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The Terrifying Softness of Motherhood

The Terrifying Softness of Motherhood

Parenting books promising to save our sleep (and tame our toddlers) and the yummy mummy movement have something in common. Both contemporary trends capitalise on women’s fear of motherhood. Or that’s what I think, anyway. As a second-time parent there is something now peculiar to me about how frightened we all are of the transforming effect of motherhood. Why are we so afraid of losing control, of being softened, of giving in, of being affected, of changing?

And yet listening to first-time parents sometimes all you will hear is their burning determination to not be altered by motherhood; to make their babies fit into their lives (lest they be duped into doing it the other way around). This baby will sleep peacefully through dinner parties and know how to behave appropriately in restaurants. This baby will listen to our music, and in fact will prefer our music to nursery rhymes. This baby will not disrupt our lives. This baby will not control us. Another theme among first-time parents, and surely related to the first, is the disturbing unreasonableness of our babies. We are overcome by babies that feed for too long or too often; babies who sleep too little or too lightly; babies who want to be carried too much; babies who are too fussy; babies who cry too much; babies who don’t like car trips, strollers, automated swing seats; babies who won’t be left alone. Babies out of control. Babies who seem to be demanding that a stand be taken against their tyranny. These babies drive us mad. They drive us to responses and decisions we need to justify. It was us or them. Someone or something had to break.

And I am the first to admit that I said many of these same things; I obsessed over them in fact (and I have the blog to prove it). I truly despaired of my first baby such was her unreasonableness – this is not fair I cried (and it wasn’t). But I wonder now, why did I ever expect babies to be reasonable. What made me think a species of mammal born so highly dependent would be at all reasonable in its demands?

And when I railed against the unreasonableness what was I really trying to express? What are all those parents, like me, trying to say? What are the parenting books and the yummy mummy mythology tapping into? What will happen if we lose control? If we succumb to our lives as mothers? What will it say about us? Why do we not want to be changed by our babies? What are we frightened may happen to us? Who will we become? Where do we assume it will end?

Andie Fox: Economics sometimes and writer, sometimes, at Daily Life & The Guardian & sometimes heard on ABC (Australia) radio. Latest book: The Good Mother Myth. Andie’s Blog is bluemilk.wordpress.com and @bluemilk

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