The system has (we have) failed motherhood

It’s common to hear that, around the ’30s, you should have reached sentimental and economic stability. In addition, if you are a woman, the maternal instinct will come to you, and you will live the best experience of your life. But, hey, you must do it before turning 35, because from that moment on, you start to lose your ability to conceive.

When I turned 30, I had no such instinct, no partner, and no money, which led me to feel a great disappointment and uneasiness. I had just moved to a new city, a new job, and a new industry, and I was recovering from another failed relationship.

My parents, grandparents, and close friends looked at me as the black sheep, the hater of the system. I wondered in anguish what I was doing wrong not to be like them, not to live up to expectations. I felt like a failure.

I started asking women around me, mothers and non-mothers. I wanted to know if I was a weird one or if there was something they were not telling us. For this article, I rescued some testimonies about motherhood from honesty, knowledge, and critical thinking.

What they don’t tell you…

I realized that all the interviewees agreed to a certain extent that motherhood is more complex than is told. There’s a lot of misinformation about what it involves in terms of care, time, and money required to invest. Despite being a momentous decision that changes our lives forever, we tend to take it blindly. We prepare ourselves for years for the professional world, we do masters, postgraduate studies, and internships, but we have children without knowing what it will mean. 

In Danae’s words: “They don’t tell you half of what you need to know. It changes your couple dynamics, your friendships drift away, change, or some get stronger. Professional life as a woman, unfortunately, also has great challenges.”

And that is because women continue to bear the majority of childcare responsibilities, 92% of women in the European Union, according to one study. Returning to work after maternity leave is a big challenge. Not only does the number of hours we work multiply, but we also feel the need to prove that we are just as valid as before.

Superwoman

Carmen admits that “at the beginning of my motherhood, I was overworked, and at the same time, I felt like the worst mother. I thought I couldn’t fail at work, so they would see how efficient I was even though I was already a mother, just like I used to work before. I even think I gave more than I did before.”

That’s the so-called Superwoman Syndrome. Cataloged as the new evil of women in the 21st century, and originated when women were incorporated into the labor market. 

According to Carmen: “I realized how I was ignoring myself, dedicating to work and my daughter. Being a single mother, I felt a lot of pressure to do everything right, both at work and in my motherhood. I didn’t realize that I was leaving myself behind and what I really wanted. I kept getting wrapped up in expectations that I put on myself.”

This disorder affects women who don’t want their lives to change because they are mothers. They feel responsible for everything, want to continue fulfilling their tasks at work, at home, with their social circles, and now with their children, completely forgetting about their well-being. The result manifests in physical and emotional symptoms that considerably raise their stress levels.

Perceptions and the system

Whatever our decision may be, as women, it’s common to be judged by society. Women are labeled as bad mothers if they want to continue with their careers right after having children or when they spend “little time” with them. On the other hand, they are labeled as selfish when they prefer not to have children and live differently.

This feeling of guilt or social pressure falls only on us. For instance, few countries grant the same maternity leave period to men as to women, which shows the existing inequality when deciding who takes care of the children. The so-called conciliation is not such if everything remains the same as before.

Lucila tells us that: “Yes, there are difficulties in getting a job for a mother, especially in jobs that require full-time or overtime work. Fathers don’t have this difficulty if they have the mother taking care of the children. Then the mother does many things at the same time.”

Carmen: “I think that, as women, we have or feel that we have more responsibility with the children. If I balance what I do as a mother, there are more activities, and I’m more attentive to my daughter than her dad.”

Many years have passed since the incorporation of women into the workforce during the Industrial Revolution, and working conditions remain the same. There is still a wage gap, mainly caused by motherhood, due to reduced working hours or the slowdown in our careers. 

We continue to be a minority in positions of greater responsibility because they require more time, and again it’s assumed that we don’t have it because we have to take care of the house or the children. Somehow, inequality is still as present as it has been since the beginning.

I realize that there’s an economic interest (surprise, surprise) for women to continue having children and maintain a system based on labor. Since childhood, with the movies we watched, or the toys we had fun with, we have been indoctrinated with the idea of being mothers. The system needs women to continue believing in motherhood as something essential in a woman’s life, that romantic idea that being a mother is the best thing that can happen in life.

Real changes

It’s true that the new generations are questioning these and other situations so that we at least ask ourselves if it’s something we really want in our lives.

In Danae’s words, “Nowadays most women are taking the space and time to be and exercise what they want, not what society says they should be and the age at which they have to be.”

We need to generate real changes in our society, so that motherhood becomes an equally valid option as non-motherhood. Women who decide not to have children and take other paths should not feel judged. Women who decide to become mothers should not feel excluded in their jobs or suffer the consequences of having a double working day. Being a mother is not incompatible with having a prolific professional career

Questioning motherhood is a taboo subject; however, when we open spaces, stories begin to flow. It is relevant to talk about it to realize that it’s more common than we think to feel overwhelmed, judged, or discredited for being or not being a mother. We need to recognize that something that causes so many inequalities and significantly alters our lives cannot be so idyllic.

By sharing these stories, we can become even more aware of this failure of the system and demand a real change, or at least make decisions from rationality and looking for what is truly best for ourselves.

I felt a great liberation when I realized that all these ideas and expectations came from the outside and that if I didn’t want to, I didn’t have to be a mother. I had to put up with many comments like: “you will change your mind” or “when you are older and lonely, you will regret it.” However, I feel calm because I know that the definition of success or failure is not the same for everyone and breaking with those paradigms has made me a little freer and much happier person.

Big thanks to Carmen, Danae and Lucila for sharing their valuable experience as mothers.

Marta Cabañas

Marta Cabañas

Enterprise Account Manager | Europe HQ

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