Writing my last post about kids treating their mothers with contempt got me thinking about the role of cultural socialisation on how we are as mothers.
There’s a lot of discussion these days on the subject of socialising girls. We know that socialisation can impact negatively on them in terms of their confidence in speaking up, pushing themselves forward, standing up for themselves and being assertive in the arena of work and careers. But what about the effects of that socialisation on the role of mothering?
In the work arena a lack of that sense of your own value and your right to assert yourself results in being walked over, not taken seriously, disrespected, ignored and taken for granted. If these are the results of society’s socialisation of girls on their subsequent performance in the workplace, are the results at home likely to be any different when those girls become mothers?
Mothering is already by its nature a caring, helping, supportive role, but it’s not just that. As a parent you also need to feel confident in your authority and be clear about your boundaries – you need those assertive skills too. Just like you do in life generally.
Societal pressure on girls to be nice and passively decorative, together with the relentless conditioning into a passive supporting role through increasingly gendered toys, books and clothes, seems to me to be the least helpful training imaginable for the job of motherhood.
The nurturing, caring, loving side of the job is amply taken care of by Nature and its flood of hormones when a baby is born, together with the very real need to look after this new helpless creature (which Nature has designed to be totally irresistible). The overwhelming love you feel for your child is motivation enough to look after them and do your best for them, that bit is covered.
(I know that not every new mother instantly feels this way but I wonder whether rates of maternal depression are more because of that socialisation rather than despite it).
Socialising girls for motherhood misses one very important component of the job.
Even if we sail through the baby years, our socialisation does not equip us with the natural authority needed to deal with behaviour issues, or give us that strong internalised sense of our own value, rights and needs when we are treated with disrespect or even abuse.
Maybe that’s why the typical model of authority presented to us as the only alternative to being a doormat seems to be some kind of supernanny-dragon-law-enforcer figure, which I suppose is what you get when you don’t have a natural authority and it has to be manufactured.
If the purpose of socialising girls to be the caring, nurturing, empathetic gender is in preparation for motherhood then it doesn’t work well. We’d do better as a society if we brought up all our children, girls and boys, to be fully-rounded complete human beings.
I have never thought of this. You’re really onto something. I suppose it’s all part of the big picture – we want to bring up daughters to be rounded adults, able to explore all sides of themselves, confident in their own judgements and intuitions. It’s obvious, now you point it out, that that is true for them in all areas of life, not just education and career. A mother with a quiet authority is always great to watch, and yes, “manufactured authority”, as you put it, is a different thing.
You’ve given me a lot to think about (came over from BritMums “Best Post of the Week”).
Thanks for coming over and for your comments. I wrote this post from my own experience, I felt totally unequipped for the authority bit of mothering, I didn’t need any help with the loving nurturing part, that came naturally. (Uncomfortable memories of my own Mum saying ‘wait till your Dad gets home’ because he was the true authority). It was a long journey to find my own authority that felt real. Does make you think doesn’t it?
Looking for Blue Sky
I never had any wish or need to have maternal authority until I found myself to be the lone parent of a teenage boy, and now it’s too late! And yes I’m afraid that my upbringing may have had something to do with it.
Next week’s post is for you! 🙂