About a year ago I started searching for resources on feminism and motherhood. When I realized that a lot of my pre-motherhood feminist ideals of independence, financial autonomy, and career advancement (that had given me a sense of empowerment) were not what I was choosing anymore, I was curious to see if feminism had something to say about motherhood. Perhaps I had overlooked that during my younger, single, and child free years?
I found a few amazing resources, one was a book by Adrienne Rich, Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution. She wrote it when I was 3 years old, in 1976, and I had never heard of this book though had read her poetry over the years. She explores what was then, and still is, an incredible paradox: motherhood as an institution compared against mothering as an experience. The institution of motherhood is perpetuated by patriarchy and oppresses women, and yet the actual experience of mothering is incredibly empowering. The two are intricately connected, yet VERY different.
This resonated so deeply for me. The times I feel most stressed by motherhood is when I feel entrenched in these hard to see but easy to feel limitations, or institutions. That I parent by myself while another parent (my husband) is the primary provider feels isolating. That I don’t have access to the kind of income or career advancement I had before is also somewhat depressing. That I feel like I have never worked harder, for less recognition in the forms of money, status, or power, has me feeling invisible and lacking in value to our society.
And yet, when I experience myself mothering, I have tremendous gratitude and inspiration for caring for my children. I feel deeply privileged to be embarking on and cultivating incredibly deep and intimate relationships with my children. I feel very strong and capable of caring for my children in the way that I choose to do it. I am very clear that I want this responsibility of mothering, and all the work it entails, because it provides me with such deep fulfillment to be part of my family in the way that I am. For me, the experience of mothering is empowering.
But the institution of motherhood, as Rich explores in countless ways in her beautiful, powerful, and honest book, I find oppressive. I want out of that.
I want in to my experience, though, big time. I want to keep landing in my personal reasons for taking on the risks that the institution of motherhood warns me of: pausing on my career, saying yes to dependence on my husband for his income to support our family, and living a sometimes isolated and very much unacknowledged (to most people and groups of society besides mothers themselves) existence, for now. I intend to keep deepening into why I choose mothering, above and beyond, all else.
For me, prioritizing motherhood is about my deep inspiration to create a home for my family. And by that, I don’t mean the mundane and yet very essential nuts and bolts of cleaning, cooking, organizing, and running the household (although managing all of that is very much part of it). What I love about mothering is creating a nurturing and loving environment, that I envision as an oasis in the intense world I am raising my family in. I want our home to be a major source of nourishment on all levels, for my family to grow within, so that they can be fully whoever they are meant to be. I want all of us to feel that no matter what happens out there, we can always come home. That the love in our home will always sustain us.
Home and family comes first for me. This is my most inspired contribution to the world right now. Amazingly, when I feel that I am living in alignment with this value, I find that I am free to attend to my other inspirations, like my marriage, my work, my own overall growth and development, or this blog, for instance. Family and mothering does not eclipse other aspects of me. By getting aligned with my values, I find it is possible to be more efficient and organized in other areas of my life.
When I prioritize my family and the experience of mothering that is empowering for me, I create more balance in my life. I am less likely to overextend myself, because that would take away from my energy to mother. I also do not spend every second with my kids, either, as I find that I get pretty exhausted and less inspired when I have day after day with them without a break. I have realized all kinds of things that help me set up my life so that I can prioritize mothering and my experience of empowerment within it.
Ok, so the actual practice of all this is of course, a learning curve. I am not always inspired, efficient, or aligned. I have my days where I am just keeping everyone going, myself included. But I want it to be known that mothering does not have to be indefinitely exhausting, depleting, and disempowering. Interestingly enough, its those exact feelings that moved me to investigate further into my experience. Mothering is definitely not what I had thought or imagined it would be from that younger, idealistic place, where I was empowered by things I have let go of, for now. But I have found something even better than my ideals or fantasies: my truth.