It's almost Mother's Day. And nearly International Women's Day.
So I thought I'd write about mothers.
Granted, I think about motherhood a little more than some because I write and campaign for mothers who care for their children (and those who want to) to get a better deal within feminism and within society generally.
The women's movement has a long history. We have moved from 'liberation' to 'equality'; from 'mothering' to the 'workplace'; from 'mother' to 'parent'. We talk of the pay gap rather than the income gap. Elements of feminism and women's liberation effectively tried to liberate us from motherhood or from caring for our families. Yet, for many women, myself included, becoming a mother - and mothering our children - can be a liberating and sacred experience. It can free us from something, it can free us to something. There is something about motherhood.
From the power of our bodies in creating life and giving birth, to the nurturing of our children and touching something outside the 'machine' of modern economic existence, we know the value in what we do. When mothering is on our terms, it is a liberating motherhood. We know it when we live it, when we feel it and when we see it. It is what we will remember on our deathbed: life, love and little people.
Adrienne Rich wrote about mothering as experience compared with the 'patriarchal' institution of motherhood. When mothering takes place in conditions which allow us and our children to flourish, it can be one of the most precious times of our lives. Motherhood need not be an institution of inequality or self-sacrifice, if our culture had the will and decency to honour it. We can celebrate mothering, without reducing it to that dreaded sentimentality - we don't just get one day a year. We need to speak about the joys, the benefits and the satisfaction in mothering our children; and we need society to value what we do and respect us in our work.
Yet, the mother in western culture in the twenty-first century faces a huge number of obstacles before her in her attempts to frame her life with 'autonomy' and 'self-determination': or, simply put, the right to live and control one's own life. Mothers feel immense social and economic pressure to 'get a job', or feel the strain of 'doing it all' when they do.
When I talk about liberating motherhood, then, it is also with a second meaning: how can we ensure that a mother is free of constraints which prevent her from mothering her children? What are these barriers? How can she be relieved of conditions which render her without economic security or public standing if she chooses to care for her family? In other words, how can she enjoy the authority and means to direct her own life and the respect for her wishes and the choices she makes? How can we make sure that we do not penalise women for making the choice of caring for her family? What could we do to support women who want to care, but are currently compelled to 'get back to work'?
Because for all the talk of women's liberation, when it is predicated on liberation from motherhood, it is no liberation at all. When feminism is based on ideas of equality which ignore the actual reality of her life, her deep wish to care for her children, and deny the value of caring, a mother is in chains. We need to help mothers free and to free ourselves. We need to get going on liberating motherhood.