In my everyday life as a mom of a toddler and a therapist to new parents, I encounter a lot that upsets my core feminist principles, specifically that women deserve equal recognition and respect for our contributions to society and to enjoy the same freedoms available to men. First and foremost, every single woman with a new baby is impacted by our government's failure to provide adequate paid maternity leave. Mothers impacted by poverty face dizzying and unending sets of tasks to secure public assistance, most of which is inadequate and short-term. When it comes to returning to work, the cost of childcare is crippling, and women also face immense pressure to seamlessly balance their dual roles at work and home. This involves the "second shift," work inside the household that is disproportionally completed by women, even as they are paid less than their male peers in the workplace.
Amidst this challenging environment for mothering, many woman experience an additional level of difficulty due to internalized sexism. Historically women have been defined based on their success or perceived failure to produce and raise healthy children, and the pervasive perfectionism and self-shaming among women seems to be a relic of this limited view. Here are some examples: I've met with women worried that they failed to provide their children with the best start because they had c-sections. I myself spent at least 4 months of my life obsessing over my inability to breastfeed exclusively and wondering if formula was going to harm my son's health. I've heard from women that feel guilty when they return to work (because they're not spending time with kids), or when they decide not to return to work (because they're not contributing financially to the family or setting a good example as a working woman.) And from full-time moms who say, "I'm not working, I'm just at home with the baby," minimizing the enormous amount of thoughtful and intensive labor that goes into caring for a child. And in my therapy practice I've encountered women who have ignored their own pressing medical needs, including damage from birth trauma, and depression and anxiety symptoms for far too long, isolated within their suffering because they are so ashamed of having these issues.
With these realities in mind, here are some core principles about how to make change, macro, micro, and personal/internal, towards a more feminist version of motherhood.
1) Advocate on the local, state and federal levels for paid maternity leave, affordable childcare options, public benefits for families, and the right to access birth control and abortion so that entering motherhood every woman's choice.
2) Negotiate with our employers for equal pay and flexibility;
3) Communicate and assert our needs to our partners around the sharing of domestic and emotional labor.
4) Practice self-acceptance and tolerance of imperfection within ourselves, making space for mistakes, uncertainty, ambivalence, and finding our own unique path, while still believing we are good enough.
5) Share our full experiences as parents, both the joys and the challenges, with friends, family and online communities in an effort to normalize and de-stigmatize the ups and downs we all face.
6) Access the care and support we deserve, including medical treatment, physical therapy, and counseling for a mental health or relationship concerns. Treating our own needs seriously sends a message to ourselves and to others that our experience as mothers matters, that we matter!
More to come on all of these points in the future. For now here is some additional reading:
The Special Misogyny Reserved for Mothers
Is Motherhood the unfinished work of feminism?