• Jenna

The Working Mother Paradox

To work;

Is to be engaged in physical or mental activity in order to achieve a result.

To mother;

Is to bring up a child with care & affection.

And yet to be considered a working mother. A woman needs to leave the home and outsource a financial income. It is only then that the title "working mother" can be applied.

This simple analysis of the definitions surrounding what "work" & "motherhood" are, says a great deal about how women's contribution through child rearing is not deemed by society, or the economic system as significant, or of financial worth. Therefore it is of no value. And yet many would argue that being a mother is one of, if not the most important jobs in society.

You would be hard pressed in this day and age to find a mother who would not agree that the role is laborious, demanding, tiresome, albeit rewarding work. All would certainly be in agree that the role involves physical, mental & even psychological activity and labor. In fact child rearing, minding & educating is a paid profession in and of itself. EXCEPT of course you make the complex & challenging decision to raise your own children. Then you are economically on your own, or at least you are if you live in one of the so called "progressive" countries such as America, which currently has no mandated maternity leave, or Australia where it is a low 18 weeks (and is conditional on how much work you have engaged in prior to maternity leave; for example if you have two consecutive children like I did you won't qualify for any financial assistance, simply due to circumstances).

It seems a strange but accepted throw back to the 1960's that if you choose to raise your own children you become the economic responsibility of your significant other ( statistically speaking in a heterosexual relationship this is the man / husband).

This lack of financial independence is not only distressing and oppressive, it affects all areas of life including negatively impacting maternal mental health, increasing stress on the relationship ( during an already stressful time ) and ultimately can affect the health and well being of the entire family unit.

However when exploring financial support for mothering, it can be one of the most difficult topics to address. This is due to the fact it is layered with highly charged emotions, and deeply ingrained socialized norms and values. We have had it drummed into us that the taboo of talking about money & self worth, finds us entangled in a range of emotions. Confusion, anger, loneliness, pity grief and sadness, common when we start to sift through the experiences of mothering under a system that increasingly does not value the feminine.

It is normal that we feel that maybe it is us as the individual who is broken, and not the system that should be supporting us. For what mothers add to society in terms of a loving, nurturing and peaceful upbringing has far more value and unseen ripple effect then any economic system could ever be able to accurately measure or quantify.

Adrienne Rich in her book, Of woman born, Untangles these feelings for us through this powerful analysis the physical and psychic weight of responsibility on the woman with children is by far the heaviest of social burdens. It can not be compared to slavery or sweated labor because the emotional bonds between a mother & her children make her vulnerable in ways which the forced laborer does not know; he can hate or fear his boss or master; the woman with children is a prey to far more complicated, subversive feelings. Love and anger can exist concurrently; anger at the conditions of motherhood can become translated into anger at the child, along with the fear that we are not "loving"; grief at all we cannot do for our children in a society so inadequate to meet human needs becomes translated into guilt and self- laceration.

Rich's powerful analysis is like a healing salve for the modern mothers soul. Providing a linguistic framework to articulate the complex struggles modern mothers face in the age of Capitalism. An economic beast so pervasive and insidious it has entrapped us within an economic system that puts profits above people. And yet it is so encompassing that we are unable to identify the source of our disempowerment until we are no longer useful to the system. A time when funnily enough we would benefit from increased support systems.

With more and more research supporting what women inherently know, the first five years are considered the most important for a child's development. These formative years literally shape the hearts and minds into the people our children will become. In these years we are establishing the very foundations of our children's lives. And yet the majority of women are left with little or no choice but to return to the workforce abruptly after birth in order to survive. This is nothing short of modern slavery at its best.

How can we say we have reached gender equality when we are financially penalized for following our biological urges to bear and raise our children? Gender equality will simply not be achieved until we are able to recognize the significant & valuable contribution mothers make to society. Imagine a future if we had valued, supported, happy, fulfilled, empowered women, who felt at ease in taking the quality time they deserve to bond, nurture and care for their babies.

The way nature should be……

It has the power to truly change lives…

*Of Woman Born by Adrienne Rich; originally published 1984.

Definitions provided by https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/work

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