I have a problem with language, and in particular, some of the terms used around mothering and the work women do.
It’s the kind of work that often happens to be done so efficiently that it is unseen, and of course is never rewarded with financial compensation for the time taken.
It started for me when my son was small. I expected to be the main person who looked after him, I was his mother and fed him from my own body with my own milk. However, as I got older, I expected that other people who were emotionally invested in him might be okay with him too, for a little while at least. It wasn’t the case to start with, not because my son had any issues, but because some of the grown-ups were pretty clueless about how to be with a young child. “You’ve got the Mummy Magic” I was told. To an extent this was true, I was the person my son was most attached to and I still am. However, it’s not like that because I have some kind of unseen supernatural power, it’s because I am the one doing the work.
There, I said it, work.
Not the kind that takes me out of the home, nope, I am doing the work of mothering right here. Doing the work means doing everything; feeding, cleaning, nurturing, nursing if needed, playing with, entertaining, consoling, encouraging, getting creative with, encouraging development of and among other things ensuring the health, safety and ongoing social and emotional well-being of the child.
It is work, there is nothing magical about it, I cannot wave a wand and make any of it happen, nor can I click my heels together three times and know all will be well.
I am going to say it again, I have to do the work.
Once my son arrived I was also at the mercy of a barrage of labels. Was I going to be a Yummy Mummy? I don’t know what that means really, from the media’s take on it I think it’s something to do with ensuring your physical appearance is in line with the current constructed expectations of what a Yummy Mummy might be, according to certain fashion organisations and clothing brands that want to sell you stuff so you can look this way and buy into this idea. Nope, I was probably not going to be a Yummy Mummy, I was going to be exactly myself, now with a child, do the work that mothers have to do in order to look after that person and bring them into my family.
There are worse labels. Was I going to be a MILF? What’s a MILF anyway? Someone who is sexually desirable to other people, despite the fact that they are now a parent. I find this totally offensive. Not only do I dislike people being objectified, but the seediness of the concept makes my skin crawl!
I completely understand why some people do like these kinds of ways to identify themselves. Motherhood is tough and can be all consuming and very lonely. Maybe it’s good to have some sort of framework to hang your individuality on, a discourse you can subscribe to if you want to? My issue with such things though is they focus on style over substance, seeing only appearances, not the work that goes on to make them happen.
Domestic Goddess is another label that I find really infuriating.
I have been known to swear and throw things when this term has been voiced in my presence. Maybe I am able to sort out my home so it is vaguely clean and tidy, and maybe I do cook fresh food daily, and organise everything about the home space and everyone in it.
It happens because I do the work, the hard work of always juggling things, always thinking about things in advance, of knowing what needs to be done and when, and by whom, which means usually by me. All these things happen around the paid employment I do outside the home, yet when my formal employment finishes, my work is never done. In this sense I will never achieve a work-life balance, because as a mother, I am always working.
Maybe it’s time to drop the fantasy language and magical labels and let other people see the hard work that gets things done?
Ali Jones is a teacher and writer. She is a mother of three. Her work has appeared in Fire, Poetry Rivals, Strange Poetry, Ink Sweat and Tears, Snakeskin Poetry, Atrium, Mother’s Milk Books., Breastfeeding Matters, Breastfeeding Today and The Green Parent magazine. She writes a regular column for Breastfeeding Matters Magazine. She was the winner of the Green Parent Writing Prize in 2016 and has also written for The Guardian. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram
Image credit: Flickr/Max Boschini, Mirror