b) This second implication of the assumption regarding the valuation of daytime productivity is specifically on mothering. Often you’ll hear parents say they need the nighttime to be “better” parents during the day. If the focus is still on mothering, how can this be a detriment to mothering? Shouldn’t we want to be better parents?
I want to quickly unpack this idea of abandoning nighttime mothering or mothering to be a “better” parent during the day. The first issue is that, like the workforce, we are somehow gauging our productivity – our daytime productivity – as parents or mothers. We have “good productivity” and “bad productivity” and we only reward the times that fit within our cultural norm, despite the fact that our infants and children couldn’t care less what time of day it is when they need us.
The second is that we are now putting arbitrary value on how we mother.
We are turning mothering into the contest that leads to the ideal of the “perfect” mother, which can only exist if we aren’t mothering half the time.
It’s the continuation of the fallacy of quality time over quantity time.
Finally, it shifts the focus of mothering away from mothering our children’s needs when they arise to mothering only when it is culturally acceptable, which then bleeds out into other areas of mothering, as we see with backlash against nursing in public, handling of tantrums, babies crying in public spaces, and so on.
So this assumption that daytime “work” – whether it is work or mothering – is more valuable than what happens at night is the first step in detaching women from their role as mother.
2) The second assumption, related to the first, is that nighttime mothering isn’t “necessary”. Not only should we value daytime work and mothering more than what happens at night, but the idea behind leaving a child to cry is that nighttime mothering has no value to the child or the mother-child dyad.
I have heard the argument that the value of extinction sleep methods is really in self-care for mum, but to pull a quote from one of my favourite mothering experts, Pinky McKay, “Why did you want a baby if you want to sleep 12 hours?”
Self-care means saying “me too” not “me first”.
But of course, our patriarchal playground is structured such that “me first” is the name of the game.
An even larger problem with this assumption is that once it is established, it is very easy to make the leap from “nighttime mothering isn’t necessary” to “mothering isn’t necessary”. If you think that leap is insane, think about the rise of prominence of daycare, the wages that we pay daycare workers, and even more so, the idea that children who don’t attend daycare will somehow be worse off; that it’s “necessary” for their development. Think about that: Mothers aren’t necessary, daycare is.
How little value do we put on mothering if we’re saying that poorly paid strangers are better off raising our children than we are?
Yet this is the idea that runs rampant on our playground. Patriarchy relegated women to “mothers only” because it doesn’t value the role of mother – and even includes a male overseeing his wife in this role because she can’t be trusted to it. Liberal feminism hasn’t fully changed this mindset, instead continuing to devalue mothering as something to be passed off to others as women reach their masculine potential in the work force. But if they don’t pass it off, they’d better prove their worth by being the perfect mother – one without flaws, whose children conform to what our cultural ideal is of children (no matter how far from their biology it is), and who will compete as mothers just as we compete in the workforce. If you aren’t being productive, at least you can pretend you are.
How did we get here?
Before I talk about the effects on mothering and how these views lead to maternal detachment, I want to talk a bit about how we got here. After all, most women are mothers. How did we end up in a situation where we are so devalued? How did we end up with a feminism that has not only ignored us, but turned on us as well?
This is where our cultural norms come into play. If you’ve spent your entire life playing on the playground we have, being told how meaningless the work you do is, it’s impossible not to internalise that. So of course when you go to fight for change, it’s probably going to be to try and show that you too can do what is of value instead of trying to tell them that they’re missing the value in something else.