Devaluation of Motherhood

When looking at 6 to 12 week maternity leave policies in the United States one has to wonder:

Do employers and lawmakers hate mothers?

Or do they hate babies?

After you push a human being out of your crotch and feel pressured to return to work before your stitches have even dissolved you have to wonder, Which of us to they hate more?

What causes policies that are detrimental to both mother and child?

Devaluation of motherhood.

What if anti-mother employment policies are a direct result of women criticizing motherhood? Women do it to preserve our hard-won place in public life. Perhaps, the end-result is damaging and harmful to working-mothers and their families because it manifests in anti-mothering employment policy.

I’m playing with the theory that the devaluation of motherhood is a bi-product of feminism and emancipation. An over-correction, if you will.

Follow my thinking here, for thousands of years women were submissive and oppressed. We were told the only thing we were qualified for was mothering. To break out of our narrowly-defined role, we did the only thing we could: we minimized and devalued motherhood.

Consider my family as a microcosm of the whole. In order for me, personally, to break away from my mother’s Church and Society sanctioned stay-at-home-mom role I minimized what she did. The cleaning, the cooking, the nurturing, the caring, the self-sacrifice, the moral building, the breast-feeding, the birthing, the nursing, the educating, the training, the whole mothering bit got reduced to nothing. Nothing important or validating anyway.

Now that I have children of my own I can see that this so-called nothing is really what makes the world go round. The growing of people, nurturing human beings, the next generation, trumps professional achievement. I want both, but the mothering keeps the entire species evolving and thriving according to the scientific Grandmother hypothesis.

To break away, I devalued motherhood and then was shocked, angry and surprised that my husband would dare equate my mothering to nothing.

I think there is ample evidence, in the last 30 years, that men will follow our lead. They’ll resist, but they will eventually follow. We are, as their mothers and wives, the most influential people in their lives. If we led them to devalue motherhood, then it stands to reason that we can lead them back.

Valuing motherhood starts with each of us. Obviously, we have made good progress. Women are not going to run back into their Normal Rockwell mothering roles, it didn’t make us happy then for legitimate reasons.

But, I think it’s a grave mistake to criticize the stay-at-home mom who does choose that role today. The stay-at-home mom reminds us that motherhood, in and of itself, is a valid ambition.

Why would employers and lawmakers hate mothers? It would be absurd to hate the very people they love most. Is it possible that anti-mother employment policies are the result of women devaluing motherhood?

Thoughts anyone?

Clarification: I use the term mothering and motherhood in a collective sense. For instance, though Oprah has no children I think she mothers all women. Likewise, Violet, who brings up some issues about mother’s in the workplace has spent 15 years mothering me, though she suffered from infertility.

Clarification II: This is not meant to be a controversial article on working versus staying at home. I suggest that when we devalue one we devalue the other. It’s meant to offer a solution:

When we value motherhood all women, working or not, mother or non-mother, single or married, benefit from family-friendly (however you want to define family is fine with me) policies.

63 replies
  1. Violet says:

    I think motherhood is a very noble and important profession, and I think it is criminal that your husband and others think you do nothing.

    I’d like to see better corporate policies for all people working in the U.S. In Europe and other industrialized countries, they have much better leave, vacation, etc.

    I don’t have kids, and at the risk of giving some unpopular opinions, let me give you my side of the story.

    1.) I don’t mind giving you liberal leave policy for pregnancy and letting you bring your baby to work, etc. if you don’t mind me taking time off to take my cat to the vet or help my mother after her surgery, or deal with my own health care issues etc. There is a sense of entitlement that I sometimes feel from mothers that their lives are more important than mine simply because they have children.

    2.) While I support your right to have kids and stay home with them, it is your choice and your responsibility — not an entitlement that the rest of us should pay for. I see too many people have children because they want the experience, not because they can pay for those kids to live, to eat, to go to college etc. Then they blame the system. A close friend with a 4yo and a 2yo just told me she wants to have another baby. They are drowning in debt! But she is “baby hungry,” she tells me.

