Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Motherhood gets Trendy

I was reading an article  in the September issue of Marie Claire magazine yesterday about one woman’s quest to remain childless, and the current glorification of mothers (especially of the single variety) in America. This particular woman is childless by choice. She just doesn’t want to have kids, and would rather live a life focused on her career and her husband. In the 21st century, this should be a totally acceptable choice for a woman. Yet, she continuously encounters people who think she has “Peter Pan” syndrome, or will suddenly want children once her biological clock kicks in, or will regret it if she doesn’t have children once she is too old. The author, Polly Vernon attributes this partially to deeply ingrained gender norms, and partially to the ultimate mother figure that has become so idolized in pop culture. She raises some good points, and I have to say, that I completely agree with her stance in the article.

I mean really, pick up Star magazine, or US weekly, even People, and I guarantee you will see at least one celebrity placed on “bump watch” for the possibility of being pregnant. Then once the lady in question has actually confirmed she is indeed with child, the stages of her maternity wear, and weight loss after baby are meticulously tracked. Watching celebrities become pregnant, be pregnant, and then become fabulous again after babies has become something of a national pastime. And then there are the extreme examples like the Octomom, and Kate Plus 8, that reveal a strange fascination with normal women who are only known to the public because of their multitude of children. We must not forget the celebs like Madonna, and Angelina Jolie who make adopting, having a couple babes of your own, and still exuding sexy femininity the ultimate ideal of motherhood. All of this is well and fine. There’s something that makes you a little warm and fuzzy inside at witnessing a loving, doting mother with her children.

However, there are a few things that are left out of these fairy tale pictures. Namely that these women have the resources to hire help with their many children, support the huge amounts of food and clothing they go through, and the power to create freedom of schedule so that they can work enough to give all of their children a good life, while still spending time with them. Those resources are something that most women simply don’t have access to, and especially single mothers.

In addition to promoting this ideal of motherhood, there has been a trend towards turning unexpected pregnancy into comedy (we've all seen Juno and Knocked up), and even encouraging women to take their reproduction into their own hands, and have babies without having husbands (or wives) first. Movies such as The Back-up Plan and the most recently The Switch with Jennifer Aniston create perfect endings for women who decided to become mothers without a steady beau in their lives. Even without seeing the movies, I would predict that by the end of it each leading lady has locked down her man, and made her household whole with a wonderful twist of fate. Reality just isn’t like that. If you are knocked up with another man’s child, I’m sure there are not a ton of men out there who are dying to jump on board and be a father to that child (especially if you just met).

The truth of it is that single motherhood is hard work. Even in situations where a father was present, and the parents split up, it is difficult for the parents and difficult for the child to negotiate having different family roles and for the parents to find the time for work, family bonding, and come up with the resources to fit both in. Raising children as one solitary person is extremely difficult, and I think it is time that Hollywood stops promoting it as easy, even trendy.

I am all for reproductive freedom in women. I think if a lady wants a baby, then by all means she should have it, if she has the resources to create a good life for that child. I think that it is fantastic that women can have children without being married without being publicly scorned, and that the ideal of the traditional family has expanded to include more roles (see this article, also from Marie Claire—how cute!!). And I believe the single mothers are some of the best mothers out there because they work twice as hard and love their children twice as much.

But really people, should it be glorified as the best thing to do? The women in Hollywood make it work, because they have a huge monetary and social network to rely on. Single mothers who become single after becoming pregnant make it work because they have to, and because they love their children. The thing that bothers me is that Hollywood goes around making it look easy, even ideal to have a baby without a family first. And that, my friends, is just about as realistic as all those romantic comedies out there where just by being in the right place at the right time the heroine gets her guy, gets her dream job, and becomes famous and wealthy right before your eyes.

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