Can you remember that margarine ad from around the time when low-fat eating was prescribed by American health authorities in? It’s the one that showed a happy family playing outside whilst the smiling mum made sandwiches using the said margarine. The tagline: She knows what’s best for her family.
It’s a great example of the picture that advertising promoted of modern mothers. It says this: you’re the only one who can take care of your family and you will always find it joyful. This idea of the ever-joyful, sandwich-making Mom – still prevalent today – is not only wrong, it’s damaging: it hurts our children, our families, our societies and especially our mothers. It’s an idea that too easily leaps from ‘she knows what’s best for her family’ to ‘she can do it all’ – with very real consequences.
This coming Sunday is Mother’s Day in South Africa. Perhaps, instead of wondering how best to spoil our mothers, we should ask, ‘How can we help mothers best?’. Change this picture.
This belief, that mothers are the only people who know what’s best for their children, creates an expectation of motherhood that is unattainable. The modern mother is expected to, from conception well into the adulthood of her children, know everything there is to know about the health, wellbeing and education of her children. She is expected to flawlessly and happily execute the plan to produce highly-educated, successful, well-balanced and emotionally mature offspring. She must know about immunisation, gross-motor development, nutrition suitable for brain development, subject choices and the most lucrative future careers. She is expected to be involved in every aspect of her children’s lives, right down to knowing about and participating in the teacher’s birthday celebrations. While doing this, she is also expected to age fabulously, uphold and teach family values and produce Instaworthy family memories. #itsallaboutfamily!
What is the result for mothers? Exhaustion. Anxiety. A feeling of not-enoughness.
I know. As a mum with a career outside my home, I have often felt guilty, anxious, shameful, overwhelmed and exhausted, especially when my kids were in junior school. Until I realised that what the system expected of me, was not necessarily good for me or my children. As teens, they are more independent and less is expected of mothers by the system. Although I still get more e-mails some weeks from my children’s schools than from my clients! My mum, in comparison, received at most a weekly, printed newsletter.
This expectation on mothers has so many unintended, but damaging results. Anxiety becomes the constant companion for most modern mums, their inner voice repeatedly asking, “how am I measuring up to all these expectations?” It’s also probably one of the leading causes of anxiety and insecurity in children of this generation. Because the mother’s role is so all-encompassing, there is little room for children to develop independence and self-assurance.
What impact does all this have on her ability to earn, save and plan for her own financial future? If she spends too much time driving the success of her own career, she feels guilty and may even be judged by society. If she loses sight of her own financial security, she suffers financially. The one-income family faces grave risks in the uncertain times we live in. The mother of that family, whether she is the breadwinner or the homemaker, face equally serious financial risks. The expectations are at odds and afford no real security for the mother.
If this picture of motherhood is bad for children and mothers, why do we continue serving it? The best thing we can do for mothers all over the world is to dismantle this cultural ideology. Make the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child” true again. Children will benefit from the involvement of their fathers, extended families or the “village”. Mothers will be able to ensure their own security and be liberated from anxiety.
This Mother’s Day let’s start by removing the expectations placed on mothers and grow a better village. It’s what’s best for her family.
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