Patriarchy has messed up a lot of human experiences, including motherhood.
Recently I have had conversations with friends and colleagues who feel undervalued and unseen since returning to paid work. Most are women, and most have returned part-time. They sense, and studies show, their contribution is valued less than their paid full-time counterparts.
Full-time paid work is viewed as the epitome of contribution in our society. Informal (and formal) care work is seen as outside of core business, whether for children, families, friends, the wider community, or yourself.
We know this means people who do paid work part-time are disadvantaged at every level by the patriarchy. The system does this, and there is no amount of pulling up of bootstraps, leaning in, or having a go that can overcome it.
The message given to new mothers and others is that if we try harder, we can overcome. But it’s simply not true that individuals can overcome a broken system, and this lie makes mothers and families miserable.
I know this because I used to feel it, and I believed it. I know this because the women I have done my matrescence (the process of becoming a mother) studies with have shared their stories and overwhelming relief to understand what my teacher Amy Taylor-Kabbaz refers to as the “rigged system” and the “maternal wall”. I see it in the Women’s Circles I facilitate when mothers are allowed to share their story and know that it is not unique. It is not an individual failing if they aren’t keeping up with the imagined Jones’.
When mothers let go of the self-silencing and self-blame, they start to respond differently to themselves, their children, their family, and their community. They begin to claim their voice, ask questions, and externalise the burden of blame. Because once you see the truth of the patriarchal system, you can’t unsee it. The Pandora’s box has been opened, and out pours all the ways the patriarchy f’s us over. Not just mothers but everyone who can’t or won’t subscribe to the worldview that full-time paid work is the holy grail.
In the business investment world, the full-time obsession shows up in patterns such as “less than 4% of Venture Capital going to female founders and women making up just over a third of all Australia Business operators”.
The adage goes, “you have to work like you don’t have kids and parent like you don’t work”. Our measures of success skew to a model which serves a breadwinner with a wife model. Care responsibilities are often overlooked even in spaces that claim to be female-led or about female empowerment. Refer to every International Day of Women breakfasts held at 7am, at a corporate city venue without childcare.
Middle Ground Motherhood (MGM) is the social enterprise I founded to apply the mother-lens and create mother-led communities. Not because dads don’t matter, not because women should need to have children to be valuable members of society. Because when mothers thrive, the whole community thrives.
I believe the first step in creating space for mothers to thrive is to lift the burden of responsibility off the shoulders of individual mothers and back to the systems that should support them.
The systems need to include universal childcare, an adequate social security wage and circles of support for mothers to develop their ideas and solve the complex issues our world faces together.
I encourage every Hen House chick to think about how they are supporting the mothers in their life, whether that is themselves or the founders around them.