What I noticed was that
motherhood was usually
talked about in one of
two ways. You either had
the perfect ideal which
everyone should live up to,
or you had the media
co-opting various stories
of motherhood to use as
cautionary tales – there
was no in between and
everything felt like it
was one of those two
Your new anthology, The Good Mother Myth: Redefining Motherhood to Fit Reality, recently came out. What was the inspiration for this anthology?
I’ve spent many years writing about parenting, and in doing so found myself immersed in the way mainstream media framed motherhood. What I noticed was that motherhood was usually talked about in one of two ways. You either had the perfect ideal which everyone should live up to, or you had the media co-opting various stories of motherhood to use as cautionary tales – there was no in between and everything felt like it was one of those two extremes. I started to get really frustrated with what felt like a monolithic framing of motherhood and ached to hear stories and viewpoints from a more diverse section of women.
How did you go about finding women writers who were willing to share their “beautiful and funny, messy and heartbreaking” real stories about motherhood? Did you find most were excited or hesitant to unveil their truths about motherhood?
I’m thankfully surrounded by many writers who also happen to be mothers and were eager to add their voices. While I didn’t put out a public call for submissions, word got around and I started to receive more essays than I could fit into one book. Once you ask folks to share their stories, it’s not that hard to find some really great ones. Writing about our lived motherhoods can be very cathartic!
What did you hope to accomplish by sharing their essays collectively?
At first I had thought about writing a book on my own, but then realized that would be almost as bad as what I was frustrated with. My goal was to share a range of voices so that somebody anywhere – regardless of who they were – could pick the book up and find at least one essay, if not more, that she connected with.
How has social media influenced The Good Mother Myth and how, in turn, might social media be used to debunk the myth?
Social media is definitely a double-edged sword when it comes to motherhood and the good mother myth. We have spaces like Pinterest and Facebook that make competition between mothers so much more visible and immediate. You see all these “perfectly” created meals, costumes, home decorations, etc. and guilt, judgment, and more can seep in. At the same time, social media provides a space where anyone can share their voice and add to the conversation. They may not have the same platforms as bigger websites or the same exposure as those who are on mainstream shows or sites, but they still have the opportunity to help shape the conversation surrounding motherhood.
In your chapter “Yes, I am that Selfish,” you write that you “were never one of those women who dreamed up a house full of children running around,” but after planning for a child, and it taking a little longer than anticipated, you were happy when your son was conceived. That said, you go on to explain that once your son was born and you were able to start picturing the future, it only ever involved you, your husband and son. How hard was it to hold true to your vision of the future as a happy family of 3, when others would say things like: “you might not want another one now, but when he gets older, you’ll be wanting a baby!” or “Just one? What’s the point?” or your absolute favorite (and mine too) – “Who will help him take care of you when you’re older?”
It’s always hard to stay true to your plans/beliefs when others question them so strongly. But at the same time, we have to look past that to do what’s best for our family. It is getting easier as he grows older. People clearly realize we’re serious about the make-up of our family, and my son isn’t as insistent that he wants a sibling.
And, what does it say about our culture when family, friends and complete strangers joined in with this presumptive line of questioning?
It says a lot! I’ve been around the country doing readings of the book, and every time I share my essay, I have at least one woman come up to me and thank me for my essay. She’ll then go on to explain that while they wanted more than one, there were medical reasons why they couldn’t get pregnant again. There’s a lot of discussion over how hurtful and painful having to hear folks badger you about the size of your family can be. In our case, having only one was a choice. I can’t imagine wanting more, but that not being in the cards, and still having to deal with prying questions. There seems to be a general line of thinking that everything is on the table when it comes to parenting and families and there’s no limit what folks will ask you – or tell you when they think you’re doing something wrong. I think a lot of that comes from folks’ own sense of uncertainty and self-judgment and it comes out in how they speak to others.
There seems to be a
general line of thinking
that everything is on
the table when it comes
to parenting and families
and there‘s no
limit what folks will
ask you – or tell
you when they think
you‘re doing something
wrong. I think a lot of
that comes from folks‘
own sense of uncertainty and
self-judgment and it comes
out in how they speak to others.
