Modern Motherhood: A Twitter Chat

Yesterday afternoon, I stumbled across a Twitter chat held by Women in the World. Hosted by noted feminist (and mother) Jessica Valenti, they tackled the topic of “Modern Motherhood.” The questions posed were thought provoking, and the ensuing discussion (which I followed via their hashtag, #wiwchat ) was enlightening. It was also a welcome change to see motherhood discussed in a way that didn’t reek of judgment and competition.

For those who didn’t have a chance to check out the chat, I’ve included the questions below (in bold) and my own answers in teal (expanded upon the ones I shared via Twitter) below.

Q1 How has pop culture, media, politics (or policies?) shaped our idealized notions of motherhood? 

I joined the chat after the 1st few questions had been posted, so I didn’t have a chance to respond to this one via Twitter, but I doubt I could have accomplished that in only 140 characters if I tried. 

We’re in an age of media where you can’t escape varying views on motherhood. Movies, television, magazines, advertisements, books, and the vast assortment of online offerings (from websites to blogs to even Facebook) all attempt to mold this concept of motherhood. But the problem (in my view) is that there is no one right way to be a mother. This doesn’t stop folks from promoting the myth of the good mother, however. 

There’s an idealized notion of motherhood – one that meshes the traditional Donna Reed-esque mother of the ’50s with a more liberated “working girl” modern woman. The “perfect” mother should have all these qualities (and more!). She should be able to be up early with a smile on her face, get the kids fed, dressed and off to school before glamming herself up for her job. Somewhere in the middle, the house is spotless, the husband is happy (because supposedly that is her job too), the dog is fed/walked, the kids are shuttled to numerous activities, dinner is made, cookies are baked, and a blog all about her day is written before she slips into a sound sleep. 

This ideal is unattainable, but the media (in all it’s various forms) continues to promote it like folks aren’t fed up with these unrealistic expectations. And while we can joke about these idealized concepts of motherhood, we also need to realize that these notions can have negative effects – from postpartum depression to exhaustion to resentment. 

Q2 Can working mothers really ‘have it all,’ and how do you balance work and family life? 

The have-it-all concept only sets women up to fail, mostly because not everyone has the same definition of having it all. Beyond that, we are just not in a society that supports women having it all, which makes that concept extremely difficult to attain. 

Perhaps once our government overhauls maternity/paternity leave policies, works to combat/educate folks about PPD, provides quality affordable childcare, etc… then, maybe, we can discuss exactly what it means to have it all. Because currently, when there are families where working isn’t a choice, but rather it’s a requirement for both parents, then we can’t fairly pose this question.

Sure there are certainly ways to attempt success both in work and home, but a lot of it requires support. If you have friends and family at your disposal then you may “luck out” – otherwise, you end up having to pay for your support, and then we’re back to square one of who can afford it.

Also…why doesn’t anyone ever ask working fathers how they manage to “have it all?”

Q3 Caitlin Flanagan has argued that something is lost when a woman works outside the home? Do you agree? 

Oy. Let’s not get me started on Caitlin Flanagan. Perhaps in her mind, she feels something is lost when a woman works outside the home, but you can make the reverse argument as well that something is lost when a woman doesn’t work outside the home. There is no one right way for every family.

I feel that mothers and fathers need to make the best choices for their own families. I think there are pros and cons to having parents work/not work. But to say that something is lost when a woman works outside the home without offering any solution is just unhelpful and further stirs the mommy wars pot. 

Q4 What’s the one ‘reality’ of motherhood you’d share with a new mom–and would most mothers be surprised by it or not? 

That it’s ever changing. That even when you think you’ve got a handle on things – and have found the perfect solution – that will change too. But that it’s okay. 

Also – that motherhood isn’t a “one size fits all.” 

Q5 Should child care be a private decision (U.S. style) or should we treat it like a public good (Norway style)? 

Public all the way. But that’s not enough – it has to be high quality public child care. Most parents are working just to pay for their kid’s childcare and it becomes a wash. The cost of decent child care in this country is astronomical. If you want to ensure you have productive employees who do their best, we – as a country – need to figure out a way to offer quality care for children so parents don’t need to worry about it. If other countries have successfully provided for their children – why can’t the US?

