Blog Series

Queer Brown Girl Trying to be a Parent: Motherhood As Work

February 5th, 2015     by deb singh     Comments

Illustration: Erin McPhee

Many months ago I was a “Queer Brown Girl Trying to Get Pregnant”. I finally got pregnant. My son, Adli is almost 8 months old and this new mom is now a Queer Brown Girl Trying to be a Parent! Check out my 3 part blog series about the baby basics, adventures of being a queer mom, and motherhood as work!

In thinking about motherhood as work itself, I decided to search ‘Motherhood As Work’ and share my findings with you all. I had hoped to politicize the idea that the moniker of housewife is indeed unpaid labour that spins economies around the globe, that raising humans is the most important job ever as these are our next society members, and that feminism validated all roles seen to be taken on predominantly by women, particularly mothering. Instead, Google shared with me this:

  • Tips for Juggling Work and Motherhood - Parents
  • Going back to work is tough, but feeling guilty won’t help. There’s a lot you can do to ease the transition.
  • Motherhood is hard enough before you throw in work. Once you’re juggling a job, parenting, self-care and adult relationships, you start praying for guidance …
  • Although there’s no secret recipe to balancing work and motherhood, there are thousands of women out there who have learned to do it successfully, women …
  • This article describes the struggles many women experience in their efforts to balance work and motherhood.

Web Search Results for “Motherhood as Work”

What I hoped for - as I mentioned - was a validation that being a mother is work and that parenting kids is work. Rather, the search results confirmed that there is a gap between the ideas of ‘work’ and ‘motherhood’, that is, motherhood is not in itself, work.

So, I guess we do have to start at the beginning.

I did some more research and remembered how first wave feminists had to reject the idea of motherhood and of being someone’s wife before they could come back to the middle and see motherhood as valid and important work. More specifically, the rejection of the role of motherhood was birthed from the patriarchal view that women’s only power lay in her role as mother and, frankly, that we were inferior in every other respect compared to men. There were a few foremothers (pun intended) of feminism who believed taking on the role of motherhood meant subjugation (the idea that we are subjected to, in this case the role of mother and activities that go along with it, rather than have the autonomy in choosing the role with our own free will). Simone De Beauvoir remarked in an interview at the age of 68 that a women’s decision to marry and have children was like selling oneself into slavery (Source). This sentiment is found all over her writings in that there was no escape from patriarchy if a women took on the role of wife and mother.

Contemporary feminists like bell hooks have this to say on motherhood:

The resurgence of interest in motherhood has positive and negative implications for feminist movement. On the positive side there is a continual need for study and research of female parenting, which this interest promotes and encourages… It is also positive that women who choose to bear children need no longer fear that this choice excludes them from recognition by feminist movement, although it may still exclude them from active participation. On the negative side, romanticizing motherhood, employing the same terminology that is used by sexists to suggest that women are inherently life-affirming nurturers, feminist activists reinforce central tenets of male supremacist ideology. They imply that motherhood is a woman’s truest vocation; that women who do not mother, whose lives may be focused more exclusively on a career, creative work, or political work, are missing out, are doomed to live emotionally unfulfilled lives. While they do not openly attack or denigrate women who do not bear children, they (like the society as a whole) suggest that it is more important than women’s other labor and more rewarding. (Book: Feminist Theory: From Margin to Centre)>

Essentially, hooks complicates the feminist thought on the role of motherhood – how patriarchy sees it and how feminists see it. Although parenting is an amazing feat, male supremacists see women’s value only in their role as a mother and not at all in the grand scheme of how child rearing affects our society and economies. hooks on the other hand, reclaims the idea that motherhood is valid work but remembers to complicate it and remarks that it is not the only work we are capable of doing and, moreover, it is not our most important role. Further, it can be a role that a woman never takes up. And, if she does, she remains part of the feminist movement, not ousted like in past views of feminism.

Ultimately, both de Beauvoir and hooks are women who know motherhood is not inherently against feminism; it has been the way sexism has used motherhood against women -either pigeon holing us into this one and only role of ‘nurturer’ or taking away our women-ness if we don’t engage in mothering.

Motherhood has been historically devalued within dominant western cultures and feminist communities alike. According to sexism, if you don’t become a mother, you are less of a woman, selfish or career driven and if you do become a mother, that’s all you are and can be and it is not a job as important as being a doctor or lawyer or even an activist. While there is some value of the work related to childcare such as being an Early Childhood Educator (ECE), being nanny or day care services, there is no wage for the labour of mothering in the home itself. Furthermore, although primary caregivers receive a Canada Child Benefit Tax amount monthly depending on your income, this income is for the child, not for the labour it takes to keep ‘em alive.

The work of being a mom is more feminist than ever in my opinion and yet I sense the reverberations of De Beauvoir’s sentiments all over society. If being a mom is real work then… …why don’t you get paid for it? …why are there no famous awards for it? …why do people value other work over the work of parenting?

The act of raising children pushes societies and economies forward by the very fact that we are raising the next generation. Further, many economies are spun by the work that happens at home. Quite logically, how can all those male political leaders rule the world on empty stomachs if their wives don’t cook them dinner or how can they get to work on time if mothers aren’t doing the bulk of childcare? (MIRCI, page 27) Mothers create an environment where other work can get done. All household work, including mothering, pushes forward other aspects of society. We couldn’t very well rule the world in dirty underwear, could we? Thank your mom for doing the laundry!

At the end of the day, motherhood is work. I often ask folks who doubt that something they are doing is real work - such as childcare, active listening or art - with the question: Do you feel tired after doing it? Then plain and simple, it’s work.

Check out these links on motherhood/women’s work:

MAKERS Moment: Embracing Motherhood & Feminism

Who’s Counting? Marilyn Waring on Sex, Lies and Global Economics

Tags: parenthood, queer

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