The ‘martyr mother’ archetype sums up motherhood in 2019 succinctly. The outrage over Michael Leunig’s illustration ‘Phoney Love’ is proof of that. There is a widespread belief amongst mothers that they are beyond criticism. Father-shaming is a global sport with a recent poll revealing that most Dads are primarily criticised by their child’s other parent.
Men are chided for how they discipline their kids. Men are chided for how they feed their kids. This disparagement from their child’s mother can impact their mental health and force them to withdraw.
But enough about men and their roles as fathers because it’s all about Mommie-dearest and her halo. It’s all about her journey as a parent and how she is outwardly perceived. Screw the dads, they’re just sperm-donors! They don’t spread their legs and give birth to the world.
What I obtained from Leunig’s illustration was mothers aren’t present because they’ve fallen down the rabbit hole of social media addiction. This is also a safety risk for the poor kid who runs in front of a car while his mother is uploading a selfie to Instagram in a bid to feed her incessant narcissism.
But it’s not only mothers that aren’t present. When I cared for my terminally ill mother in my twenties, I would sit by her hospital bed for hours and text friends about meaningless bullshit. The meaningless bullshit is endless but those skerricks of time with a loved one is temporary. You can never get it back, just ask me.
Australia’s biggest hypocrite, Clementine Ford, used to be an arsehole and hate kids (her words not mine). But now she’s a mother herself, she’s here to school us lesser beings with her matriarchal wisdom. Ford had some predictably measured words for the cartoonist:
HEY LEUNIG, YOU FUCKING GRONK. I bet you never spent hours walking babies around in a pram, feeling isolated and alone and terrified. After my bub was born, I walked him around and around for hours in the pram or the carrier trying to get him to sleep. I spent much of that time on my phone. You know why? Because I was fucking WORKING. Sometimes I was tweeting shit or scrolling Instagram… and sometimes I was just looking for anything to distract me from the internal screaming about this incredibly traumatic physical and emotional thing I had been through. Keep your fucking bullshit cartoon nonsense to yourself, you fucking judgmental prick.
All this from a woman who used to go on Twitter and degrade other mothers for not controlling their children. The hypocrisy!
My own mother gave birth to five of us and not once did she expect a medal for doing so. Mum saw motherhood as a lifestyle choice and got on with it quietly unlike the mothers of today.
One of my favourite pieces of writing on motherhood was written by, of all people, Catherine Deveny. I have often shared it with fathers I know and childless friends.
In it, Deveny states:
Another thing I find repellant and oppressive is this ‘Being a mother is the most important job in the world’ bullshit. It’s not. Being a mother is not the most important job in the world. Firstly being a mother is not a job. It’s a relationship.
The deification of mothers not only delegitimizes the relationship fathers, neighbours, friends, grandparents, partners, teachers, carers etc have with children but diminishes the immense worth and value of these relationships. (It also encourages co-dependency and discourages independence. ‘You need your mum. Only your mum will do’) It also discourages other adults from being actively involved in children’s lives. Because, you know, it’s not as good as being a mother. Bollocks.
Being a mother is not a job. Even if it were a job there is no way being a professional mother could be the hardest when compared to working 16 hours a day in a clothing factory in Bangladesh, making bricks in an Indian kiln, or being a Chinese miner. Nor could it ever be considered the most important job in comparison with a surgeon who saves lives, anyone running a nation or a judge deciding on people’s destinies. If you believe the manipulative slogan and that mothers are better, smarter and more compassionate people for having children, all of them, you clearly haven’t met many mothers. if you’re using “motherhood” to assert that someone cares more about humanity than the next person, if you’re using it as a shorthand to imply that a mother is a more compassionate person than the women and men standing around her, then I call bullshit.
In a sea of mummy-blogs dripping in self-righteousness and victimhood, Deveny’s piece resonated with me. She showed compassion for childless women like myself. She showed compassion for fathers and parents that adopt.
Mothers should be criticised, poked fun at and held accountable like any other member of society. Having a mummy-card doesn’t make you more special than your childless counterparts. Having a mummy-card doesn’t equate to you being treated with kid gloves and given special privileges. Having a mummy-card isn’t superior to having a daddy-card, although the family law establishment sadly believes otherwise.
Leunig’s message to mothers was spot on. Stop scrolling your Facebook newsfeed on your phone and look after your fucking kid!
Vanessa de Largie is a freelance journalist and sex columnist who divides her time between London and Melbourne. You can find more of her work here.
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