Mothering a Shared Responsibility

Whenever we talk about parenting or mothering the focus, in the main, is on those who biologically created the child. No amount of feminism seems to have shifted that women are the ones doing the bulk of the work at home and fortunately or unfortunately has added the pressure and right to keep a career also ticking along.  The outcome of this is a bit of a pressure cooker for mums.

By culturally keeping the focus on mothers ‘mothering’ we can hide other influences. I would like to see an extended definition of ‘mothering’ to be a multi layering of relationships starting with the personal and usually biological connection, but to also include community, cultural and political influences.

everyone wants attention from mum
everyone wants attention from mum

Anne Hollonds the director of the Australian Institute of Family Studies wrote in the current issue (no.97) of Family Matters wrote an article titled Why do Families Matter for our Future she writes: There are a plethora of research reports re-examining and re-reporting extensive evidence on the importance of the early years on later life outcomes. If this is the case, as a community, shouldn’t we be doing everything to support the ‘mothering process’ and not cook our mums? 

Through my grandmother eyes I watch my daughter’s generation facing pressure to work and earn – I don’t remember having this imposed on me as a mother. “Jobs and growth” as the number one national imperative was something I never remember hearing when I was a new mum.

What has shocked me into making this the topic for my June blog was my daughter’s casual comment – that out of the thirteen people in her mothers group, only 2 are not back at work. Their babies are only 6 months old for f..k sake! What sort of society are we? Our mums can’t even have their twelve months allocated leave?

Oxytocin ++
Oxytocin ++

I felt very distressed about this, especially when my daughter added, that because of waiting lists in childcare not all these mums who had returned to work were happy with the quality of the childcare that they felt forced to accept.

There are so many layers to this scenario and I don’t want to add to any mum’s mounting guilt. This is a social problem.  The outcome of government policy, whether we like it or not we voted for it. The erosion of  child support, the cost of tertiary education – many would still be paying for their education, and the cost of housing. These are just 3 variables that I can think of, I could also add the fear of needing to trust the integrity of your partner, and the family law act. If you let your career suffer and the marriage doesn’t last what then… the list can go on and on. Grandparents still working full time because the pension age is now 67 and many grandmothers, myself included, struggling to recoup income after a divorce in my 50s

Another variable – the impact of interrupted sleep on health and general functioning. Another article from the current Institute of Family Studies magazine Family Matters (No 97) Doing Gender Overnight? Parenthood, gender and sleep quantity and quality in Australia by Stefanie Plage, Francisco Perales and Janeen Baxter.

I’m going to just pluck out some quotes from this excellent paper.

In Australia, the annual direct and indirect costs of poor sleep amount to over $5 billion (Hillman & Lack, 2013.)

While, on average, women sleep more than men, once they become mothers (and men fathers) the pattern reverses… These gender inequities in sleep, whereby mothers sleep less and worse than fathers, have been referred to as women’s “fourth shift” (Venn, Arber, Meadows , & Hislop, 2008)…

our findings are important and provide first-time evidence that the sleep quantity and quality of parents of young children, particularly mothers, are a cause for concern in contemporary Australia

In case you’re wondering, yes I’ve finally been getting around to doing some serious reading. That’s because I’m practising working part time – next year I want to be included in the ‘mothering’ team.

The privilege of being a grandmother - mothering without all the cultural stressors
The privilege of being a grandmother – mothering without all the cultural stressors