An English professor friend claims that there are, in fact, no good poems about mothers in all of English literature. They all end up like those sentimental greeting card rhymes.
Yet, our mothers have generally done the best they could with what theyve been given about motherhood from a culture thats filled with messages that extol motherhood while taking away as much from mothers as possible. And all the conservatives high-minded blather about valuing motherhood is suspiciously empty to mothers who suspect that something else is really going on around them, but are supposed to blame themselves for whatever it is.
Culturally, we talk a good line about the value of motherhood, but our real values are betrayed by the fact that we never use mothering as a model for dealing with cultural problems. In a society that still doesnt really value women as mens economic and power equals, many would still rather brag about putting women and mothers on pedestals.
Balancing up there precariously, women are supposed to appreciate the fact that theyre shelved up on those narrow pillars. Why, then, would they ever prefer powerful equality, pay, or monetary benefits?
Instead of mothering problems, we use political, economic and social models that replicate punishing fathers and masculine ideals fundamental to a war-based economy. We dont mother our issues.
We have wars on everything drugs, violence, terrorism, illiteracy, poverty, AIDS, delinquency, crime. And, still like well-conditioned males are supposed to, we keep on warring whether we win any of these wars or not.
Like those poorly paid professionals who also deal with children and the needy, mothers are expected to settle for fulfillment. In fact, women are still taught that its motherhood that will ultimately fulfill them as women. And that should be enough.
Instead of mainstream culture embracing the fact that healthy psychological fulfilment isnt found in others but in oneself, women are told that their fulfillment needs will be met in bearing and raising children. Society pictures the ideal woman as the mother who has sacrificed her own life goals, dreams, personal career, emotional and romantic life, and aspirations for a husbands fulfillment and for children think of the nostalgic image of the recently departed Barbara Bush.
To the extent that this doesnt work for women, as opposed to therapy or group support, the common response is for mothers who believe all this to apply more pressure on children to fulfill womens needs. Without another life beyond their children, without the financial and retirement security of a pension, without investments except those of a husband who could leave them for someone else, all their hope lies in the loyalty and emotional dependence of their kids.
Women are still even told that the really ideal mother stays at home with the children, and preferably home schools them. Theres little praise for the stay-at-home father and significantly less blame for failing fathers, but much concern about mothers balancing work and children so as to be Super Moms. And the implication is usually that the mothers (not the fathers) career should suffer.
The more pressure we put on mothers instead of fathers, the more mothers end up being the communicators of unhealthy fulfillment messages from family and society. And, as the closer hands-on parent, the more theyll get most of the derision for what are really societys, and then childrens, issues.
Instead of realizing that our systems ongoing sexism works to pressure women into this role, we continue to blame women who do attempt to find healthy alternatives that could actually provide wholeness and completion for women and result in healthier mothers.
So, children often grow up with a mix of resentment and attachment toward their mothers and other women particularly if theyre authority figures. Children want to believe the best about mom. They want their relationship with their mothers to be better.
But they know how easily the one who installed the emotional buttons in them can push them. They too are really feeling the fact that mom was taught that you and I had to fulfill her.
Blaming mothers, rather than the system, for this element of sexism, is reflected in jokes about mothers, mother-in-laws, and women. Its codified in the stereotypes about Jewish mothers, Italian mothers, or you-fill-in-the-blank mothers.
But its based in the unexamined realization by children that, instead of being here to live their own lives, a childs life goals must include fulfilling their mothers otherwise unfulfilled lives.
On top of the usual motherhood confusion, there are the lingering messages of white racism that picture traditional family values as very white. Mothers of people of color are assumed to be victims of incomplete families, over-functioning, or limited by their need to be stopgaps in supposedly dysfunctional non-white cultures.
Even though statistics show that African American parents spend more time than white parents doing homework with their children, that reality never seems to make it into the white-affirming stereotypes of the African American family.
So, mothers are blamed for the problems with our children. Fathers are faulted for not being leaders of their families affirming that masculinity-style leadership preference. Fathers are faulted for not being good disciplinarians, that is good punishers, maybe even because they didnt hit their children enough.
But Mothers are blamed more broadly for not passing on traditional values, not staying home or not staying home enough, not making their home a comfortable place, putting their child into daycare, being selfish about their own lives, acting in their own interests, being too strong or domineering, being too close to their sons, being jealous of their daughters, and on and on and on. All of these arise out of stereotypes about women and the way we condition women out of their full humanity.
And if a child turns out to be LGBT, whos at fault? Conservative theories that are still pushed by discredited so-called ex-gay ministries and the therapies of anti-gay counselors who are out of touch with all mainstream psychology, blame bad parenting in a way that often sounds like the blaming of mothers.
So, given the pressures placed on women, the hypocritical lip service for motherhood, the inhuman expectations placed on mothers, and the blaming of mothers who step out of the role for their own health, its no wonder Mothers Day is often a mix of feelings that really point to the deep changes our society needs in its deeper value structure and its on-going conditioning about what women are supposed to be.
© 2018 Robert N. Minor
Robert N. Minor, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus at the University of Kansas, is author of When Religion Is an Addiction; Scared Straight: Why Its So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why Its So Hard to Be Human; and Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society. Contact him at www.FairnessProject.org
Menstuff® is a registered trademark of Gordon Clay
©1996-2018, Gordon Clay