problem with the motherhood challenge

My Problem With The Motherhood Challenge & The Cult of ‘Mommyhood’

problem with the motherhood challenge

By Jean Lomas-Hamilton of This Slow Process

If you’ve been on Facebook — at all — over the last few weeks, you’ve probably seen it: the “meme du jour,” i.e. the Motherhood Challenge. And if you’re a mom, you’re likely to have been tagged in at least one status that reads as follows:

Motherhood Challenge: I was nominated to post 5 pictures that make me happy to be a mother. I’m tagging 10 people that I think are great mothers to post 5 pictures for the Motherhood Challenge! I will copy and paste this in the comments below for you. Here are my 5 pictures that make me happy to be a mother.

As with most Facebook trends, people’s opinions seem to have fallen into two camps: (1) “Yaaaay, another fun way for me to post pictures of my babies!”, and  (2) “WHYYYYYY OMG NOT AGAIN this is super annoying.”

To be clear: I have no problem with anyone who chooses to participate for a bit of fun. It is fun to share pictures and to take part in something that your friends are doing. That’s why we have Facebook in the first place. But the Motherhood Challenge got me thinking about how we as a society view motherhood. The cultural mindset lurking beneath the surface of these kinds of memes and why we enjoy them strikes me as problematic.

I first heard of the Motherhood Challenge via this Guardian article, so I’ll admit I came into this with a decent amount of front-loaded bias. While I think the “don’t post about things that make you happy because it might make people who don’t have those things feel bad” argument (versions of which are trotted out on various holidays throughout the year, including April Fool’s Day, of all things) is a little tired, certain other parts of the piece definitely ring true for me.

I tend to agree there’s a certain level of fetishization when it comes to parenthood and that it’s especially prominent on social media. I also agree that the quasi-canonization of parents (and, in particular, mothers) serves no one – parents included. Motherhood – or “mommyhood” as some people insist upon calling it, even though it’s NOT A REAL WORD and, in my opinion, infantilizes women – has achieved an almost cult-like status. This not only annoys the crap out of non-parents, but it also leaves mothers struggling to emulate the archetype of the “perfect mom”:

  • A woman who defines herself by the products of her uterus.
  • Whose life had no meaning before she had children.
  • Who loves harder than you could even fathom.
  • Who never gets a hot meal because she’s too busy feeding everyone else.
  • Who’s more tired than you are.
  • Who would sacrifice everything, including her career and autonomy, for her family.
  • Who has no other interests in life because she’s too busy raising her children and wouldn’t want to miss a single second.
  • Who keeps the house clean, puts healthy home-cooked meals on the table, and knows the family schedule like the back of her hand.
  • Who constantly takes and shares photos, but is somehow never glued to her phone because she must stay engaged with her children 100% of the time.
  • Who does all the work of child-rearing and housekeeping and still has the energy to have regular sex with her spouse.
  • Who posts thousands of photos of her kids on Facebook, but not a single one of herself because her life isn’t about her anymore.
  • Whose kids are the reason she gets out of bed in the morning, because who could possibly want or need more than that?
  • Who has it all – as long as “it all” is defined as “kids.”

And don’t even get me started on the “lovable, bumbling idiot dads” trope, which is not only untrue, but is also utterly offensive to the men who also raise our kids.

The pressure to digitally share every single moment of our lives (or of our kids’ lives, because as mothers we’re required to define ourselves by our children) is symptomatic of a culture in which motherhood has become a competitive spectator sport and in which we’re expected to constantly offer up our lives for the enjoyment and judgment of others. You know, to see whether we’re living up to the impossible standard that’s been laid out for us. And mostly to conclude that we aren’t.

That probably sounds pretty rich coming from someone with a mom blog, but part of the reason I started writing about my experiences as a parent was that I didn’t see voices like mine represented in many places. Statements like “you don’t know REAL love until you have a child” or “my single friends tell me they’re exhausted and I want to laugh them out of the room because they obviously have NO IDEA what that word even means” are plastered over every square inch of the internet…and they’ve always bothered me. Discounting non-parents’ experiences while pressuring parents to feel and behave a certain way, as though we all MUST be having a transcendent experience 24/7, is harmful to everyone.

I have wonderful friends who, either by choice or by circumstance, are not parents. I have equally incredible friends who are parents and are tired of the social pressure to share, share, share our “perfect” lives in order to keep up with ridiculous expectations. The popular discourse around parenthood in general, and (let’s face it) motherhood in particular too often serves to divide us.

Parenthood isn’t inherently good or bad, it just…is. It’s a factual state of being, and it is what we make it.

We are all more than this one detail of whether or not we have children. Yes, I’m a mother (and incredibly happy to be one), but I’m also a whole person with challenges that are no more difficult than anyone else’s, happy moments that are no more beautiful than anyone else’s, and emotions that are no more intense than anyone else’s, regardless of family status.

We each walk our own path and each one is equally valid – and how we perform when the cameras are on us has no bearing on any of it. No matter where you land in the Motherhood Challenge debate, I think it would do us all good to remember that.

This post originally appeared on This Slow Process.


About the Author

Jean Lomas-Hamilton has a husband, a baby, a cat, and a lot of thoughts. You can read about them all on her blog, this slow process. Jean’s writing has been featured on Scary Mommy, Sammiches & Psych Meds, BlogHer, and, in her younger days, more than one public bathroom wall. She’s also on Facebook and there’s that.