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The Unspoken Realities of Motherhood

In honor of International Women’s Day, I can’t help but be so grateful for all of the incredibly impressive women in my life.  My circle of women has grown exponentially over the past two years and the support from other women has left me feeling grounded, loved and understood.


And yet the more women I meet, the more the topic of motherhood comes up and I can’t help but notice how the the depiction vs. the realities of what it is to be a mother is something that has been deeply misunderstood, misinterpreted and undervalued.

  

The role of mother is in desperate need of a rebrand.


The gap in understanding actually harms all women (both mothers and non-mothers) when we give a dishonest account or a partial picture of what the job really entails.


It’s a role that society as a whole says we should revere but most governments and workplaces don’t create policies to support the actualities of what motherhood requires.


On the individual level you may love your own mother fiercely, but intrinsically overlook the work involved until you have to do the job yourself.


And if you aren’t a mother, people make you feel like you are somehow abandoning this natural role instead of honoring the fact that you are simply turning down a job this isn’t the right fit or coming at the right time.


Experiencing motherhood in different countries and through the stories of the amazing women I’ve met along the way,  I only wish there was more honesty both among ourselves and with others in what the role is and what it costs.


I’m fascinated with the many ways in which different societies think about this role as a whole and how much my own views on the role have changed.


Increasingly over the last few generations, there seems to be a distortion & devaluation of what motherhood entails, even as all studies point to the increased importance of the role not just in children’s lives but to society as a whole.   


It’s a job that’s either viewed as an expected role for women to instantaneously know how to do or just a happenstance title that is almost overlooked as just one more minor detail.


Yet according to the Economist, women now spend on average twice the amount of time caretaking today than they did 50 years ago and the intensity of parenting expectations just seem to be increasing.   


So I keep asking myself in these discussions, why is it that we are putting more of ourselves into this role and yet not claiming all that it actually entails, even to each other?



How I viewed motherhood before becoming one —


I have to admit that I had a pretty clouded view of what motherhood was all about. I was blessed with a fantastic mother who did so much for her four kids. And yet the sheer exhaustion of the role didn't escape me, so it wasn’t something I wanted to attempt to do until my 30s.


Of course, I didn’t really comprehend everything that motherhood entailed and how expansive the job really is.


In my mind, if I created more balance in the execution of parenting, it might not feel as daunting…I guess we all have to be a little delusional to attempt this job!



How I viewed motherhood after becoming one—


What you don’t see from the outside is that although being a parent includes a lot of logistical management, planning and time spent with your children, that’s only half of the work. So much of the emotional, psychological and mental summersaults you have to perform are quaintly left out when people talk about motherhood or joked about when moms are depicted as needing yet another "girls night out".


I remember just 3 days after coming home with my first daughter how daunted I was by the sheer amount of energy it took to be a new parent and saying “I’m not cut out for this!”  It felt relentless, exhausting and nonsensical. (And I was only 3 days in!!)


My own mom assured me that I would be ok, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget that feeling of wanting to make a sharp u-turn out of motherhood or how parenthood just requires you to push that aside and keep going anyway.  No returns or exchanges! (Read the fine print people!!)


What goes unmentioned is the emotional work, stamina, or monotony of having to repeat yourself ad nauseam, children that continue to defy what they are supposed to be doing, trying to understand what seems to be illogical behavior and the low simmer of worry.


To do all of this each day and then understand that most of this work is unseen or undervalued by society at large, because this is what is simply expected of you, is not just disheartening but isolating.   


Before we moved to Singapore, we tried to create a marriage and parenting style that focused on as much equity as we could.  It was part of the core reason I believed our relationship worked so well for us both, we were equally invested in a few key things and we were both willing to put in the work to get us to each next step.


We both had careers, both held our children as our biggest priority and wanted to make sure that they had everything we had growing up and more.  With two career-focused parents this meant a lot of work at night, on the weekends to try to ensure we were giving our kids all that we could.  But we both had skin in the game.



