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MODERN MOTHERHOOD IS A SCAM

By Jami Ingledue

Modern motherhood is a scam.

Before anybody clutches their pearls, let me make it clear that this has nothing at all to do with our kids, our love for them, our desire to have them. Zero.

This is all about the societal expectations around the work of modern motherhood, the cultural narratives that surround it, the unconscious stories we are all telling ourselves and the roles we are unknowingly playing out.

They go something like this:

“I am so behind.”

“Why can’t I do this?! Everybody else seems to be able to do this.”

“I’m the one that’s supposed to hold everything together and I’m failing.”

“No matter how hard I work, I can’t get caught up. If I just work harder and get caught up, then I will feel like I’m enough.”

Let’s take these out and examine them a bit.

Show of hands: how many of us feel caught up? EVER?

Anyone? Not bloody likely.

And there’s our answer. We never feel caught up because it’s a MYTH. Because it’s impossible. Because there are too many things in modern life and parenting we’re supposed to do and keep up with, and we have less and less support doing them. Because whenever we feel “caught up” in one area, something else has to give. 

And if we are investing our time and energy into our families instead of a career that earns money, we feel insufficient financially, or unaccomplished. But if we are investing lots of time and energy into our career, then we feel insufficient as mothers. It’s impossible. It’s a trap.

And here’s another question: do our HUSBANDS feel like they have to stay on top of everything? Like only THEY are responsible for making sure everything gets done, the lunches get packed, the schedules get made, the bills get paid, the toilet paper gets bought?

Um. NO. For the vast majority of us, still no.

So it begs the question, why do we as mothers constantly feel that way?

The conclusion I have come to is that this is all a big fat scam.

This felt sense that we are insufficient, that we are never enough, never doing enough, that we always have to do more—it’s social conditioning, it’s a scam to get us to do the unpaid labor of society. So that others can do work that is paid. To get us to fill in the cracks, as mothers have pretty much always done. It’s an oppressor.

And as much as we like to think we’re liberated, it’s gotten extreme in modern culture. We’ve created this ideal—we’re all trying to be super organized and on top of everything and do all of the “right” parenting things, to do all of the work moms have always done AND often have a career, and when we don’t reach the ideal we feel we’re failing. But in reality our culture is not supporting us. In reality the expectations of everything we are “supposed” to do are completely unrealistic and insane.

(And let me be clear: our husbands aren’t the ones perpetrating the scam. They’re victims of it in their own way. But they don’t have the burden of feeling responsible for everything like moms do, in my experience.)

Of course, capitalism feeds this sense of insufficiency, because we feel we need to buy more than ever to try to fill in the cracks. But one reason we feel more alone is that we are doing it all in isolation now. We don’t have a felt communal sense of what is realistic and what everyone is actually doing. We don’t thresh grain and sew quilts and wash laundry and do day to day tasks together anymore. We don’t compare notes in a true and honest way—that normalizes these things—with anyone besides our inner circle, if we’re lucky. But we have more comparison than ever in a shallow social media way, so we are only seeing the filtered versions of reality that people want us to see. We’re comparing our insides to everyone else’s outsides. Constantly.

But you know what? When I think of my friends and family, who are wonderful and smart and successful in so many different ways—most of us don’t have a clean house. Most of us can barely walk through our garage. Most of us have piles and bags of mail stuffed in closets and shoved in spare rooms. Most of us have french fries under our car seats. Most of us have financial difficulties of some kind. Most of us have something in our houses that’s been broken for years. Most of our kids spend more time on screens than we’d like.

So why all the shame?

And what are we showing our kids? Are they enough? Were they born enough? Are they not doing enough to be considered worthy? It sounds crazy and mean when think of it that way, yet we do it to ourselves constantly.

I for one am sick of it. What a tragic way to live—to only feel sufficient once a month after we get paid, or only after the piles of mail are gone. (THEY ALWAYS COME BACK.) Don’t get me wrong, I am constantly still hearing the voice in my head that says, “My god, I’m SO behind, what’s wrong with me?” But here are some things I’m working on to combat that voice:

– A big middle finger to the cultural narrative that tells me I’m never enough. I will not give into the scam. I work harder as a mom than I ever have in my life, and that story is bullshit.

– Boundaries against things that make me feel not enough. Unfollowing some people on Facebook, spending less time on social media, leaving my phone at home when I spend time in nature so I’m not reminded of all of the unanswered emails. Only allowing people in my life that don’t care about comparisons.

– Finding moments that are enough, and focusing on those. Meditation helps a lot with this—learning to live in the moment, be aware of it, and appreciate it.

– Connecting with others deeply and honestly, being vulnerable and sharing the true state of my life, in all its messy glory.

– Doing things that feed me deeply, so that all of that other stuff doesn’t seem so important. Time in nature, deep connection with friends and family, spending time on things that fill us up.

– Re-framing. I stopped saying “I don’t have enough time for that.” Instead, I say, “That’s not a priority.” I’m ok with the state of the kitchen floor not being a priority for me.

– Looking for the enoughness, gratitude. We have enough food to eat, we have a roof over our heads, we have enough blood in our veins. So much richness in our lives that we don’t see.

– Forget about “balance” or “staying on top of it all”—it’s a myth and a scam. Instead, think of what we want our lives to center around. It’s GOOD that some things are more important and closer to the center, and some are on the periphery. That’s as it should be.

– Remember that your child’s deepest need is connection with you. You are enough for them, just as you are.

You just have to believe that yourself.

Jami worked as a librarian for over a decade before choosing to stay home when her son, now 4, was born. She also has a 17-year-old daughter. She makes all-natural soap and body products and sells them through her company, Dancing Bee Farms (dancingbeefarms.net). She lives with her husband, daughter, and son on an acre of land in rural Ohio, where they keep bees, garden, and brew beer.

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