In many of The Good Mother essays, women talk about feeling judged and compared against the ideal of a fictional supermom. Where do you thinking this judgment stems from? How can we perhaps teach our daughters and our sons, to think differently about parenthood and be less judgmental of others, and perhaps less self-critical too?
Like I mentioned before, I think we all have an innate sense of personal judgment and self-critique. Sometimes we can turn that outwards against others, but a lot of the time it can fester within us and compound with the outside influences. A large part of this burden could be lifted if only we had a better infrastructure set up in this country to support parents and families. Imagine the trickle down effect that would occur if we had mandated paid family leave like the rest of most industrialized nations. Or, suppose we had better paid sick leave policies, flexible workplaces, or quality, affordable daycare. Or, what if we focused on bettering our maternal mortality rates? Currently we spend the most on maternal care, but are toward the bottom when it comes to maternal mortality rates between industrialized nations. If only we had better support, mothers – and families – could be better equipped to handle the challenges that come up with parenting and the self-critique and judgment would lessen.
What advice would you give to a group of women about to become first-time moms?
Do what’s best for your family. There is a lot of advice out there, both by “experts” and everyone else. Some of it may be great advice, but not all of it is going to work for you and your situation. One thing I learned early on, was that when somebody gave me advice (whether it was great or something I would never do), I’d respond with “Thank you. I’ll keep that in mind.” That usually stems the stream of advice I didn’t ask for and avoids any unnecessary conflict.
Where is your favorite place/environment to write? And, do you drink coffee or tea?
While I have a great office setup, I usually find myself sitting on our comfy couch with my feet up on the coffee table with my laptop on my lap. And tea. Always tea!
Love the name of your personal blog: “Mamafesto.” How did you come up with it? And, what other blogs do you follow?
Thanks! I’m usually not so slick when it comes to titles or names for things, so I was pretty proud of that one. It’s a play on the word manifesto. When I started the blog it was a space to give my thoughts on motherhood, so it felt pretty appropriate. I don’t have as much time as I’d like to follow all the blogs I’m interested in, but some great ones are: bluemilk, PhD in Parenting and Viva La Feminista.
What did you love about teaching high school social studies, and what was wrong with hall duty?
I really loved teaching high school social studies. My subjects allowed me to engage in great discussions and debates with students and help them discover bits of history they might not have tuned into before. Hall duty was always a crapshoot. You never knew if you’d be able to get some work done, or if you’d constantly have to act like a security guard, shaking students down for hall passes! That being said, it was much better than cafeteria duty!
Women today want to “have it all and do it all,” but there are only 24-hours in a day. What do you do to make your life work for you, given the demands of motherhood, family, work and life? How do you put time for yourself on your “to do” list?
Community! Having that support network – that village – is key. I have community made up of both friends and family that I have cultivated for a long time and we depend on each other. That can mean dropping your kid off at a friends so you can take a couple of hours to yourself, or even having mama/kid playdates where you connect with another adult for a while and talk about stuff that’s not work or family related.
It also helps that my husband is truly a partner. We share all of the household/life chores in a way that feels balanced to us – otherwise, I don’t think it would be nearly as do-able!
Tell us about your work as a contract employee with the Yale School of Public Health where you are helping to launch a research-based prenatal education program.
Yes! I really love the work I’ve been doing this past year, as it combines many of my passions – maternal health, patient advocacy and feminism. The university has been studying prenatal education and the effects it has on pregnancy, labor and birth, as well as the effect on both mother and baby. The idea is to take all of that research and turn it into a working program that benefits mothers, babies and families. The program is currently in the pilot stage, being tried out in various sites across the country and will eventually have a national roll out. I can’t wait for that stage because then I’ll be able to talk in more specifics. But the bottom line is that it’s amazing to be working on a project that not only provides prenatal and maternal information, but is set up to empower patients and offer them much needed agency in the birth process.
Please finish this sentence: "Becoming a mother is ____________."
. . . a total trip!
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