It was a few months ago that I found myself at a shopping centre with my toddling one-year old. She had only just started walking and was, literally, finding her feet.
We had some time before we were meeting some friends and it was just the two of us, so I thought it would be a good time to get her feet fitted for shoes.
She had some soft, walkers to keep her feet warm but I knew she would be needing proper footwear soon enough. The opportunity presented itself so in we went to a shoe shop especially for kids.
When I explained this to the shop attendant, you could be forgiven for thinking I had confessed that I was giving my daughter a little taste of crack cocaine.
Disdain is the only word to describe the reaction I received.
“That child is NOT walking properly,” she spat as my daughter happily padded around the shop. “She is MONTHS away from needing shoes.”
She rolled her eyes (true story) and looked at me like I was committing a parental felony of epic proportions.
Did she think I was a stage mum trying to push my child into walking?? Surely she has other customers who purchase shoes a few weeks before their toddler actually needs them?
It irked me, no question. But it didn’t derail my day like it would have had the experience happened with my first child.
I walked out, I laughed and I took my business elsewhere.
I was thinking about that exchange last night as I considered a story published in a Sunday paper magazine that has gained enormous traction. The story featured mothers who regret having children.
— Working Mothers (@workingmothers1) June 20, 2017
It might seem an enormous, illogical, leap from a rude shop assistant to women regretting motherhood but stay with me.
In an ideal world, parents, but particularly mothers who still undertake the bulk of the physical parenting, would be supported, nurtured and valued. In the real world, they aren’t. In big and small ways. The dragon shop assistant reminded me of that.
On a scale of one to ten, a stranger being rude barely rates, but it contributes to the context in which women mother in.
As it stands, that context means it is virtually impossible for any mother to avoid some hostility.
If they’re supremely lucky the only hostility will come from strangers they need not see again.
If they’re less lucky, that hostility will come from shock jocks explaining how and when they believe a mother can breastfeed their baby, or newspaper headlines that imply staying at home, or using childcare, makes them less worthy.
It might come from well-meaning relatives who can’t contain their displeasure at a child who makes noise, or doesn’t follow instructions. A barista who wishes mothers and babies would just stay home.
If you were to believe the cards you see around on Mother’s Day, you would believe that mothers are, hands down, the most admired, loved and valued people in the world.
In some quarters that is true. But in many others, despite the popular sentiment, the reality is quite different.
Motherhood is held up on a pedestal until an infant actually arrives. At that point, no woman is suitable for the task.
If she works she is selfish. If she doesn’t work she is lazy. If she breastfeeds that is good, but not if she does it for too long. If she doesn’t have a routine she is lax. If she does have a routine she is too strict. If her child screams at the supermarket she is scorned.
If her baby cries in the café she is an imposition.
If her child eats sugar, she is wanton. If her child doesn’t eat sugar, she is cruel.
If she dresses nicely she is too yummy. If she doesn’t dress nicely she is scummy.
If she complains about motherhood she is ungrateful. If she expressed gratitude she is too smug.
If she can carry on the task of raising children, while making as little noise as possible, and expecting nothing of anybody, she will emerge unscathed. If not? It is a minefield.
Which is only part of why raising a child entails a gigantic physical, emotional and logistical effort.
Back in that ideal world, it might be an endeavour that no mother would ever regret.
In the real world that simply isn’t realistic.
Motherhood isn’t a dream for many women. It can be lonely and isolating even with a supportive co-parent. It can be testing, even when you love your children more than anything else in the world.
So then, imagine the task when you didn’t want to be pregnant? When you are raising a child alone without any help. When you are trapped in a violent or abusive relationship.
Are those women really expected to relish the task of raising children?
Some women won’t and as uncomfortable as that might be it is true.
The truth is it would be less surprising for women to regret motherhood if more women received adequate support. If the labour of raising children was shared. If mothers were valued and nurtured and rewarded for the work they do. If they were backed in their choices rather than criticised.
Until that day, expecting no mother to regret having children is fanciful.