I’ve come to believe that power is something we can hold internally, separate from our perceived situation (though I acknowledge there may be situations where this is not possible). I believe that shifting our perception of our value in the situation is key. But for a while I definitely felt void of any personal power, as I navigated what it means to be a mother.
So many women may not feel any shift in power following the step into parenthood. They keep hold of their sense of worth, sense of self & of their own power. To anyone who hasn’t felt a bit lost in parenthood this post quite possibly sounds silly or ridiculous, like common sense. I however, did feel lost and I’m sure I can not be the only one.
The unspoken shift of power when we became parents
This happened mostly because of my perception of what motherhood means, the values I placed on it and how I saw my role within the family. These perceptions have been formed based on what society, the media and social media has told me, what I internalised growing up and every other bit of noise and information about motherhood I’ve heard since, including all my own judgements and fears about being a “good mum”.
To illustrate the contradictions of what we’re told as women I’m about to list some of the very conflicting beliefs I had. I picked up most of these beliefs growing up, some were intentionally passed on to me and some were what my childlike mind derived when making sense of the world around me. They are derived from how I internalised motherhood from watching my own mother and also by watching my grandmothers who mothered in a whole different era of expectations.
Society and my pre-parenting expectations
Ok, here we go. Please don’t judge me too harshly, many of these beliefs were formed by the mind of a pre 7 year old….
1. I could do whatever boys could do
2. I was smart and could get a good job one day earning lots of money
3. Good mums stay home with their kids full time, they do all housework and cooking and give up their own lives until the kids have grown up. They give 100% to their kids and anything left they use to tend to their marriage/husband. (Rationally I think this is rubbish, but deep down it’s a belief I struggle to override)
4. (I hope you’re ready for this!) Women who earn money are a threat to men. Men gain their sense of worth and place in society from providing for their family. If a woman earns money in a family they remove a man’s sense of worth and purpose. Men like to be a woman’s knight in shining armour and do the providing. (seriously WTF!!!)
5. Women who work don’t have time for their kids, they’ll be too tired to want to be with their kids when they’re not working and their kids will miss out (childhood wound logic, from a kids perspective, not a true reality of what happened but more based on a single conversation that probably never meant to carry the weight it did. I also know that mothering all day long is often more tiring than a day in an office so again rationally I reject this but it still lingers as a belief I’m trying to override)
6. Amazing women can have & do it all. The fact I struggle to do the home stuff just means I’m falling short and need to try harder.
So based on my beliefs I wanted to be like a man, have a great job, earn all the money, give 100% of my time to my mothering, whilst also making sure I don’t emasculate my husband in the process. Crazy right?
I was doing really well at life until I got married and had a kid and weirdly it was around then that this belief system started to mess with me.
Weirdly enough in all of this, never did what I personally want or need play a part in this tug of war. The opposing beliefs were constantly front and centre stage of all my decisions.
I chose to be home with my daughter (ticking off belief No3) and I was self employed on the side (trying to tick off 1&2 but conflicting constantly with No5). My business stayed small enough that belief No4 wouldn’t be a problem, as my husband predominantly supported the family on his income.
The balance of money & power
Let’s face it. Society as it is, values money. Money = Power. People’s time caring and tending to the vulnerable, young and sick is not richly valued or rewarded. As a society we tend to have a warped perception on what we place value on. I feel the role of the mother (and the father) is massively undervalued in our society. I know we make the decision to have children and we are not forced, but we are raising future generations and I’m pretty certain from all that is available on the internet that we are expected to make a pretty f*cking good job of it. That being said, it is unpaid. I’m not arguing that we should be paid to mother our children but in a society where we only value money, we are automatically devaluing the essential caring work that goes unpaid.
Although my husband never once questioned how I spent money from the joint account, I always felt as though it was not mine, and as though I had not contributed. I felt less than for not bringing in my share. It always felt like it was his money and with his power he was choosing to share it. Never did I consider that perhaps I could be just as entitled to the money coming into the household based on the non monetary contribution I made.
