Pressure Cooking our Mums

For most of us our mum is the most important person in our lives. Whether we like it or not how we are parented does make a difference to our physical and emotional health. In the main, this places the responsibility for the next generation firmly in the hands of mums. In Australia, mostly, it’s the woman who are the primary nurturers.

When I look at the phenomenon of mothering what I find both annoying and confusing is a fundamental societal dishonesty. This dishonest enables a blindness to some core contradictions in the ways in which we treat families with young children, and in particular our mums. Every day via social media or advertising we watch  lots cheering on and celebrating  mothers, singing their praises, acknowledging the importance of loving, attentive relationships between mothers and children. In the very same warm fuzzy moment Australians as a community vote for and support government policies and social practices that undermine mothering. Ensuring that a mother’s ability to trust what feels intuitively ‘right’ is impossible to carry out without guilt or pressure. We want our mums to be perfect nurturers at the same time as eroding all support.

Consequently  we establish a mindset in which ordinary every day, stressed, mothers have pressure to become  MOTHERS!  Wonderful fictional characters who provide all: endless love, endless energy, competent nutritious cooks, always there for everyone, and to top it off – fit and sexy ‘yummy mummies’ where on earth did that awful phrase come from! No room here for your sleep deprived, exhausted, isolated and financially stressed mother.

Through my grandmother eyes I feel horrified at what I see happening to our  families with young children.  I see an unrelenting continuously tightening of regulations and standard setting, alongside ever expanding erosion of social and financial support. This pressure on today’s mum’s (and dad’s) is unsustainable, and I have no doubt contributes to our increasing statistics on depression and anxiety.

Coincidently, as expectations increase on our mothers to be MOTHERS there is a decrease in state/federal support as policy, whether intentional or just poorly planned, undermines every aspect that could support a family with young children. I listed a few that come to mind quickly but I’m sure there are many I have missed:

  1. Putting up the retirement age – many grandparents that could have provided free support are still working full time. (Introducing tax penalties for accessing superannuation prior to 65 years of age, and incrementally increasing the age of eligibility for accessing an aged pension.)
  2. The lack of a serious federally funded maternity leave program – 3 months is not enough, and it should not be linked to ones employment history.
  3. The constant budget reduction for maternal and child health.
  4. The cost of housing.
  5. The continual chipping away at the childcare system making it both expensive and difficult to find places.
  6. The increasing of the means test for subsidised childcare.
  7. Significant price increases to gas and electricity.
  8. The erosion of weekend penalty rates – the times when many mothers of young children can work.

The research on the importance of love based attachments has confirmed what everyone has known for ever – that babies need love. This research has  identified the importance of the love hormone oxytocin in infant brain development.  What has also been identified is chronic stress and high levels of cortisol is not good for any of us, but particularly problematic when it becomes dominant in a mother/infant bond. Despite funding bodies chanting we need ‘evidence based’ information this evidence is ignored.  With mounting evidence of the impact of stress on young brains you would think an affluent country like Australia would do everything to support mothers of young children.

Of course fathers are important too, but somehow most of them don’t get caught in the crippling guilt driven superwoman struggle that this blog is about.

In the main mothers are central to family life and are generally the primary comforters of their babies. Because at some level we all know this to be true I believe we have a crazy phenomenon present that has split the role of mother into two parts. There is you as a mother, or your own mother as an imperfect human and then there is superhero mother – the fictional mother that is perfect: always smiling, always available, never grumpy. This distortion, I think significantly contributes to us all not fully recognising the importance of supporting the people who are raising the next generation. It’s like we have a collective blindness regarding the future, or maybe don’t even believe there will be one!

I hope the pressure to be superhero mother is at a peak as I find it distressing to watch. Some political good will, and feel good action for the rest of us by getting behind our young families as a nation might contribute something to our spiritual emptiness. I’m not talking about religion here but the sense that as a community we have a shared interest in the wellbeing of the next generation. An interest in something greater than our own everyday lives. It feels like it would be an easy political message to sell. Your taxes supporting the emotional and physical health of the next generation via giving our mums support because they’re mums not because they’re contributing to tax revenue – which they will also be doing even if it’s via GST.

This change of attitude might also extend to supporting young families rather than regulating them into perfection. Now no-one wants anything terrible to happen to any of their loved ones, let alone their children, but sometimes things do go wrong. We can’t protect everyone 100% of the time through safety legislation. In many ways these regulations only tighten the pressure on the compliant, people who are above the law will never comply no matter how strictly we promote speed limits/child restraints/infant sleep rules/safety locks/health warnings etc etc etc. And accidents, unfortunately will continue to happen – there will always potentially be that one moment. Most parents are well aware of these and don’t need guilt piled on them if they sneak an infant into bed, or let a child watch more screen time than is recommended, or not foresee that the chair wasn’t as stable as they hoped, or whatever else. We all have careless moments. Luckily most of us survive.

In my experience I have never found guilt to be a helpful emotion and it can turn the every day fault filled mother into superhero mother. I think it’s important to make a distinction between remorse where you feel regret that you did or didn’t do something.   Here one is clear about the intention or mis- intention of what has occurred and there is more likelihood of acceptance for your own part. Guilt is often a free flowing, helpless knowing that you’ve done something wrong, generally as defined by someone else. Blame and shame are often embedded in guilt and most major organisations that want to control start by creating guilt. This we do to our mothers – not only through our current policies and taxing system but also via the voice of the expert. There are experts commenting on everything a mother should or shouldn’t be doing.

Of course this also includes me!  As an expert I’d like mum’s to ask themselves the question ‘what is reasonable’ for one human to achieve. Especially one who may never get an uninterrupted night’s sleep, or never get 5 minutes to her or himself. I hope that this question will help access intuition, no one really knows what is right for another person. The voice of the expert is really just a suggestion. We all (including experts) have to muddle along,  we all do make mistakes and terrible things can happen but they always happen in a context which is why the ‘what is reasonable’ is such an important question.  Whenever we go beyond our own ‘what is reasonable’ resources we end up in a stress driven pressure cooker and that’s when things often go wrong.


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