I distinctly remember that when my husband and I got engaged, older married couples were only too quick to offer up a lot of remarks which, instead of being supportive or congratulatory, seemed to be unhelpful and even alarming.
As an engaged couple, we heard over and over again, “Just wait until he leaves dishes in the sink,” or “Just wait until those newlywed days are over!” I wouldn’t call these comments “advice” so much as they were a weird form of Baby-Boomer condescension.
When I became pregnant, the cycle of patronizing one-upmanship started all over again. Instead of offering congratulations, well wishes, or even practical tips, my husband and I were (and still are) inundated by recollections of sleepless nights, labor horror stories, and breastfeeding nightmares, complete with cracked, bleeding nipples and growing spousal resentment. We’re now just a few weeks away from our baby’s due date, but I wouldn’t say confidently that we’ve been more encouraged than discouraged by parenting anecdotes from friends, co-workers, and acquaintances.
Our cultural attitude with regard to motherhood isn’t what it could be. While we can share all of the realistic and even painful or difficult parts of what being a parent means, we seem to rely more on a victimhood mentality, where our motivation to be “relatable” trumps what was perhaps our original intention of sharing honest, raw experiences. What began as a trend in sharing these relatable stories has now turned into a weird and even cringey cult of victimhood that has perpetrated more harm than good.
Most “Advice” Isn’t Helpful
I was just a few weeks pregnant when a family friend dove into the gritty details of her unplanned and extremely traumatic C-section. (I’m now absolutely terrified at the prospect of having one.) Not long after, a former coworker told me I should be prepared for how pregnancy was going to change my marriage because when his wife got pregnant, her weight gain made her “unrecognizable.” Another individual questioned why we’d chosen to get pregnant soon after getting married, implying that we were crazy for wanting to trade in our newlywed status for parenthood so quickly.
I’m all for everyone sharing their experiences, especially people who have been parents far longer than I have, but the real question is, what purpose does this serve? It’s obviously not comforting and certainly not meant to be helpful. But in our quest to guarantee that we have absolutely zero rose-colored perceptions about parenthood, we’re stripping away most of its sacredness and joy in the process.
In the quest to guarantee we don’t have false perceptions about parenthood, we’re stripping away most of its joy.
Unfiltered conversations on parenthood are now the norm, and while that isn’t a bad thing, it’s entirely possible that we’ve taken that desire to be raw and real just a bit too far. There are whole libraries of Instagram Reels and TikToks dedicated to the “ugly” parts of pregnancy and motherhood, most of which aren’t so much about being real as it is about oversharing. Family YouTube channels which have long been decried as exploitative and problematic glorify toddler tantrums and the anger of parents, not to mention that some put children as young as newborns in the spotlight from day one – a decision those kids have no say in making for themselves while their parents collect the profits.
Turning Motherhood into Victimhood
Sharing motherhood woes on social media – including pesky pregnancy symptoms, postpartum depression, and even pregnancy and infant loss – likely began as a way to mitigate the stigma around associating parts of motherhood with trauma, which is an admirable goal. The idea of sharing anything related to motherhood publicly was once an act of rebellion in and of itself. Even as recently as 60 years ago, pregnancy was something you couldn’t even outright refer to on television, as if motherhood and the act of conception were something dirty that should only be talked about behind closed doors. Hollywood lore tells us that when comedy legend Lucille Ball informed network executives that she was pregnant, the idea of writing her pregnancy and child into her own show was absolutely unthinkable to them.
It’s safe to say that we’ve fortunately come a long way from the dark ages, but is the complete 180 we’ve done really a better alternative?
If we’re scrolling through social media, we’ll quickly become less conditioned to see motherhood as something joyful and empowering than we will internalize it as inconvenient and insurmountable. What’s more, moms who have the audacity to share their positive experiences might even be accused of faking it or of perpetuating unhealthy standards, as if it’s suddenly impossible for women to genuinely enjoy their pregnancies and experiences as moms even if they’re not always ideal. Speaking for myself, I haven’t had a fairytale pregnancy but that doesn’t mean that I want to discourage others from enjoying and sharing their favorable experiences.
Where To Find the Balance
Just weeks short of my daughter’s birth, I’ve already made sacrifices for her that I never would have considered before being pregnant. Motherhood in its essence is a sacrifice most of us can’t comprehend until we experience it, and it demands selflessness, just as it can be heartbreaking, frustrating, and discouraging. It’s also quite possibly one of the most beautiful experiences we can have and the purest form of love on earth. But these days we’re more inclined to cheapen it with careless words than we are to treat it with reverence and respect.
Moms who share their positive experiences might be accused of faking it or perpetuating unhealthy standards.
Not every day is sunshine and rainbows and harmony, just as not every day is tantrums and dirty diapers and secretly hating your spouse. Acknowledging that parenthood is both of these things at once is how we can share openly but keep our sanity at the same time. Perhaps the most productive piece of advice I’ve been given about parenthood is that you will never be prepared for how fundamentally it will change you as a person. It’s apparent that instead of embracing that change, most of us would rather share how much we resent its hold over our lives.
Many women will become moms without any real grasp of how it will affect them, myself included. Instead of accepting those struggles for what they are, and yes, even sharing those conflicts with perspective, we give the hardships and frustrations much more power than they actually have. For some of us, frustration is our one and only perception of what it means to be a mom, when in reality it’s so much more.
Many of us want to be encouraging when it comes to new moms or prospective moms, yet our words and actions couldn’t be further from encouragement. Our friends and even perfect strangers on the internet have the ability to shape our opinions and views of what our role is as mothers and what it isn’t. It isn’t realistic or helpful to pretend that motherhood isn’t without its battles. But when we can’t see the forest for the trees, we lead others (and ourselves) to minimize, belittle, and even mock or deride what’s arguably life’s highest calling.
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