How I view motherhood after 2.5 years of living as an expat…


With the decision to move our little operation to Singapore, we thought we were just changing addresses.  One big city for another.  One challenge for a different challenge.  Like a wardrobe swap, without the understanding that everything would be different, but also familiar enough to feel comfortable, including the sizes.


(*Sidebar for American & Australian women: beware of “Asia-fit” sizing in stores, it will make you cry when you go from an Extra-Small to a Large in Asia, no matter how much you think you don’t care about sizing and let’s face it, most of us still care)


Anyway, jumping over to a bubble within a new culture is a very strange experience.


You have 3 things happening at the same time, your current beliefs, the things people assume you believe due to your home country of origin and the beliefs of your current country that impact the lense in which you see your decisions now.  This is a great thing, as it makes you question what you may have just assumed before and see how many versions of “normal” there are depending on where you hail from.


Expat motherhood takes on a very different feel due to the circumstances that come with an oversees assignment.


Many of the people who’ve accepted the assignments are not just working in the assigned country but traveling a great deal regionally or across the world, in many instances.


Instantly, two career families have to take a very careful look at the dynamics of how their family works. Everyone can’t be traveling at the same time if you have little kids at home or want to keep a relationship going.


I’ve met lots of wives and some husbands who’ve made the decision to scale back, stop or change their careers while on assignment to make a family calculation that still equals success for the kids and the marriage. 


Many families can’t figure it out and end up going back home early, with 40% of expats failing to complete their full assignment contract.  And the failure rate is usually because there isn’t the right amount of support in your host country or within your family to make success likely.  (Which is code for: the women are not satisfied with the set-up)


So you would think that expat women would have a higher view of the support role they play, but I’ve witnessed exactly the opposite.  Mothers feeling lost and devalued without their work identity and not seeing the value of the invaluable support they provide.


This comes through loud and clear each day and rang so true when I watched the first episode of “Expats” as Nicole Kidman’s character, who is a mother of 3 says  “I’m a expat wife, but not a housewife.  I had a career before I came here, I’m not like them, although I fear I’m becoming like one now”


This line could be heard in almost any expat circle. And is also draped in so much judgement for the role of wife and mother.


I too had lots of time feeling lost without the corporate title I held back home.  Although my corporate career was full of stress,  I know to my core how much more taxing and emotionally exhausting it can be to be a mother.  Yet, it often doesn’t feel like enough to ground one’s identity.


Am I part of the problem?  Yes, Taylor Swift, it’s me, I am the problem, it’s me.


Unfortunately, we are all feeding into these messages of what it means to a successful person, woman, wife, etc.  As much as we can logically point it out, we are all internalizing these messages too.


As women, many of us are still very judgmental of each other, dividing those who are housewives, from who had or have careers, full-time jobs from part-time, those who have no children vs. many, those who are fulfilled by motherhood vs those who aren’t.   There is so much division, which I believe only makes us less supportive and less supported.


If you are not putting everything you have into your children, their education, their extra-curricular activities, what kind of person are you?


How can you call yourself a mother, if you aren’t raising your hand to be class parent?


How can you complain about the cost, when you are lucky to be able to have this role?


The Catch-22 is that just by telling the truth you are seen as almost unfit for the very role you fulfill.



When so many of us know the cost, why are we perpetuating the lie?


I think we often conflate the act of doing things for loved ones with a sense of obligation and even calling out that there is work involved in that care somehow creates the perception that you care less.


Because if you cared enough, the work would somehow feel joyful?


When in reality you care a great deal.


You simply aren’t willing to pretend that the work isn’t WORK.


The fact that you care about your children doesn’t really have anything to do with the amount of time, effort, energy and patience you’ll need to take care of them.


Calling out the insane amount of work involved doesn’t decrease your love for family.


And claiming that this has value honors the act of parenting to the degree that it should.   


