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

4 thoughts on “Mothering a Shared Responsibility”

  1. I can say I agree totally Claire with what you have written. As you know, I am also a grandmother of 2 blessed babies. I also was confounded by how ‘normal’ it seems to be in society’s eyes to get back to work as soon as possible. It has now become a ‘social norm’ I think. Maybe when child care becomes too expensive, we might see families problem solving and finding a different way to parent and still enjoy life.
    I remember reading somewhere that a baby does not remember its mothers face for a whole 12 months. And that early childcare interferes with attachment to mum. If this is the case and babies are now in childcare earlier and earlier then I totally get why there is a new social phenomenon called “peer orientation’. In a book called “Hold onto your Kids” by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate they talk about how in the past kids learnt vertically from their parents and their grandparents and so on. Their identity, their roles, families values and beliefs etc. Now kids are learning horizontally from their peers. I can see this clearly, if one thinks about child care and the amount of time and how early a child is in care away from family. They really do begin to learn more from their peers as they spend more time with them. This gets expanded on as child is given technology either in kinder or in primary school. Again, peers are the primary relationship as in those early years of child care. Coupled with this is parents exhaustion from working full time and raising kids, trying to live up to the Utopian ideal of family …. where does one find the time to teach skills to children? How to handle tough situations, their families values and beliefs? Where does one find the time to just ‘be’ in the moment? Do take time out for the relationship whether it is the parent relationship or the couples relationship. It is soooooo sad watching this society of ours. Children still need what they needed 60 years ago and parents still need what they needed 60 years ago. Society/politics/schools/social systems are not congruent with this need and all are suffering silently. Some not so silently 🙂
    I look forward to hearing how your journey of being a grandmother is going:)

    1. Yes Helena, the whole situation feels a little out of control interns of keeping the focus on oxytocin producing relationships.

  2. Thank you for writing about such an important but not-so-often discussed topic. As a mother of a now 2yo, I continue to feel very conscious and at times very anxious about my choice to remain almost entirely at home with him for his first two years. This was a very difficult decision for me, as I had a job that I loved and wanted to go back to, and a strong professional identity within this role that largely defined me as a person at that point. But I also made the decision prior to having a child that my priority would be ensuring he had the best start to life, and my personal and professional wisdom (my job and training was/is in social work and child and adolescent mental health) led me to very strongly believe in staying home. I realise even as I write this that this is a very strong statement to make, and I am at risk of coming across as very judgemental. I know how vulnerable it feels as a new parent – but the point of this comment is to say that I think that these are the sorts of difficult conversations we need to be having, OFTEN, and I just don’t believe there is a platform to have them on. I worry about future generations who have lacked enough one-on-one attuned care giving in their early years, those that look to peers as Helena mentions. I’m still not back at work, still looking for a role that will allow me to parent the way I want to parent, and still having moments of panic and identity crisis when I contemplate how I will return to the workforce. But I don’t regret my decision. I just don’t think large groups of very young children in childcare get what they need to build healthy social and emotional brains. As you say, its a social issue.

    1. Thanks Julia for your comments, it’s such a complex issue and one that should be shared by the community. Raising the next generation is a job for us all not just each individual family in isolation.

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