I didn’t go to a local Mothers’ Group.
It took me a while to really put my finger on why, but when pressed I used to say things like “oh, I’m too busy” or “we moved house and I never really got involved at the new Maternal Health Clinic” or “so many of my friends had babies at the same time – I have my own Mothers’ Group and they’re my actual friends!”
But that wasn’t it. Not really. I knew it wasn’t, but I found it hard to process let alone express my real feelings on the matter. But when Hazel was nearly two, the epiphany hit and I knew why I’d held back.
See, my dad was a stay-at-home dad when I was a baby. My mum took over as stay-at-home mum when my sister was born but during my infant years in the rockin’ early 80s, my dad attended a local Mothers’ Group with me. He speaks of it fondly, mainly because he became the Hero of the Mothers the day he introduced wine to the sessions and I think the ladies enjoyed the added company of a funny man in the mix. My dad is a performer (by trade and by nature) and has confidence and charisma. He kinda liked being the odd one out because, let’s face it, that’s his life.
Fast-forward 30 years when I was working from home with Hazel and enter my friend Marty*. Marty was doing some carpentry work at my place and was a stay-at-home dad to a daughter of a similar age to Hazel. His wife earned good coin so they had made the decision to swap out the traditional roles when their daughter was 6 months old – she went back to work, he stayed at home.
I am not in any way trying to demonise his wife (I know her, and she’s adorable) but part of their ‘deal’ was that she wanted Marty to participate in all the typical activities that stay-at-home-mums do, including Mothers’ Group. When I asked how he enjoyed it (quite genuinely, having no experience of my own) Marty – who couldn’t be less like my father if he tried – smiled that it was… OK. He made an appearance each week, but didn’t say much at the sessions. He only really went to take his daughter to get some regular social interaction with other kids. The women were nice to him, but he got nothing out of it himself.
And that’s when it hit me. I hate when the word Mother is used in place of Parent. And particularly, when the word Motherhood is used to define Parenthood. It puts a lot of insidious pressure on mums to do all of the ‘thinking’ in the parenthood game, while simultaneously alienating fathers to do no such thing. You could argue that fathers aren’t interested in meeting up once a week to talk about their baby’s bowel movements, but if that somehow defines fatherhood then strike me down and call me a father because neither am I. You could equally argue that women are more inclined towards nurturing and organising, that it is our ‘maternal instinct’ but I believe this is a myth that we continue to propagate, often in well-meaning memes on Facebook. For example:
Motherhood is all about patience and kindness. Putting someone else’s needs ahead of your own.
No, that’s what Parenthood is about. Fathers must also be patient and kind and put the needs of their kids ahead of their own.
Motherhood has the greatest potential influence on a human life.
Once again, no. Fathers and mothers together, even in absence, are the most powerful influence we have over our children. Referring to these things as motherhood not only alienates the father, but adopts an unnecessary single-parent mentality. Heck, being an actual single-parent is challenging enough, why place that kind of pressure on yourself when you’re fortunate enough to be in a co-parenting relationship?
You might think I’m being overly semantic, but allow me to delve further.
ADULTHOOD, we can safely say, is a state of your life when the passage from child to adult occurs. The pillars of adulthood revolve around taking responsibility for oneself and being independent. WOMANHOOD or MANHOOD are two concepts less used, but are, in many ways, the sum of Adulthood. They explore pillars that are exclusive to becoming a woman or a man, generally physical, hormonal and emotional changes, and mark the beginning of this new stage of life.
But in this day and age, you would never claim that learning to cook a few basic meals, or being kind to others was a pillar of womanhood. You would never claim that learning to deal with office politics and balancing your budget was a pillar of manhood. They are pillars of adulthood, undertaken by both men and women when they come of age. Throughout time, the definition of womanhood and manhood has morphed into the juggernaut of adulthood so while sixty years ago you may have gotten away with claiming that ‘sewing your wild oats’ was all part of the passage of manhood while ‘accepting that you’re not allowed to be a total slut’ is all part of womanhood, today you’d be laughed out of the pub. Or beaten up by a chick.
CHILDHOOD, we can safely say, is the state of your life when you are considered a child. There is a blurry bit in your teens where you transition physically, mentally, emotionally and socially while still being legally considered a child, but all in all we can agree that anyone up to the age of 13 is a child. The terms BOYHOOD and GIRLHOOD are unlikely to ever be heard outside an Enid Blyton novel, but would you say that running around, riding bikes and climbing trees is all part of boyhood? No, because it’s all part of childhood and labelling it such makes undue (and untrue!) exclusion in activities that all kids can take part in and enjoy. I don’t remember athletics being split into boys and girls when I was a kid. And I remember winning a lot of sprints.
And so we come to the final frontier of the passage of human life when we hit PARENTHOOD but we still can’t grasp that all that love and nurturing and patience is something that fathers are not only capable of but truly excellent at. My father’s tears at my wedding are a testament to it. My husband gently stroking my daughter’s arm until she falls asleep is, too.
So I beg you: whatever your own unique family roles, quit calling parenthood motherhood. Let’s demand that our local ‘Mothers’ Group’ become ‘Parents’ Group’ where both mum and dad are welcome to share stories and experiences, tips and support at a time of the week that both mums and dads can attend (i.e., not 11am on a Tuesday). It’s already happening in some municipalities – rock on, City of Melbourne! – and it doesn’t take away from the idea that you can meet a bunch of great people who end up becoming your lifelong friends. Let’s share the joys and the responsibility of raising our kids. After all, we’re better together.
Sore nipples and a weak pelvic floor? TOTES MOTHERHOOD.
* Name has been changed but ‘Marty’ will probably know exactly who he is and he’s a champ.