I wish there was more honesty about the highs and lows of the job, just like any other job.


Some of this is tied to the fact that there are no monetary gains (you actually will spend way more than you imagine).


But the work has a market value you can start to estimate. 


Don’t think so?  Just try to hire someone to watch your children for you 24/7 and tell me that there isn’t a price tag associated with good care…and that’s just to watch them, not parenting them.


So it makes me absolutely insane to see mothers doing the work and then pretending that it isn’t work.  Why isn’t the work valuable when we are doing it ourselves?


The result is only hurting women as a whole and teaching our kids to think less of the role in the process.   



How did we get here?


“We lose value for things that other people don’t value”- Jay Shetty


This modern view of motherhood seems to have coincided with increased women’s rights, progress within the workforce and the increasing number of women with higher educations.


We are winning with greater rate in education and the workforce, but that is seemingly doing something very odd to the way we are viewing the work we do as mothers as not as valuable as it is.


Whether a woman should or shouldn’t become a mother is entirely a personal choice, but what I find interesting is the role of value & perception might be playing into how we are collectively viewing mothers as a society and that includes the way women perceive it too.   


As we look around at what is valued in today’s society and what is simply expected, we start to see how trends are leading all of us to undervalue mothers and general caretaking.


Across the world, more and more women are choosing to forgo having children altogether.


There are many reasons that factor into that decision such as spending time on other endeavors, rising costs of child care, lack of resources for families or lack of support.


But one thing that is almost always left out of the conversation is the fact that for many, motherhood is unseen and perceived by more and more women as simply not worth the cost.


Women are told that we should want to be mothers but choosing this path is often met without the benefits that many other choices provide (money, status or autonomy to name a few).


What if we all start to be really honest about the scope of this role?   What the cost is or can be? And acknowledge that there are many people benefitting from the unpaid labor of mothers.


The truth is that it can be extremely difficult to meet the needs of each child that comes into your family, you end up having to learn so much on the fly and won't get even nearly all of it right. It will take you many attempts to get even one stage of childhood mastered and by that time your child has moved on to the next daunting stage.


You may be a better parent for little kids but not so great as they grow older or vice versa. You may find yourself way out of your depth or with a lot less help than you anticipated. And even if you have a great co-parent, teachers, coaches and other parents will look at you if your child misbehaves. This doesn't include the work of feeding, clothing, educating, consoling, reprimanding, etc, etc, etc.


We have to state the facts and be proud we handle all of this everyday instead of acting like doing all of this is as natural as breathing. For most of us it's not and that's completely separate from how much we love our kids. The work is still work.



Building the value back into the role


Can we all be honest about what it costs us individually and as a society to do this job and set ourselves up for success in this as much as we would for any other role?


We are so filled with the ambitions of our parents, communities and countries for all that we can be.  But let’s not forget that to be a good mother isn’t just a natural occurrence but in fact an incredibly hard job to learn, with one of the highest learning curves, one that will continue to challenge us, a job in which you have to continually fail, get back up and try again and should be seen in the same light as any other hard job.


Going forward I’m holding myself accountable for the way that I speak about motherhood and how I’ll continue to highlight for my friends just how amazing they are for this work as well as all the other roles they may have.                                                                      


  1. SUPPORT No one gets a full life without support and those who provide support should be given the resources to make it sustainable

  2. RECOGNIZE If we don’t recognize each other’s contributions we can’t act surprised if others who aren’t doing this work don’t see the value. Recognize the work women are putting into this role.

  3. CHANGE THE NARRATIVE As a collective we have so much untapped power, starting with how we speak about it.                                                                                             

There is no such thing as “just a mom”. 


Know that most men that take on our traditional roles elevate themselves to Chief Growth Officer or Chief of Operations.


Just let that sync in for a minute…


It’s time we stop seeing care as our individual duty and as a vital part of family and societal success that should have the same kinds of recognition and support.


Let’s start with us.  Our kids are counting on it and so are we.






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