October 13, 2014

Breaking the Silence: The Good Mother Myth is damaging cultural leakage

Femininity is defined by a series of myths that are incredibly damaging. Dismantling these myths is a key part of why I blog about feminist issues. These myths include the purity myth, the idea that females are naturally irrational, and my personal favorite--the good mother myth.

The Good Mother Myth is the idea that women are natural mothers. We don't even have to work at it. It goes hand in hand with the idea that we are better parents. It's the reason why a woman that kills her child is mentally ill and a man that kills his children should be drawn and quartered--at least in the public perception of the matter.

It's sexism, pure and simple, and it's often dressed up as biological fact.

It's easy to identify it as such, but it's rare that you see the leap to point out that this is, in fact, an instance of Christian cultural leakage, one that is widely accepted and unquestioned.

But question it we most certainly should.

Nancy Campbell at Above Rubies is an excellent source to turn to. Just recently she wrote:

God hovers over motherhood. He is with you from the beginning to the end. Are you waiting to give birth to a baby soon? God will be with you in your birth. David confesses in Psalm 22:9, “Thou art He that took me out of the womb.”Many translations say, “You brought me safely from my mother’s womb.” 
Whether you are having your baby at home or in a hospital, put your trust in God. He is the one who brings the baby safely from the womb. He is hovering over you for the life of your baby. Trust Him. 
When the baby is born you become aware of a special atmosphere–it’s the presence of God in your home. It always comes with a new baby who is sent fresh from heaven. I reveled in this beautiful atmosphere when my babies came. 
David continues, “Thou dist make me hope when I was upon my mother’s breasts.” As the little babe nurses at the continually available breasts of the mother, the baby learns that he can totally trust God. As the breast is always accessible, so he learns that God, Jehovah Shamah, will always be there for him. 
Another Psalmist confesses the same thing as David, “Upon Thee I have leaned from birth; it was Thou who took me from the maternal womb. My praise is continually of thee” (Psalm 71:6 MLB). 
Put your trust in God who is watching over every aspect of your motherhood.

The traditional Christian worldview requires the glorification of motherhood. Traditional gender roles hold that man is the head of the household, just as Christ is the head of the church. He is the provider, and that is his glory.

Woman is painted, from Genesis 3 onward, as the inferior partner. She is the subservient and submissive partner. The traditional view holds that she is cursed to bear children in pain and to recognize her husband as her head in all things.

To maintain such an imbalance of power--one that is entirely unnatural--you have to give the subservient party something to aspire to, something that says, "What you are doing is worthwhile, don't ask questions. Don't look for change."

For women, this is motherhood, the one area where we arguably dominate.

Motherhood, then, must take on mythical proportions. It must be the most amazing experience. It must compensate for the subjugation of self, for the abdication of personal identity. It must be the force worth of tying women to the home, no matter what other aspirations might have existed in a woman before.

The glorification of motherhood, though, is not without its damaging aspects. Like many religious cultural leaks, it has undue impact on every woman who bears a child. It can affect the woman who is unable to conceive. The woman that loses a child. The woman that doesn't bond with her child right away feels its sting acutely.

It tells the woman that wants to hold onto her own identity that she is wronging her children. It tells the woman with postpartum depression that she is incapable of loving her child, she is unworthy, she is broken.

This is the Good Mother Myth.

It tells the mom working forty or more hours a week that she is failing her child. It tells her she shouldn't ask for help, because the Good Mother can handle it all. She shouldn't be frustrated or angry or disappointed. She shouldn't wonder what her life would be like otherwise.

She shouldn't experience normal aspects of human experience, aspects we wouldn't even question in other circumstance.

It tells the woman that doesn't want children that she is unnatural, because motherhood is painted as the most natural thing in the world.

It paints it as so natural that the mother struggling with a differently abled child, or one with a particularly strong personality, that she is a failure. She is unable to aspire to that myth.

This, too, is the Good Mother Myth. And it really is time to break free of it.

The simplest way to do this is to recognize the mothers--and parents in general--are people. They are individuals. A woman is a human first, before she is a woman. Before she is a wife or a daughter or a sister or, yes, a mother, she is a human being.

And human beings have feelings. They have different talents, interests and motivations. They bring different perceptions and experiences to the table. That's how this human experience works for each of us.

It's not a bad thing. But it means sometimes Dad is more nurturing. Sometimes Mom is more ambitious. Sometimes there are Moms or Dads or whatever combination of families.

We had a saying when I was on a missions trip to Costa Rica: It's not wrong. It's just different.

If you think about it, that can apply to a wide variety of circumstances. I'd argue nearly every situation in our life could be approached from that perspective quite satisfactorily. I think it's particularly true for most human beings.

Your reaction to motherhood isn't wrong. It's just different.

It's just you.

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