There have been some fantastic moves over the last 5 years in particular to unveil and even use humour to speak about some of the mundane parts of motherhood that pose huge challenges for those raising children, particularly Mums who mother fulltime outside of the paid workforce. But could this humour be just another numbing practice?
I am sure many of us have made or heard jokes pointing to the potential monotony of some mothering tasks such as changing nappies, preparing food, and cleaning. I say ‘potential’ because these tasks are not always mundane for everyone.
Some women who have multiple children may take advantage of nappy changes with her baby to foster connection and eye contact in an otherwise frenzied morning, and get enjoyment from this time.
Some absolutely love cooking and preparing meals and take enjoyment from this aspect of mothering. Some use the act of cleaning as a way of regulating themselves emotionally and working out anxiety or tension.
That is to say – let’s always be mindful of assumptions we may make about processes of daily life that we may find meaningless, but may be imbued with meaning for another.
Certainly though for the majority of us, there are parts of our daily life as mothers that involve completing tasks or performing routines that we do not necessarily enjoy but they are necessary to perform for the care, hygiene and safety of our children.
As a way to speak about parts of motherhood that we may find challenging, monotonous, or dull, we connect with other mothers to build a sense of friendship and community in our shared sense of frustration, boredom, or apathy – and this is often done through humour. I would ask us to look critically at the aspects of motherhood that we complain about or do not find enjoyment or satisfaction from, and ask:
- Is this something I really HAVE to be doing? Where has this expectation come from?
- What would happen if I let go of, loosened expectations around, or outsourced (shifted responsibility) for this aspect of motherhood? Can I do that?
- How can I reframe or reshape my understandings of this task so I find value in it?
An example… I don’t enjoy cooking but have a value on nutritious food and know that I have to do this activity for my daughter as part of her health and development, so I reframe my understanding of making meals to be contributing to something I actually do value. I outsource this task when I can by saying ‘yes and thank you’ whenever someone else offers to cook or provide food for my daughter, and I release expectations on myself from having everything cooked from scratch or organically (this isn’t something embedded within me, but I am aware that the ‘good mother myth’ expects mothers to be cooking goddesses of fresh, nutricious organic produce that of course our children will EAT…:) ) What are some things that you can let go of to make your life easier, reframe, or ask for help with?
Performing aspects of mothering that we may not enjoy is something that is dealt with through connection with other mothers, humour, but also through practices that can have darker sides. I’ll take an example from popular culture and media: the TV series on Netflix – Workin’ Moms, where the main character Kate takes time out of her position in marketing to stay at home with her baby after he suffered a bout of the measles. Part of the depiction of her day at home shows her moving from task to task with her toddler trying to keep him entertained as he draws on walls and throws and smashes an iPad while she – in futile – attempts to have a shower. She counts down, repeatedly clock-watching, until midday strikes, where she then pours herself a glass of wine, before being surprised by her husband coming home and throwing the glass and wine into the sink in her attempts to conceal her drinking.
There is so much that can be pulled out of scenes and series such as these, but what a description of these short snippets illustrates is the complexities of the way we view and experience full time motherhood at home raising young children. The viewer gets an insight into the often relentless nature of the supervision required, the creativity in facilitating and supporting play, and the struggle in getting anything done for ourselves – such as taking a shower. The countdown to when it may be deemed socially acceptable to pour a glass of wine is telling not only of the way mothers may seek to funnel their behaviour into constructed norms of what is considered socially acceptable, the tension/stress/anxiety that is felt and is sought to be managed, and the popular yet potentially dangerous trope of mothers using wine to manage this stress and workload.
It also points to the hidden aspects of motherhood where we may conceal certain behaviours because of fear, embarrassment, or shame.
