Looking for the perfect gift for Mother’s Day? Forget the dust buster. It’s a myth buster.
Motherhood is a fertile breeding ground for myths. Take the myth implicit in Bill Heffernan’s recent comments about Julia Gillard: that women who don’t give birth are “barren”. When we put this myth into the myth buster, we find that there are many reasons that women don’t have children. Calling these women “barren” denies the rich and fruitful relationships that many women nurture with children – you don’t need ‘your own kids’ to mother.
When people talk about mothering the way Bill Heffernan does, they perpetuate the myth that motherhood is defined by biology, breast feeding and “buckets of nappies”. This limited definition of motherhood assumes that ‘mothering’ is exclusive to biological mothers. It ignores the fact that women without children can also be good mothers and that there are many ways to mother.
There are many other myths around motherhood that we should feed to the myth-buster. Take these old favourites: “only women who give birth are mothers”; “children can only have one mum”; “there is no substitute for a mother’s love” and, the mother of all myths, “that only biological mothers are ‘real’ mothers”.
When the myth buster does its work we see that lots of women mother children – adoptive mothers, step mothers, social mothers, foster mothers, ‘aunties’, friends, neighbours, nannies, and so do some men. It is simply not true that all this mothering is second best or that these contributions to raising a child are less real or less motherly.
A child can have many mothers. In fact, there are many days when many, many mothers are needed – to get the kids to footy or netball training, to prepare dinner and get to the dentist on time, to make costumes for drama club, to drive kids to music lessons and parties, to take a turn with the wheel-chair, the shopping trolley or the pram, to help with maths homework, to remove nits from hair and dispense first aid to the guinea pig.
From childhood to adulthood, lots of people provide mothering in the form of sex education, learning to drive, mentoring about responsible drinking. They also share tears, reveal secrets and provide hugs and support children through the rites of passage. Yes, it takes a village. The myth that only mothers mother denies the important way that women without children can and do contribute to childrens’ lives.
With so many women mothering, why limit Mother’s Day lunch to only one mum? Every Mother’s Day, a lot of women who mother miss out because the traditional celebration of Mother’s day excludes women without children. This exclusiveness can make Mother’s Day a sad day for some women. However, by expanding our view of mothering, and by moving an apostrophe, we can share the celebration and make it a Mothers’ Day.
By acknowledging that mothering doesn’t just come from mothers, we provide opportunities to welcome more women to Mothers’ Day lunch and, in some families, we might also welcome a man or two to the celebration.
It is not only women who benefit from motherhood myth-busting. There are some children who feel sad on Mother’s Day because it focuses on the notion of ‘real’ mums. Kids who do not know their biological mothers, or cannot be with them, may not feel like joining in. However, if we acknowledge that there are lots of ways to mother and place less emphasis on biological definitions of mothering, we could make the lives of some kids happier. If we expand our rules about who is a mother, we might find that more children can enjoy the Mothers’ Day stall at school.
This Mothers’ Day, lets put all the myths in the myth buster and buy a toaster for Philomena for taking kids to the footy, a perfume gift pack for Auriol for all her school holiday baking, gardening gloves for Tina for telling the kids a bed-time story and chrysanthemums for Julia Gillard for caring about the future of work for kids.
This Mothers’ Day, the myth buster is the perfect gift for people who want to share the ritual of breakfast in bed. Perhaps we should send one to Bill.
The Australian May 11 2007