This is where perception and holding power internally comes in. If I chose to believe my contribution to raising our daughter was worth as much as his working outside the home, I would have felt that money was as much mine as his. But I didn’t. I gave that power away because I didn’t see my “work” as valuable. I saw my lack of earnings as a burden whilst ignoring the fact that full time childcare would have cost us a fortune.
The balance of time and emotional labour
Based on my beliefs about being a mum, I should be 100% devoted to my child and anything left in the tank was to be spent nurturing our marriage because that wasn’t getting the attention it used to. Again I failed to value putting time and joy into myself because everything else seemed lacking and again I didn’t value what I was bringing to the table. I felt I was not doing enough, so I’d give the last of me so I know I’ve given my all.
When I was struggling I never felt that I could say to my hubby, “do you think you could do the washing up or have her a few hours while I do something for me” because to me (holding those beliefs) it would be a sign of failure, that I wasn’t doing all I should be doing and that I needed him to step up above and beyond what he was already doing (providing for us). I call myself a feminist but I had given us each our role, him earner, me home-maker. So I’d just sit and hope he’d fancy washing up one night. And guess what, he usually didn’t.
The truth is as a mother, for the early years at least, you don’t even get a second to pee or shower on your own. Going to work and having uninterrupted time on the train, space to eat lunch and peace and quiet to work without being on hyper vigilant toddler watch sounds like a dream! I’m not saying I’ve not enjoyed my time with my daughter, not at all. I’m just saying she was ALL my time for so long. I was completely consumed by her needs. Then when my husband came home the most I ever felt I could ask for were a few hours extra sleep or a hot bath. Which were super needed but my soul needed to be topped up beyond me just physically being able to continue through another day.
Also things my husband would have done for himself in his single days I had removed from his plate. I planned meals, did the food shopping, cooked (and when I didn’t it was grapes for dinner or a takeaway). I’d remind him of birthdays, have his parents over while he was at work. All these things were just assumed my responsibility and all of them shifted the time and energy balance between us.
Feminism & the balance of parenting
I was raised a tom boy. I played football, petitioned for equal rights at school, started up a girls football team. I was fierce in my desire never to feel less than the boys. I wanted to raise my own daughter with the same deep knowing that she too was no less than the boys. But here I am cooking and cleaning and doing the food shop and generally trying to live up to the mother I thought I should be. The motherhood script someone else wrote. The script I’m desperately trying to re-draft with a different narrative.
Growing up, going to uni and having a career were the focus, no one really talked about me one day becoming a mum. It was almost as though, now I’d been liberated by equality and had the ability to have a career I wouldn’t want to head back to the days when women stayed home and looked after the kids. Which was a little short sighted. No one seemed to ask if I’d want to have kids and want to stay home in their early years, it was almost an assumption that I wouldn’t.
Women once fought hard for us to have the equality of being in the work force, it’s funny how men weren’t chomping at the bit to get more involved in the home making and child rearing. It seemed that a career was the ultimate goal. But feminism is all about choice, having the choice to be whatever woman we want to be outside the constraints of the the male created world. If that looks like staying home for a few years to raise our kids then I think it’s about time we felt super proud and empowered to do so. It’s one of the hardest jobs in the world and I for one need to start taking credit for the work I do. Yes no one writes you an appraisal or an annual review, often you aren’t even sure if you’re doing a good job but the truth is we show up every minute of every day for the little people that will grow into amazing human beings because of the time and love we gave them and that requires a moment to feel a little bit proud of every single day that we’ve shown up to wipe snot and bums and kiss ouchy knees.
My husband is not an ogre
I really do want to take a moment to say my husband is not an ogre. He has done more than his fair share of night settling and early mornings. It’s not that I thought he wouldn’t say yes if I asked for more. It’s that I thought that he deserved more so I didn’t ask. He was suffering the sleepless nights and the lack of life beyond parenting too. I was also aware he was carrying the weight of providing.