Q6 Has motherhood changed your view of feminism? 

Certainly. It became less about how feminism impacts me, and how my feminism can work to impact the rest of the world. I became a little less selfish and a lot more motivated to change things for the better. I had big plans when I was pregnant, thinking I’d have a little girl to stand by my side and fight the good fight with. Those plans got thrown for a curve ball when I had my son, but to be honest they didn’t much change. I still want him to grow up in a world where equality reigns, and where people aren’t prejudged based on their gender. 

I really could write essay answers for each of these questions, but I’ll stop here for now. Hopefully the discussion continues, because all of these questions sparked important points and hope for change. So…what say you? How would you respond to these questions? Share your thoughts below…in 140 characters or less!
(And don’t forget to check out Twitter next week when Women In the World host another chat!)

15 thoughts on “Modern Motherhood: A Twitter Chat

  1. A6: Before I became a mother, feminism was an idea 2 me (tho I called myself a feminist). Now it is my daily reality & much more complex.

    Not sure that’s 140 characters. Hard to do when Twitter or TweetDeck isn’t doing the counting for me.

  2. Pingback: Modern Motherhood: A Twitter turned blog chat | Life V 2.0

  3. Q3: I think any choices we make both love and gain something in our lives. Change is loss; change is gain. If I made it a priority to work out of the home (and I’m tempted OFTEN!), I’d lose a lot. I’d lose autonomy, of a sort. I’d lose the mini-moments of snuggles, tantrums, minutiae, relatively calm AMs (as a teacher, I’d be out the door to a daycare by 7 AM), and the freedom to not flip out finding back-up care when they are sick. I’d also gain a lot: my professional identity, a paycheck (ie: outside validation), an outlet for my hard work in college and grad school, an outlet for my creative side and need to share my limitless knowledge (and self-deprecating sarcasm), adult conversation.

    The important thing for us all to realize is that the grass really is always greener. We have to make our choices result in the best possible outcomes for ourselves and those around us – and then it will “trickle down” to our children. The best role model is a happy and fulfilled parent – not a working or at-home parent.

    Does that answer Q3 at all? 😉

  4. I used to babysit for a Norwegian family who spent a year in the US so Dad could study at Yale. I learned this extra-amazing fact while quizzing them endlessly about life in Scandinavia: in Norway, if you do not like your local public child care options, you can send your kid to a private child care center/preschool and the government will send you a check. I can’t remember if it covers the full cost of private child care or not, but I imagine that it makes a huge dent. Ideal solution? I think so. Can you imagine *that* debate in our congress? Oy!

    • That’s an interesting idea – except that I am personally against vouchers in public schools, and I’d think my philosophy of that would extend to childcare. Although, I have a hard time wrapping my head around it because it’s just not anywhere close to reality here.

      • I don’t see more than a surface connection between the Norwegian policy and the issue of American vouchers. Perhaps I should explain that one reason behind the policy is that Norway is not very densely populated. It’s just not practical to build a child care center everywhere people need child care. But they still want everyone to have access. The chances of any government money going to religious institutions are really slim, because it’s just not part of the culture the way it is in some regions in America. For the family I know, choosing private child care is about location, hours, fit. They don’t dislike the public child care centers in general, they just don’t like the one near them. It’s not about prestige, and you don’t need to be wealthy to afford private care. Most families I know from my work in early childhood ed/child care are much more particular about which day care they choose than which elementary school their kids go to.

  5. Pingback: Modern Motherhood: A Twitter turned blog chat | Fast Fails | The Best Fail Channels

  6. A5: I don’t see why the US hasn’t adopted a public option for children younger than kindergarten. Well, I mean…of course I see why it hasn’t happened, but t guess I don’t see why it should be an issue. Of course the question of how it will be funded will be raised, but how is anything else funded? People like to yell about everything…this won’t be any different. But we offer school, in fact, the U.S. REQUIRES school, so why not offer childcare?

  7. I think we need a true paradigm shift when it comes to motherhood. The expectations that one person, or one woman can meet all the needs of her children, and spouse is ridiculous. Women are responsible for everything and everyone, and we get blamed if someone isn’t happy. There is an enormous price to pay for “having it all”; loss of self. Women need to learn hos to say “no” without feeling guilty.

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