This is why Kate hides her drinking from her husband when he walks through the door – there is a sense of shame in admitting this job is hard and we may not be coping. But interestingly, in this episode there is no discussion of what aspects of life at home Kate is struggling with – and this conversation is absent from interactions with her husband, who seems to have little understanding of what the realities of looking after a baby all day entails, and mounts more requests and expectations on Kate while he continues his work and social life, seemingly unaffected by responsibilities of fatherhood. The often misguided cultural assumptions of stay-at-home mothers are also perpetuated later in the episode when Kate’s colleague asks her if she talks to herself at home to break up the boredom.
I want to take issue with this assumption of boredom and further in my next blog post. But a really important theme that I will talk a little more about has to do with Kate’s wine-o’clock-countdown.
I am sure many of us have heard of or shared in this phrase of ‘wine o’clock’ or indulging in ‘mummy juice’, or needing a glass of wine once the kids are in bed.
Wine and caffeine are almost considered prerequisites for westernized, modern day motherhood.
Much of this is shared in jest and the majority of mothers who drink wine do not have a problem with alcohol. Of course though, for those with a genetic predisposition for alcoholism in particular, an alcohol-centric culture within motherhood can be dangerous.
I’m not going to engage in discourse trying to regulate women’s behaviour in framing ‘dangerous’ or ‘unfit’ motherhood with the consumption of alcohol. We have enough resources telling us what we ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t be doing. If you think you may have a problem with alcohol or would like to explore this further you can look to the resources I’ve linked at the end of this page.
What I want to draw attention to are the ways we are using substances – combined with humour and social bonding over the consumption of such substances – to deal with what are social problems.
Motherhood and the circulation of the ‘good mother myth’ expects women to be self-sacrificing, devoted, all-encompassing, primary-caregiving mothers to their children, keeping track of and responding to all of their developmental, health, physical, and emotional needs. Many mothers reading this won’t be surprised that research looking at mothers of children aged between 5-12 years old work on average 14 hour days – a 98 hour working week. That is equivalent to 2.5 full time jobs. If we think about the intensity of this for mothers who are breastfeeding or those looking after children with additional needs – we can see the relentlessness and absolute intensity of the workload of motherhood is overwhelming.
Motherhood has been challenging – probably since the beginning of time. But the intensification of expectations of modern-day motherhood is only making mothers’ lives harder. This is linked with the not only expectations but often need and desire for women to engage in paid work as well as mothering work. Have you seen the meme about being expected to work like you’re not a mother and mother like you don’t have paid work?
Interesting, working mothers today are spending more time with their children than stay at home mothers did in the past. This is not to say motherhood previously was not unbelievably challenging, and mothers today are privileged enough to have access to many resources and developments in technology that have made our lives ‘easier’. But the rapidly changing world we live in and changes in our community and culture mean we must be under no illusion that we can and should be able to ‘do it all’ – alone.
So is it any wonder that the trope of ‘mummy juice’ exists? It is seen as an avenue for numbing, escapism, and dulling of the intensification of the pressures we face in our daily lives. I think the way we treat alcohol and motherhood today can be compared with the way stay at home mothers were associated with ‘bex’ in the 1950s. Bex was a strong analgesic in powder or tablet form that became known as Mothers Little Helper, with the slogan of ‘a cup of tea, a bex, and a good lie down’ becoming an Australian mothering cultural tradition. This was until mothers started going into kidney failure and Bex was pulled from shelves in 1977. Bex was a way for mothers to suppress their feelings of discontent, exhaustion, alienation, and oppression. Alcohol today is used in a similar way.
Instead of talking about our need for ‘wine’ at the end of the day, could we vent and voice our frustrations and grievances?
Could we build a sense of solidarity through shared experience of mothering challenges rather than shared endeavors of numbing?
Could we start to make visible the broader structures and expectations that contribute to these challenges existing in the first place?
Could we look outside of ourselves to see who is not carrying their load in the work of raising these children, and where we can turn to for ‘help’?
Could we brainstorm strategies for making our everyday lives less challenging, more rewarding – or at least tolerable without wanting to numb ourselves?
Could we reframe and reshape our understandings of our challenges to see the value and importance of them in and of themselves?
If you feel that you may have a problem with alcohol or substance use, please click here to be linked with support services.