Maternal Love: A Choice?

My mom has a picture of me, snapped at the perfect moment, right as my tooth fell out and I caught it in my hand. My delight and excitement captured in the photo (mostly about the money to come that night from a certain tooth fanatical fairy) reminds me every time I see it how great a mother I have. She was (and still is) always making a big deal about my little accomplishments and celebrating with my little sister and me during the various developments in our lives. I will never question that my mom is the best mom ever (as I think around 15 various odd Mother’s Day cards and birthday cards proudly proclaim to my mom every year), and that all she does for my sister and me isn’t anything short of amazing. But I do wonder from time to time, as she talks to me about my grandma and as I see various portrayals in the media, if any mom in today’s society really has a choice.

What I mean by that is a tricky subject. I have never experienced pregnancy or childbirth, so I cannot tell you or try to explain the incredible bond that happens between mother and child when they first bring their child into the world, but I do understand that from that experience a fierce desire to protect as well as nurture the defenseless baby is created in a sudden rush of love. An article from The Atlantic written by Adrienne Lafrance says, “What scientists do know…. is that becoming a parent looks—at least in the brain—a lot like falling in love. Which helps explain how many new parents describe feeling when they meet their newborns.” So, lets assume that for a new mother, it is biologically natural that she will fall in love with her baby and wish for it everything a mother in the mammalian family would: shelter, food, safety, etc. But then what? How is a good mother defined after the point of giving birth?

My initial response was to think that society’s expectations are slightly more individualized for each mother nowadays, allowing them more time to enjoy being single and explore various pursuits before settling down. Also, there should be more lenience in terms of what constructs a typical nuclear family today, as well as the fact of having a working mom being more acceptable, especially as the number of single mothers today is significantly more than 70 years ago. I thought back to the ads of my mother and grandmother’s time being shown on the television, of the cookie cutter family with the dad coming home, briefcase in hand, to his beautiful wife, happily serving him supper in a spotless setting as their children sit across the table and everyone smiles, even the family dog. I thought to myself, “Well, at least the media doesn’t portray moms like that anymore, because I couldn’t imagine the kind of pressure that would be to try to be a single full time mother and live up to all those expectations still.”

Then I started thinking of the last time I saw a ‘mom’ figure in the media; for example, in two movies that came out recently — The Greatest Showman directed by Micheal Gracey, and Coco directed by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina. All the maternal figures portrayed in these movies are almost exactly like the images given to my grandma and my mother, depicting women who married fairly early and then started popping out kids while supporting their husbands by staying home and keeping house. These women are happy and content with their lives, but their dependence on their husbands is clear, especially in The Greatest Showman when, (spoiler alert) the main protagonist and his wife fight, and her only means of independence from him and ability to support herself and her children is to move back in with her parents, which really just shows that her dependence merely switches from one man in her life to another in order to survive.

I do not condemn the family dynamic in which a woman is financially dependent upon her spouse, or the idea of women being housewives, because for some women this lifestyle gives them genuine happiness. But I am disappointed in today’s society, and how few changes there are in our depictions of women and their complex relationship with motherhood. When the pop culture of the day tells you to go out and be independent and a free woman, able to do whatever you want with yourself and your body, but then it doesn’t say anything about what to do after, it creates a confusing dichotomy of modern views of young women and their independence and strangely traditional views concerning motherhood. How are the women of today supposed to cook, clean, help their kids with homework and make sure they are doing alright, and also their spouse if they have one, and possibly maintain a full time job, as well as catering their schedule to any after school soccer game or dance recital or late work meeting, and also make the cupcakes for their daughters presentation in class tomorrow?

Being a mother has never been an easy job, no matter the circumstance. I could never imagine having sole responsibility over another tiny human in this crazy world when I haven’t even yet figured out how to manage my own life. But the fact that current media portrayals of mothers still show them as somehow ‘able to do it all’ gives an unnecessary amount of pressure to strive to stay up however late is needed to make those cupcakes because if they are store bought the other mothers will start to question the ability of that mom to really take care of her kids like a ‘good mom’ does. I want my mom to know right now, I greatly appreciate every late night theater rehearsal you picked me up from, all the far away tennis games and, most of all, that you were confident enough in yourself and your ability to be a kickass mom to know that sometimes sleep is way more important than any cupcakes for a presentation will ever be.