Friday, August 26, 2011

The Power of Motherhood

A friend of mine from high school's mom was famous for her cookies. A Julia Child devotee, she had perfected her cookie baking method timed down not to the minutes they should be baked, but to the seconds. Not surprisingly, their home was a major hub because her kids were super cool and because she made delicious cookies every time people gathered. Can any CHS grads guess this family? The truth is, kids are attracted to hang out in a home that is welcoming, accommodating, and has cool stuff.

This mother made her home a place of comfort and enjoyment for her children and their friends. I'd say my mom successfully did this, too. And I think I've succeeded in doing this for my friends when they are over. It feels good. And once people start praising you for the food you've made, it feels even better.

The role of family nurturer allows women a source of power in their lives. What would our roles and lives look like if all that power was relinquished? The family/home is the one place in which society bestows mothers with a substantial amount of dominance over men. We turn to moms to learn how to to get a stain out of the carpet, how to decorate and organize a home, and how to hold and burp a baby. Remember the lack of leisure time discussed in an earlier post? Including men in more kin work would allow women to indulge in a few more margaritas and pedicures. But would it allow them to still feel powerful in their roles in their relationships, families, and society at large? What is this power worth?

Developmental psychologist, Diane Ehrensaft, advocates for “shared parenting” which involves both parents serving the purpose of what most people think of when they hear the word “mommy,” in terms of comfort and support. According to Ehrensaft, releasing this power in shared parenting can be difficult for mothers. Although doing so would provide mothers with some freedom and then men can enjoy a new connection with their child, it is easier said than done.

If your kids' daddy fulfilled many kin work roles, what would that do to your place in the family? What if he planned your kids' birthday parties? Came up with a theme, created, stuffed, addressed, and sent the invitations, bought and wrapped the presents, made or acquired the cake and food, decorated, wrote all thank you notes (or successfully made the kid do so) with you only having a peripheral role?

I predict two scenarios could ensue:

1. You could LOVE the fact that you had a very small role (like most husbands probably do. Wait. They're too oblivious to know to appreciate it).


2. You could resent the fact that it wasn't done your way. The decorations weren't quite right. The invitations weren't pretty and elaborate enough. The thank you notes didn't sound sincere. You get the gist.

That's because kin work is absolutely, 100%, without a doubt attached to our identities as women and/or mothers. I do feel, however, that the resentment would eventually decrease if all families operated with more male involvement in kin work.

When practicing shared parenting, mothers are then introduced to guilt for not acting as a “real” or potentially “bad” mother. If, for instance, you thought you'd love to have your husband plan and execute the entire birthday party in the scenario above, you might be perceived as an unmotherly mother. Would you mind?

What do you all think? Are you willing to give up some power in order to gain leisure time?


  1. I think my husband and I do a pretty decent job of sharing responsibilities, but I do have to say that the kin work you describe falls on me. He just doesn't have the...well, let's just say that he isn't very good at that type of thing. That being said, he is the one who makes and plans our dinners, and more often than not is the one who bathes our kids. I think with him taking such an active roll elsewhere, I don't feel bogged down by kin work.

    Interesting post!

    Thanks for stopping by my blog, too. :-)

  2. Stacie,

    I'm so glad you and your husband have a balance you're pleased with. That's the only thing that matters!

    Thanks for saying hi :)

  3. Anna -
    Love this discussion :) My husband "thinks" he is a super big help... and some of that time, yes, he is. But many times his 30 minutes of watching our son before bed he believes will get him a medal. I don't think he truly realizes how much daily tasks are exhausting with kids. I think if I were to be able to let go of some of my responsibilities, I would fall into the category of being constantly worried that things are not being done right or tat my son isn't getting the right types of foods... etc. So I live my life right now, for the majority happy, but on occasion the resentment does creep up. Such an interesting topic!!!

  4. Anna, If only they realized just how exhausting it is! I'm definitely a happy person, but it's hard not to feel that resentment every once in awhile. Especially on those really tired days :)