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If ever a phrase should be stricken from our lexicon, it
ought to be “Because I’m a mom…” I’ve seen moms toss this phrase about like a
toddler with a full box of tissues. It used to justify every perspective from
foreign policy to precisely how people should feel about Lena Dunham, and here
is the thing: It justifies nothing.
When I had my daughter, I remember my mom asking me, “How
does it feel to be a mom?”
“Like myself,” I told her, “only fatter.”
And one more kid later, nothing much has changed about that
perspective. Sure, I think more about the number of ways a child can die while
left unattended with a spoon, but I am essentially still myself. I don’t vote
differently, read differently or act differently, unless you count tired. But
let’s be honest, I stayed up late all the time before I had kids.
Yet, for some reason, once we don the mantle of mom, the
title becomes all-encompassing in a way no other societal role does. This
includes the title of dad.
In the New York Times, Heather Havrilesky calls this the “'mommy’
problem.” She notes that momness is expected to encompass every aspect of
woman who bears the title. This is problematic not only for our own identities
as Havrilesky explains, but also for the artificial divide it sets up between
the child havers and the child have nots. “Because I’m a mom…” is not only an
identity signifier, it’s also an exclusionary tactic.
It’s only in our minds that we’ve elevated motherhood to this plateau, where no one can get it unless you are mom.
There are a myriad of articles, videos and blog posts
expounding the differences between mom and non-mom. I once saw a video of a
woman explaining to her childless friends why she couldn’t hang out with them
anymore. The video went viral. So many women in my network were sharing it with
comments like, “This is so true!”
One of my favorite sites on the internet, STFU Parents, is
run by a woman who does not have children. She often receives the criticism
that if she had children, she’d only understand better the plights of parents.
But I have kids. I love her site. Parenting, motherhood, it’s not a monolithic
thing. It’s not us v. them. It’s not parents v. everyone else who gets to sleep
at night. The only thing that separates me from the woman who runs the STFU
Parents site? It’s that she was smarter than me.
Without a doubt having a child is a huge life changer. But it
is no more so than going to college, becoming a surgeon, experiencing loss,
gaining a marriage or moving to a new state. It’s only in our minds that we’ve
elevated motherhood to this plateau, where no one can get it unless you are
mom. And even then, you have to be “mom enough.”
After my daughter was born, I had a family member tell me I
wasn’t a “real mom” until I had more than one child. I’ve heard a friend say
about a mutual friend who adopted a 9-year-old that she’s not a “real mom.”
And while, sure, there are some things that can’t be fully comprehended unless
by experience, like say losing a limb or hand-to-hand combat with a Grizzly,
most of the issues that divide us aren’t matters of mom v. not moms, but a
matter of human empathy.
Childcare, maternity leave, paternity leave, health care — those are not mom problems, they are human problems.
With any life change, you experience the tectonic plates of
your life shifting, sediment resettling, friends realigning. But it is not itself a
reason to draw up an artificial Berlin Wall between the breeders and the non.
Three of my best friends do not have children. And they are
my mainstay for support and advice. The reason I keep turning to them is
empathy and humor. They have it. Those are not qualities determined by being
fruitful and multiplying. The divide between parents and non-parents is an
illusion. Unlike, battling a Grizzly or becoming a surgeon, we’ve all been
children before. We all have parents in one form or another. Empathy and understanding should be readily
accessible on either side.
Many of the problems of modern motherhood — childcare,
maternity leave, paternity leave, health care — those are not mom problems, they
are human problems. If we want to gain support for our "parenting problems," we
have to stop making them, “parenting" problems. We have to stop reifying this DMZ
between us and them — and it begins with empathy.
Motherhood, parenting, humanity, fighting bears it’s all
very complicated. But any failure of understanding doesn’t depend on the status
of a uterus, rather the ability to listen.