There is a new series of advertisements released by online retailer Amazon, with a hashtag #MomBeAGirlAgain. The general theme that they all carry is how mothers have changed so much since they’ve entered motherhood (by their own doing or not is not the matter of concern), that they have ‘forgotten’ what their life used to be like before they got married. The ad goes on to depict how with the help of their respective husbands or sons or daughters, they are able to identify a single attribute that had once defined them before motherhood, and re-live it, even if it is for a little while.
The ads have an interesting peg which they never really seek to answer – that people seem to change after they become mothers. I have always wondered why this was the case. Sure, people can’t remain the same forever and a lot of people seem to undergo major changes once they get married, but parenthood apparently does something to them – something that is far more impactful than being with your other half. At least, that is what the advertisement seems to base their whole feel-good campaign on.
I spoke to four mothers regarding some of those important aspects of motherhood to get an idea of whether or not this is actually the case.
“Didn’t we miss school, college, the single days? Do you really want to go back there? Don’t you want to see what’s out there and in store for you?” said Lucy*, a mother of two in her 30s who sees motherhood as a ‘blessing’. “When so many are deprived of it, I have the non-stop supersonic miracles in my life, forcing me to learn things I do not want to.”
The last line almost speaks of a reluctance to dip oneself into a whirlwind that comes along with having to raise a whole other functional human being. For many people around my age, parenthood, especially motherhood, on the outset, is a difficult task. Many outright question the very reasoning that motivates somebody to put themselves through vouching for someone else and taking care of all their needs and demands up until a certain age, maybe forever.
“I never pictured it to the extent of reality to this point. It ripped me right through! Ripped me off of my innocence, ignorance, independence,” she explained how motherhood affected her. At the first glance, it doesn’t exactly seem like the argument for motherhood. For many, not even at the second or the third. But for her and the few others that I had spoken to, the grind, hardwork and the very way in which motherhood is supposed to “hit you” is all part of the experience – one that should justify going through it all.
Mary George, another mother of two in her 30s, with whom I had spoken, affirmed that argument. “Although caring for a baby’s needs is hard work physically, I attest that it is also soul-satisfying and immensely pleasurable.”
Moreover, there seems to be an element of maturity or finally stepping into adult shoes that motherhood seems to carry with it. It almost seems to suggest that the period of your life before motherhood is something that doesn’t hold value in comparison to the immense responsibility that one is now handed. “There’s a dramatic shift: [children]have taken my place at the epicenter of my universe, and I suppose this state will sustain until they’re old enough to manage their situations (reasonably). Before I had my children, I only paused to worry about me and the ripples I caused.”
A very no-nonsense approach takes center stage and perhaps rightfully so – raising someone is no joke. “Now my sphere of influence has increased, since I have an intimate role in shaping a slice of the future, in readying my children for the world,” continued Mary. But does that automatically imply that the period of your life prior to that was one characterised by “ignorance” and the “ripples you caused”?
Geetha Prakash, a mother of two in her 40s, seemed to have a wholly different approach. “I used to be a tomboy in school and college. Marriage and motherhood did bring about a big change but only for a short span. Once they started school, I was back to my old self.”
When you have a baby that takes up a significant portion of your time, what happens to you? How does your self operate in a world centred on the needs and demands of a different individual.
A much discussed issue is that whether or not motherhood forces women to have to rethink their personal ambitions and priorities in a way that men don’t have to. It tends to worry some that the demands of motherhood are so powerful that it can overpower all your priorities and comfortably place itself in the center around which everything else has to sorted out – be it your job, career, appearance, health and upkeep.
“I couldn’t bring myself to leave my two month old baby with anyone else, both times, so I remained unemployed until they and I were reasonably ready,” said Mary who is based in Dubai. “When I started job-hunting after my elder daughter was a year old, I had to begin all over again, from the lower rung of the ‘ladder’ so to speak, because of the break in my career. It was demotivating, but forward was the only way to go.”
Starting from scratch at work can be a terrifying thought for many self-identified feminists. Or is this a minor rumination in the face of a much more important duty?
She expects to go through the same at work once again, having recently given birth to her second child and is currently on maternity leave. “However my choice has been an easy one – my children will always remain my priority, and a huge portion of my personal ambition.”
