Moms are great but 'mothering' isn't great for women
Moms are great. Your mom, someone else’s mom, mom identifying people - on the whole, great.
They want to give others what they need to succeed. They’re protective, yet caring. They bolster. And that’s great!
But, sadly, mothering isn’t always so great for women.
Now, my intention is not to tear down mothers for lovingly raising small humans into bigger humans. That is amazing work, and I applaud those who do it (or don’t, no pressure)! But the mothering I’m referring to is a little bit different.
Living in a world with a long history of men as the doers and women as the supporters, it’s only very recently in the scheme of things that our mainstream culture has worked to variate the narrative.
We’ve made progress. At least people are starting to see the irony in asking a high-powered working woman how she manages to do it all, as if it’s a given that she’ll also be responsible for the ‘womanly duties’ of raising kids and keeping up the house. (Godblessya for trying SJP)
But, as always, growing up in our majority heteronormative culture holds us back in weird ways that often go unnoticed. One of those ways is the desire to mother.
PSA: we have another heteronormative post here. But, much like this blogpost, we’re dealing with a problem that appears in heteronormative relationships.
The best solution? Let’s all be a little bit more queer!
With this long-time formula of men as doers and women as supporters, it’s normal to rest on these social expectations. Presently, of course, lots of women are encouraged to be doers (YAY FEMINISM), but that engrained instinct to fill the role of supporter doesn’t disappear.
So instead, it comes out as mothering.
Mothering already has kind of a bad rep. It’s often labeled nagging or pestering, which is actually just a negative stereotype that’s been used to undermine women for a long time. We love to complain about nagging, but everybody secretly appreciates the output. Which is kind of the perfect expression of how our world feels about women!
But even if no one is complaining, mothering can still catch us in its trap.
For example, let’s say a boyfriend was raised by a loving mother. Mother raised him into a successful human being, who was then sent into the world where he later found a girlfriend.
Girlfriend is a very cool lady, who is strong and pretty capable of handling not only her shit but everybody else’s too. Boyfriend likes that Girlfriend always packs him snacks in his work bag and that she reminds him to pack underwear when they’ll be away overnight.
At her apartment, he has his own designated towel that she keeps clean for him. She cuts him slack about clearing up dishes, which he thinks is pretty cool and so doesn’t question. Plus, Girlfriend is very good at keeping track of Boyfriend’s calendar and remembering to get groceries, so it’s almost like he doesn’t have to.
But soon, Girlfriend starts to notice that all of the little things she does for Boyfriend (because it always felt so good to be able to handle not only her shit but everybody else’s too) are now expectations.
In fact, she realizes that maybe they were always expectations; not only expectations that Boyfriend unconsciously anticipated after his relationship with Mother but expectations that Girlfriend holds herself to.
Maybe none of this seems like that big of a deal. Aren’t all relationships built on fulfilling expectations previously set by past versions of us, anyway?
Think about that when it’s now your job to remember to pack his underwear everywhere you go.
Why mothering isn’t great for women
Doing things for your partner because you’re a nice person and filling gender roles because we feel obligated to them are not the same thing.
Unfortunately for us, it can feel amazing to unconsciously assume gender roles set up for us from a history of learned behavior. I mean, how great does it feel to micro-manage something for your man because you’re certain he won’t get it together himself?
It feels upsettingly fulfilling.
And, on his end, he’s also assuming the role set up for him. He’s most likely been taught by a lifetime of examples that it’s okay to let the women in his life take care of general housekeeping (meaning both cleaning and also getting things done personal assistant style).
This is not to say that men don’t clean or take care of business, but there is an idea that it’s okay for certain things to fall on either gender - and predictably a lot of things that fall on ‘women’ are in the ‘support’ category.
From there, an ancient power structure is reinforced. Women keep being seen as great secretaries or like nagging women - rather than for what they’re actually doing which is getting things done. Then, men can continue to use their time as doers.
They say behind every great man is a great woman. This is why we have to stop mothering adult humans: for all of those great women who had to stand behind a great man rather than beside him.
Caring and mothering can be different things
Alright so does this mean women have to be assholes to our male SOs??
Absolutely not! Caring and mothering can be different. And like everything related to changing our culture, it’s just about being aware of why you do things.
Don’t stop packing snacks in his bag if it’s a sweet bit that you do! But maybe ask him to do the same sometimes because you want to think about him during your work day.
When you see him flailing trying to accomplish a normal human task, take a deep breath and resist micro-managing. If it helps, you can borrow my mantra: He’s a grown-ass man who is capable of handling his shit.
Stop saying that you don’t need help if you actually really want it. I let my boyfriend off the hook from doing things that he probably wouldn’t let me off the hook for.
On that note, ask him to do more stuff, then DON’T feel bad for it! Or like you’re nagging him (I know it’s hard, but we’ve got to try). And if he accuses you of being naggy, calmly explain to him that that is sexist way to respond to your kind suggestion that he give you some extra support.
(And if it wasn’t a kind suggestion, then make it kind!)
Additionally, feel free to send him my way for a more detailed history of nagging and why he should probably just learn to take responsibility so that you don’t have to pester him into doing the things he should already be doing.
Also make sure he raises his hands in work meetings - IT’S JUST POLITE.
^See I’m already doing it - not mothering is hard. But it’s worth the effort.
Let’s make 2019 the year of no mothering! … or at least less.