Sunday, 20 February 2011

Does the Modern World Understand Motherhood?

Here are some things I used to think:

1. Women with prams/pushchairs think they own the street. They should make more of an effort not to inconvenience other people.
2. Breastfeeding in public is weird and exhibitionist. I'd like to have a cup of coffee without having to look at some random stranger's tits, thank you very much.
3. Parent and child parking spaces are unfair and unnecessary.
4. People in restaurants should control their children better.

Here are some things I think now:

1. It's hard enough manoeuvring the pram as it is, without free-walking, unencumbered idiots glaring at you and failing to get out of your way.
2. Breastfeeding in public is sometimes necessary. I'd like to have a cup of coffee, thank you very much.
3. Parent and child parking spaces are a godsend.
4. People in restaurants should control their children better.

The reason for the change of heart is, I assume, obvious. Life with a baby has opened my eyes to a number of things, like how much poo I can actually stand to deal with (a lot, it turns out) and how much sleep I really need (less than I had always assumed). But the thing which really plays on my mind is how very different my perspective on life is now, compared to what it was before, and how very harsh I was in my attitudes towards people with children.

I'm not someone for whom motherhood has come as a surprise, a biological ta-daa! just as I hit thirty. I always wanted children, always planned on one day pushing the pram and suckling the hungry infant. I just wasn't going to do it like all these inexplicably self-absorbed mothers I kept encountering, whipping their breasts out whenever they felt like it, or barging down the centre of the pavement with their two-seater Bugaboos, mowing down innocent shoppers like Boudicca cutting a swathe through a Roman legion.

Then I had Milly and everything changed. Breastfeeding in public became a necessity if I wanted to, you know, actually LEAVE the house, and after every session trying to get some necessary shopping done in town I'd always breathe a sigh of relief as soon as I reached the safety of the back streets, where I could push the pram along without an unending soundtrack of I'm sorries and excuse mes, punctuated by the constant clatter of me bumping into things. These mothers weren't self-absorbed and inconsiderate, they were just trying to get through the day. I'd been the self-absorbed one, putting my own free-walking, unencumbered convenience ahead of that of those who needed to cater for their children's needs as well as their own.

I know I'm not alone in this. At my NCT classes we were all concerned about breastfeeding in public, because we didn't want to freak people out as we, ourselves, were freaked out by it. And I've had many a discussion prior to getting pregnant about the way some mothers act like they should get special treatment just because they've got kids.

So now I can see how bogus that attitude was, my question is: how are we getting it so wrong?

How have we drifted so far away from the idea of hearth and home, amongst all our lattes and broadband providers, and movie channels, that we've become so uneducated about what being a mother actually involves? Why do we look at what these women have to do and see nothing but an affront to our modern, super-convenient lives? Why is "God, the place was full of bloody kids, what a nightmare" such a constant refrain among our litany of lifestyle complaints?

Most people don't have children 'til their thirties, and many spend most of their twenties trying to avoid them. "I don't do children" is said with confidence, as though a complete lack of understanding of how to approach a child or a baby is something to be proud of, a badge of honour that proves the wearer is cool and, importantly, young. "OMG, all they talked about were their kids!" is another cry, followed by "it's like, stop trying to convince me to have one, is that all you can talk about!?".

I don't know when it started. Maybe it was when Rachel from Friends had a baby with no discernible change to her lifestyle, figure, and attitude, except for the occasional half-hearted wave of the hand towards a baby monitor. Maybe it was already happening, as women who chose to put off having children for the sake of their careers also chose to demonise those left in the home as lazy, outdated traitors to the feminist cause, while angry homemakers responded by branding their sisters in the workplace as selfish and shallow.

I don't know how this situation can be remedied. There are two separate worlds trying to exist in the same space, each with little interest, it seems, in the needs and concerns of the other. We need to bring motherhood, and family, and home back to the centre of society, but how? How do we create a world in which the public needs of the mother are not only understood, but accepted and celebrated? And how do we do it without undoing every social advance society's made since the first suffragette thought 'You know what? I reckon there's more to life than this whole staying-at-home-and-having-kids thing. I wonder if anyone else feels the same way?'.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

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