Whether or not this choice is also motivated by the assurance of sufficient financial backing/savings is another argument. For many, however, starting from scratch is not something they can afford. It is not uncommon to hear stories of women having to rethink their career trajectories after having kids and some even relocating countries. Careers demanding travel and inconvenient work hours would invite orders from the up-aboves in the family to make changes for the ‘welfare’ of the children.
A lot of companies aren’t too particular about hiring young woman because of the ‘fear’ that they may get married and have children and the company would have to give maternity leave. In a lot of instances, that leave period ends up becoming the cause for so many female employees either getting fewer opportunities or being demoted even if there isn’t necessarily a difference in pay.
The whole idea of a ‘balance’ has occupied much attention in public discourse ever since it became ‘normal’ for women to enter the male-dominated and designed workplace that isn’t forgiving of people with kids and familial responsibilities. “Balancing act evokes an image of a woman walking with a toddler spilling out of one arm, a laptop bag slung over the shoulder, on the phone with the office, holding on for sanity’s sake a mug of day-old coffee and the chores-to-do-at-home list,” said Mary
Debates around and across the world are raging on, on maternity and paternity leave, bringing kids to work, providing day care facilities for children at work etc. Currently, however, the system hasn’t reached a place where it is accommodating of women with babies, creating a sort of binary of ‘family’ and ‘work’. You have to either choose one or juggle this ‘balance’ – an unfair pressure predominantly on women.
On a personal note, my mother had to juggle her 8-hour job and ‘duties’ at home. We couldn’t afford ‘help’ and I have wondered aloud and to myself – did my sister and I ever become roadblocks in her path to personal fulfilment? Both my parents could be giving their best at work, but, more often than not, only one is expected to perform the same at home.
But Mary wasn’t exactly sold on the concept. “I know successful career women who are also doting mothers, but I don’t endorse this concept of a balancing act for the reason that it makes it seem like if we don’t have the balance just right, we somehow fail as mothers or women. While this can be done and it is sad that many women are having to do this, in my opinion this is the worst expectation of a woman – to do so much that she knows no other feeling than being perpetually tired. Too wrung out to be joyful about the goodness in her life.”
Her concerns raise a valuable point. Are we setting up working mothers to fail through the concept of ‘balance’ or is it empowering to do both, or one or none at all? To attempt to answer this question would have one look into who makes these decisions for women and to flip the situation around and place men in the same context. It is interesting to question whether we would be even having this conversation in that case.
“Motherhood is a demanding vocation by itself. We all have to do what we have to do. But it doesn’t help to clutter our lives with expectations of an elusive standard of excellence. Or even a fictional standard of excellence.”
Some agents behind establishing and reinforcing these ‘standards of excellence’ can be parents, family, friends, friends who are mothers, friends who aren’t mothers, in-laws.
Then there is the question of ‘choice’. Choice is an interesting concept because, in its conventional meaning, it refers to agency in making one’s own decisions. Whether or not, these decisions are affected by external influences is something a lot of people are not comfortable debating because it takes away the autonomy part of it. As subjective individual occupying a space in a context, our choices that we make may not be entirely free of what’s told to us. Let alone if parenthood can be seen as a set of decisions that rely only and only on self-thought and consent.
“It’s a steep mountain I’ve chosen to climb, but I’ve begun. Only the reminder of having a healthy bonny baby makes the rude nightly awakenings joyfully worth the while,” says Lucy.
Our ideas of gender roles have long been conditioned in such a way that we are expected to perform certain actions at certain points in our life. Motherhood being of them. And like society views it, if you don’t necessarily complete that task, you become ‘incomplete’. The jury is still out on whether or not some of the most critical decisions we make in our life can be really called a ‘choice’ in its purest form. An informed decision seems to be a more appropriate term.
But does any of this matter in the face of love. Love for the human being in which you can see yourself and the joy and pleasures of raising a sort-of extension of yourself with the utmost care and perfection. Love, seems to be the only antidote.
“Motherhood has helped me realise my potential for love. The thing about love is that it presents us with a strange combination of strong and vulnerable. That there are things in the world that could endanger my child make me very vulnerable because I love her so deeply. My battle against those dangers then becomes purposeful.”
“Do you miss the person that you used to be before you became a mother?“
Three mothers responded with a short and simple, “No.”
While one, with the swag that she carried, responded like this: “No. I don’t think I have changed. My friends still envy me as I am still enjoying my life exactly the way I want it.”