At the moment, I am reading Bad Mother by Ayelet Waldman. It's a collection of essays about motherhood. In one essay, Waldman mentions the difference between society's idea of a good mother, and that of the good father.
Think about the women you know, who you would describe as a good mother...
I asked people on social media what they thought made a good mother. The answers I got included:
- She would sacrifice anything
- She gives and loves unconditionally
- She never gives up
- She will do something she doesn't want to do, if it's the best thing for her child
- She sees her child as an individual, not an extension of herself
- She puts her child's needs before her own
- She gives her child both praise and boundaries
- She meets her child's physical and emotional needs
- She spends quality time with her child every day
As mothers, we are expected to be all things to all people.
We may not admit it, but we judge other mothers; whether in the street, on social media or in the gossip magazines. I do it too, especially with the gossip magazines, which seem to be designed to invite our judgement. That's for another post, though. My point is: we all think we know what a bad mother looks like; we all like to think we're a good mother; we all have an idea of what a good mother looks like, and the list is rather long.
A good mother should sacrifice of herself and her happiness for her child. She should be there when her child wakes in the night; she should be there in the morning when they wake, and for stories at bed time. She should put her child's needs before her own.
Stop for a moment now, and think about the men you know, who you consider to be a good father.
Pretty much, the only requirement for being considered a good father, is being in the room.
How often do we refer to a man as a good father, when all he's really done to warrant that title is change a few nappies, maybe do a bit of rocking. As the child grows up, perhaps they take them to the park every now and then. Many men refer to their time taking care of the children as "babysitting." Babysitting their own children.
S's father was on his own with six children when I met him. His children mostly ran ferral around the estate during the day, unless they were required to do chores at home. People knew that the children had no clothes that fit them or were appropriate. His 5-year-old daughter's school shoes were a pair of knee-high boots with heels. He was quite vocal - and proud - about the fact his children did all the housework, from cooking meals to mopping the floors. Everyone commented on what a good father he was, to be raising six children on his own... I wonder, if the situation had been reversed, and his wife were left at home with six children, having them do all the housework or run wild around the estate, whether she would be considered a good mother by the neighbours.
I was talking the other day with a friend. She works in a shop and had worked a busy Saturday. She came home with her feet burning in pain, to find that her husband and daughter were curled up on the sofa watching a dvd. How lovely; father and daughter spending time together. Meanwhile, the washing basket was overflowing; the sink was filled; the bin needed emptying.
It seems that while men go to work and "win the bread," they get the weekends off. Women, meanwhile, whether we stay home to care for the children (arguably harder work than any paid employment, and more important) or go out to work, are also responsible for most household chores in the majority of homes. We just seem to have lower standards for men; they get a pat on the back just for turning up, but the women have to jump through fifty hoops, and even then we all still bitch about each other's wrongdoings.
I have mentioned this point before, but I feel fortunate to be on my own with S. She was breastfed on demand, all day and night; if a man had been laying in bed next to me, snoring through the night feeds, I would have resented him to the end of the world and back. I am the only person here; the only one that empties the bins, the only person to do the washing up, mop the floors, do the washing, make sure there's milk for the morning. If I don't do it, it doesn't get done.
I know women, though, for whom "if I don't do it, it doesn't get done" is true despite the fact they have a husband living with them.