Any help I’ve asked for he’s never refused and never made me feel like I’m not enough. I just never used to ask. And this is why I’m writing this post. So much of everything I’ve written has nothing to do with him. It was all a symptom of my own beliefs. It turns out once I sat down and asked for what I needed, I got it. I just didn’t think I had the power to ask, I didn’t feel like I was doing enough to warrant asking for anything more.
The only way out – finding our way back
The only way out of this ridiculous mess I found myself in was to reassess my beliefs. Reassess my worth and reclaim my power. I’m determined to show my daughter a different female lead. The lead I was so easily able to be outside of the family dynamic. Every single day I reassess every restriction I’ve placed on myself and challenge what society has told me.
I still choose to mother with all the love, compassion and grace I have to offer, that will never change. I love her strongly and fiercely and that will always be the case. But I am conscious now of what I want her to see. She will no longer see a mother struggling within the confines of what society has placed on her. She will see a mother taking back her power and strongly taking up the space and time she needs to be the person she needs to be.
Society sometimes forgets that women who have children, do not suddenly become complete and no longer hold the dreams, wishes, desires and needs they had just months/years earlier. Yes, motherhood fundamentally changes us forever but we are still just as human as the fathers we parent alongside. We still wish to develop ourselves and our minds, we still have ambitions and wish to achieve. We will also one day need to know ourselves enough that as our children find their way out of the family home, there is something of us left that feels like us without them.
Practically it looks something like this
Defined roles – We were living some unspoken agreement that I did the majority of housework unless things really started to slip and then he’d help out. Now we have a nightly rota of washing up and cleaning the kitchen. We each know when it’s our turn. Defining who does what when means that we each have accountability for our own tasks. They don’t just sit there waiting for someone to do them (while I secretly seethe at the fact I know it’ll end up being me). I cook in the week and he cooks at the weekend. Just knowing it’s shared is a huge help and knowing where my responsibility starts and finishes is really nice too.
Asking for what I need – I now frequently ask for time away from the house/family to meet with friends or attended classes etc. I have asked that my husband does the same. It ensures we both stay topped up so we have a renewed sense of energy when we return home. We have also traded 3 nights a week where we sat watching box sets for personal time. So I read, meditate, learn and create three evenings a week. I used to worry that given how much less time we had together since having a child, my husband might take offence at me wanting more time for me, but he has gratefully taken the same time for him and it’s been so much more beneficial than watching TV. I no longer underestimate the power of time for yourself no matter what you choose to do with it.
Shamelessly taking time – My daughter is in preschool 2 days a week and I used to feel that those hours should be crammed full of hard graft so they were well spent. Now I make sure I take the time I need to reset and replenish during these two days before I start any work.
Finding a sense of belonging outside the role of motherhood – this may seem odd to many, but we moved to a new area when I was pregnant so my entire existence was being a mum. Every single friend I made was another mum of a child the same age. It’s all we talked about. Unlike my hubby who has an array of people to talk to every day at work I mainly had my daughter for company. Now I’m not for one second undervaluing those friendships, they are some of my very dearest friends. But we tended to meet with kids in tow and rarely got to finish a sentence. I’ve now sought out ways to meet with friends away from our kids. I’ve even sought out new places to go to meet entirely new people. Redefining who I am and all the different ways I belong. It’s been a breath of fresh air and I would highly recommend it to anyone!
I no longer defer to the internet – a huge part of feeling more powerful has been tuning out the internet. There are so many societal expectations that are easily reinforced if you know where to look online. Insta-worthy and pinterest-worthy mother’s showing the world how it’s done. These days when I’m unsure, have a question or generally feel the need to seek out advice. I stop myself. I sit and decide for myself what my gut reaction is and what I think the answer might be before I allow myself to get out my phone. Nine times out of ten I have a gut feeling or opinion and once I’ve given myself the time to sit with it I am rarely swayed by the internet. Before I seemingly just absorbed all that was out there assuming it must be more accurate than anything I could have known.
We owe ourselves more. More love. More empathy. More time. More joy.