Catherine Jackson: EarnestGirl Chronicles


Glass Houses

Are You A Good Mother?

When it comes to motherhood, we all live in glass houses in one way or the other. Some people put up more blinds. Some are brave enough to stand in front of the windows naked.

Just about every month in the five years since I began actively thinking and blogging about our current culture of motherhood, there is someone new to be appalled by, a new pejorative term for mothers (think helicopter parent, think Tiger Mom, and yes, think yummy), a new parenting trend to deplore. We tsk and shake our heads or climb up on soapboxes over Angelina and Brad’s adoption practices, babywearing, a new motherhood tell-all.

It happened again recently. I won’t link because it doesn’t really matter who or what, what matters is that a woman chose to publicly articulate some things that were hard to say about herself and reflected on how those things impact her role as a mother. And then the volley of stones rained down on her head. As they have for so many mothers who have dared to stand in our communal town square and say “this is challenging”, or “I made a mistake” or simply “I unapologetically choose this [fill in just about anything here: baby proofing, walking to school, co-sleeping, food choices, planned c-sections, oversharing, gender neutral clothing] for me and for my family.”

The public condemnation goes far beyond the Milky Way of motherhood blogs where discussion breaks out in comment sections and trolls take to Twitter. The conversation does frequently start there, for the community has grown formidable, but the motherhood pulpit extends to the cultural airwaves, book deals, magazine features, tabloids, movies. The judgment is swift and often merciless.

One very long and weary day during that first often-bewildering year of motherhood, I chose turn the music way up and to dance and sing as loudly as my exhausted baby was crying. Our front door had a window in it, and I hadn’t heard my brother-in-law’s knock over the music. When I whirled around in mid-chorus and realized that I had been seen, possibly even watched for several minutes, I was embarrassed. Like I had been caught naked embarrassed. I was not cooing and rocking my baby soothingly to sleep. My baby was inconsolable.. And I was certainly not conforming to the “Good Mother” idea I was supposed to be embodying. Clearly I was a failure Even though I was doing no harm to anyone (other than any neighbours who heard my singing), I felt vulnerable to the judgment I felt would surely follow. 

Almost from the first day our children are placed in our arms, we question our own choices. Our mothers, our in-laws, our neighbors question our choices. To some degree it seems to be part of the parenthood deal. "It takes a village" they say, but does this give permission for fingers to point and tongues to lash?  We are hard enough on ourselves. Must The Village also stand in judgment?