Good Moms Don’t Do That, I'm Not Good Enough
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This post is the first in a two-part series in which I’m going to explore the most common excuses I give myself, the ways in which society contributes to these feelings and a couple concepts that seem to permeate discussions I have with even the most successful, badass women I know.
Failure to Launch
A few days ago I received the contract for publication of my first academic article. As I sit here staring at it, reading and rereading the email, I am paralyzed with fear. This big dark cloud of apprehension and uncertainty results from several things in my life which all seem to be culminating into this pit of fear and some sort of academic failure to launch. It seems silly that I didn’t immediately print it, elegantly add my signature to the page and send it off to eagerly to await publication. It seems particularly peculiar to me given that my whole life I’ve dreamt of two things: becoming a published author and getting a doctorate.
Despite the unease, the experiences I had with this high stakes Qualifying Exam have been a true learning experience and it has allowed me to become more aware of the deeper meanings behind my emotions, especially fear. (Shout out to Rachel Hollis and Brené Brown for the book reading, Netflix watching binge of self-discovery that has aided in my embarkment on this journey and for the inspiration behind this series). This experience left me seriously doubting my worth as an academic and at times I literally considered throwing in the towel and not continuing with the program. I battled serious feelings of imposter syndrome (spoiler alert: this is the topic of my next post).
If I had to take a long hard look at the current emotions I’m overwhelmed with I would see that my feelings come from two likely places, both of which I am sure some of you have battled with at multiple points in your life and may be currently battling: mom guilt over having a career and not devoting every second of my time to the beautiful children I am so fortunate to be a mother to; and the multitude of feelings that accompany the very real feelings of imposter syndrome that I battle daily. These two points are well researched phenomena as well as being things the women I know personally deal with very regularly. Which brings me here to my failure to launch myself into the starry skies of my childhood dreams.
Mommy Wars: How Society Shames Us for Our Career and Family Choices
The mommy wars is a phrase that was originally coined by researchers in the early 1990s, when societal rhetoric picked up the phrase, pitting working mothers and stay-at-home mothers against each other as polar opposites whose mothering techniques differed so greatly that they must be sworn enemies (Douglas & Michaels, 2004; Moore & Abetz, 2016). Other scholars have suggested that the media fixation on the mommy wars are a result of the social ideology that “intensive” mothering defines good mothering. Intensive mothering consists of three elements: 1) women serve as the primary caregiver, 2) parenting is viewed as emotionally intensive, labor-intensive and child centered, 3) the valuation of paid labor and the devaluation of labor performed by mothers (Hays, 1998).
The societal focus on intensive mothering places women as the primary providers of emotional labor for the entire family and has increasingly placed working mothers at odds with stay-at-home mothers. In other words, society dictates that good mothers are the primary providers of care and emotional labor, and that they provide intense child-centered care to their children, which in turn influences how mothers view one another and their choice to work or stay home (Moore & Abetz, 2016). Working moms view stay-at-home mothers as perpetuating the cycle of intensive mothering and stay-at-home mothers view working mother as cold, uncommitted to their families and motherhood, and selfish (Moore & Abetz, 2016). This opposition creates tension and combative competition amongst mothers, despite research that suggests that a strong support system consisting of emotional and informational encouragement plays a critical role in postpartum mental health (Gjerdingen, Froberg, & Fontaine, 1991). The very idea that moms careers exist on a binary of “working” or “stay-at-home” moms is problematic since mother’s level of work outside the home varies on more of a spectrum, with the majority of mothers spending some time working away from the home (Moore & Abetz, 2016).
Looking at my own feelings I am very much influenced by the push of society and the influence of intensive mothering. I feel it all the time, especially when making the decision to be a full-time doctoral student and part-time journal editor. I am constantly reevaluating my choices and shaming myself for the time I spend away from my family. Society has done a good job of training me to feel this guilt by programming into my head that good moms spend all their time with the kids and love every second of it. My Instagram feed is full of /static/img that constantly make me question my aptitude as a mother. And on top of that, society has taught me to judge other moms for their career choices. It’s not something I’m proud of by any means but I would be lying if I didn’t admit to the occasional judgment. But that’s the thing about societal conventions, they force us to compare ourselves to others, and in today’s age of social media and competitive mom blogging, it's easy to get caught up in the mommy wars and start shaming other moms for their family and career choices.
What’s especially damaging about competition and comparison amongst women is that it forces us to take our eyes off bigger social issues that are working to undermine women’s progress as we speak, like rape culture, or the restriction of women’s access to safe and affordable healthcare options. When women work together to accomplish things we have a greater chance that the problems closest to us are heard and enables women to mobilize on the political front rising to positions of influence and power.
Mom Guilt: How We Guilt Ourselves and Shame Other Moms
Mom guilt is a related occurrence which I view as being a cyclical process that underscores the mommy wars of our current society. Researchers suggest that guilt is a common feeling amongst both working and stay-at-home moms (Zimmerman, Aberle, Krafchick, & Harvey, 2008). This guilt is underscored by the way mothers are socialized to compete and judge themselves in comparison with one another (if the term “socialization” or “rhetoric” sounds a little bit like complex jargon, check back soon for my upcoming post on socialization). The figure below illustrates how we as mothers reflect on the expectations of others and in turn feel guilt over the choices we make for our families and our careers. Regardless the choice we make, to stay home, work full time, or something in between, we are constantly judging ourselves as mothers and our qualifications and commitment to our careers, and this guilt carrier over into expectations of other mothers and what good mothering should look like (Moore & Abetz, 2016; Zimmerman et al., 2008).
Overcoming the Guilt and Pressing Send
As I sat at my computer contemplating my worth as both a mother and a scholar, refusing to take the leap toward my goals I realized that my choices as a mother will be judged regardless of how much time I spend away from home or pursuing my dreams. No one can make the choice but me and my family and know one knows what is right for our situation but us. As I finish this post my very first published article has had over 150 views this week and I am one step closer to achieving the rest of my goals. Despite the constant doubts I have and the mom guilt that clouds my mind, I know I’m doing the right thing and in the end I know that my children will be better because of the choice I made to relentlessly follow my dreams. Peek at the excerpt from our article below or click here to read the full article.
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