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.