    3.) I want you to pay your share too. I don’t mind pitching in taxes for services like schools even though I won’t be using them because I think it makes the world a better place for everyone, but it irritates the hell out of me that you think I should foot the bill while you get a tax write off for your little one. Why in the world should I pay higher taxes because I didn’t procreate? (and believe me, they are a LOT higher)

    4.) I find stay-at-home mothers to be just as snarky to working mothers and those without children as vice versa. Staying home doesn’t make you a good mother and going to work doesn’t make you a bad one and vice versa. Different things work for different people. I’m sure you didn’t intend it, but when you say things like “growing human beings trumps achievement” it seems like you are devaluing what I, childless and working, contribute to the world also. Motherhood is a valid ambition, but it is only one of many valid ways to live.

    Please, as women, I want us to find ways to respect and support each other in all our situations, lifestyles and choices. We’re all on the same team, ladies.

  2. Tracee says:

    Devaluing motherhood doesn’t result in more value for non-mothers. I would argue that devaluing of motherhood does result in less value for ALL women.

    I suggest there’s enough value to go around.

  3. jeanie says:

    I can remember, when a teenager, we were filling out the census form, and my mother wanted to know where the box was for “mother” under employment.

    She and I had a disagreement, because I didn’t think it was a job role (hooo boy, don’t teenagers know IT ALL) – but moreso because I thought she should put down ALL of her roles, not just the one of mother.

    I think that this is an issue that not just mothers should be talking about, but many men should talk about it too – as it affects their household incomes, their wives/partners/daughters and their children.

  4. jen says:

    Violet, I absolutely think you should also have the right to take care of your own personal health issues, or a sick relative. We value none of those things in the workplace, or our society in general.

    I bang my head on the wall when I see people who keep having babies, but have no money to support them. I have a close friend that has FOUR, she is a SAHM, and they are currently homeless, without a job, health insurance, or a car. She now is saying they *might* be in a bad spot because they made poor choices.

    SAHM’s can be super snarky elitist snobs, but so can WOHM’s. I say “who gives a rip if you are taking care of your family, and they are happy/healthy?”

    Tracee, an “over correction” is exactly what I think happened. Good call.

  5. Tracee says:

    The hopeful thing that all we have to do to correct the over-correction is to start valuing ourselves and each other.

  6. Tracee says:

    Jeanie, I agree we (women in the collective sense) can and should do more. But, being a writer doesn’t negate the mothering – I only thought it did.

    My theory is that when women value motherhood, in ourselves and in each other, the men will too.

  7. Violet says:

    I always love how you expand concepts. Like broadening motherhood to include all women, or broadening beauty to include all women. You’re a great inspiration to me.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Unfortunately, your own post devalues motherhood for those who came about the role by adoption because the only motherhood you mention is by way of squeezing a human out of your crotch. If you want to see some real devaluation, check out how many companies don’t provide adoption benefits for time off. That’s messed up.

  9. Dana says:

    As a stay-at-home mom who obviously comes from a very different worldview than you, I must say that I appreciate this post. And I agree.

    I used to work for two principals at once…one woman and one man. My female boss was very difficult to work with…very controlling and really seemed to strive to be the stereotypical domineering male type. The man, on the other hand, was quite easy to get along with and very flexible in his management.

    Now this is just an anecdote and doesn’t mean anything, but I always wondered if this is what we really wanted when we (as women) decided we wanted to enter the workforce and break through the glass ceiling. Did we want to strip ourselves completely of our femininity to be successful? Do we have to make ourselves masculine? Or is there room in the workplace for what a woman might bring?

    I don’t know…these were just my thoughts. And I get tired of being told directly or indirectly that my choice to stay home has somehow hurt the cause of women. I have three daughter and a son. I think I have enough of an investment in the future of mankind to guard it closely.

  10. Tracee says:

    Obviously adoptive mothers are mothers. I mention pushing a human out of my crotch, as opposed to adoption, only because that was my experience.

    Vaginal birth doesn’t make one more “mother” than c-section birth. Nor does conception and birth make someone more of a mother than the painstaking, heartbreaking, expensive and time consuming process of adoption.

    The workplace values NO mothering roles. If it did, adoptive mothers and birth mothers would get a reasonable amount of leave.

    Many countries give mothers one or two years of leave – because they actually VALUE motherhood.

  11. Tracee says:

    Dana, I agree. I think we had no other choice than to play by their rules – or they weren’t going to let us play at all.

    But, maybe the time has come to change the rules and make the workplace more family-friendly.

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