatever reason, it’s really just ‘cuz you don’t want it enough, of course) something is very, very Wrong with you.

    Willow – I agree with you that reproductive justice must include and encompass the right to motherhood. However I think the way this sentence is phrased leaves out the fact that only a very small group of privileged women are expected to and pressured to aspire to and pursue motherhood. For many other people – disabled, trans, poor, young, old, fat, non-white, and so on – aspiration to or actual parenthood is deprecated and even denied by force or coercion.

  18. Hm. I guess I wasn’t clear. I absolutely agree with you that only a very small subset of women are, according to society, “supposed” to be mothers. However, the message that “all good women aspire to be moms” is sent out to women who are not included in the subset (such as me!), in addition to the ones who are. We don’t receive pats on the back for NOT being a mom–like, “oh, good girl, we don’t think your body and income are right to have offspring so thank you for not spawning”–but if we *do* become moms, the experience of societal bullying seems to be worse for us. (I am not a mom so I defer to others here).
    At least, still being bombarded with the ‘every good woman wants to be a mom; you should too’ message is *my* experience. And then in the next breath these same people will talk about how women like me have no right to have kids.

  19. I can think of only one female parent of previous generations who could said to be “peep”less – and she was the kind of person who complained about nothing, ever.
    My grandmother (8 kids, 7 survived to adulthood) told many tales of raising children, and I can’t think of a one that was about ecstatic joy. Fear, anger, frustration, chaos – yes. She told the tales with a sense of humour that showed that she probably thought it was worth it in the end.
    I have a great aunt, however, who told me never to have children because they just caused so much heart ache. She raised her 3 boys without a husband in a foreign country (to escape the abusive husband), working full time and taking in boarders. She lost one son at 17. Another son was in a severe bike accident which left him just barely self-sufficient at 21. In that case, she had to fight to keep him alive because the doctors had decided his life would not be worth living.
    Yep, motherhood is a breeze and always has been.

  20. When you stifle and don’t acknowledge feelings of hardship, this is the result. “Motherhood isn’t hard!”

  21. Sure, they didn’t work
    Funny, my mother has always worked – she retired last month but it doesn’t seem to have stopped her working, my grandmother only stopped paid work in her 80s, and even my great grandmother worked – I have her certificate of qualification framed and hanging on my wall.
    And whether they complained or not, I didn’t know my great grandmother, my grandmother reckons having kids was great, and mum complained and still complains vigorously that no-one had warned her what being a mother would really be like. Which possibly all goes to show that it depends on the person and their individual experience (which you all knew anyway) but also (which you knew as well) that the myth of women not working outside the home is such a bullshit middle class myth.

  22. A really excellent post, Mindy. One of the greatest gifts that came to me during my first pregnancy was the advice of a friend who’d recently had her first child and who suffered postnatal depression. She was among the very few of our friends who supported us moving to Canberra because we could have space and time. When things were really hard, it helped to remember what she’d talked about, and to talk to her.
    It also helped to remember my mum telling me about her early postnatal period with my sister, which she mostly spent lying on a bed in tears.
    Women who are struggling with motherhood, for whatever reason in the world, need to be listened to and supported. This kind of article is ammunition for the unhelpful (if sometimes well meaning) types who think that the joy of a baby is some kind of emotional and economic trump card. Look! You have a baby! Be grateful! Don’t complain!

  23. FP, that’s Jo (@jocaseau) a fine Melbourne blogger! Jabberwocky seems defunct now but she’s been appearing regularly in the AGE, power to her arm!

  24. Hehe, I was thinking the whole time how she sounded like a good blogger! 🙂 Yay.

  25. I love this post. I’m not a mother, nor will I be for a while. But I’d say ninety-five percent of the mothers I see in the shops or listen to in their little spare time are very much aware of how bloody hard being a mother is. Not a peep? Oh, please. They love their kids, don’t get me wrong but they’re tired, overworked, constantly ill from bugs the kids bring home, and they have so little time to themselves. “It is not fashionable to say so”? In what world? I see pregnant/recent mother celebrities spouting identical soundbites about how wonderful pregnancy and new motherhood is–and for them, I imagine it is relatively easy, but I don’t think they’re allowed to talk about spit-up and teething screams. All these misty, dreamscape views of motherhood read like Hallmark cards.

  26. Did the women in point five of the article not complain, or were they just not heard?
    I’ve heard my grandmothers swap stories about how they had struggled to make ends meet – how my mum’s mum started eating less when my mum started to eat more at the age of two, because they couldn’t afford to by more mince.
    I remember someone asked Felicity Huffman about whether, despite all her professional accolades, her children were her greatest achievement. She said that she found the question insulting.

  27. I remember someone asked Felicity Huffman about whether, despite all her professional accolades, her children were her greatest achievement. She said that she found the question insulting

    Yes. That’s a kind of pabulum which all women are expected to repeat. I wouldn’t mind if all parents were expected to repeat it, but it is something women are expected to say in interviews. (Or else they are unnatural hags!!!)

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