The Ideological Battlefield of Motherhood
This interview by Anne Helen Petersen with researcher and writer Kathryn Jezer-Morton covers a lot of what makes me cringe whenever I see what makes a good/bad parent debated on social media. With the rise of pop therapy memes, it’s become a regular thing for folks to express and pick apart the many traumas we experienced at the hands of clueless parents, bosses and exes online, particularly on Twitter and Instagram.
I find it worrisome, especially considering that what makes “expertise” is diffused online, and how social media affords an opportunity to constantly renegotiate the terms of a “good” or “ideal” relationship and compare them to our own experiences alongside the desire for “healing.” Especially on the parenting side, which is a high stakes venture, and especially since what it means to “nurture” and “heal” are moving goal posts – and especially considering that American parents are ever expected to do more with less resources and no social safety net. These debates on how parents should parent often center on organizing the internal lives of parents, particularly mothers, from the outside, after the fact, frequently by people who are themselves not parents. In this context, I worry that this DIY therapy internet culture inspires more enduring bitterness than enduring insight. It can feel dehumanizing and misogynist when so much focus is on the public correction of mothers.
On the other hand, this also speaks to our collective desire to process our thoughts and feelings therapeutically, when the ability to do so with a professional is limited only to those with the privilege of time, money, and health insurance. Interior health and healthy relationships would be more accessible if we built a society that prioritized public health as a benefit of participating in society. But for that matter, a society that prioritized public health would also do a lot more to facilitate parental success, too. At this time, parents are under incredible scrutiny, while also shouldering the increasing costs of raising children largely on our own. Parents are doing more parenting than ever, along with more work and less rest, on less and less income.
One thing I do miss about an earlier internet – from way before Instagram and the momfluencer – is the feminist motherhood blogs. Not “mommy bloggers,” but rather regular women with warts and fupas and unstylish hair discussing their lives with one another as fully-realized parents and people and workers with great frankness, selling nothing. Their writing cracked the whole world open for me as a young parent, showing me opportunities and possibilities I couldn’t have imagined otherwise. They discussed the darker sides of navigating marriage, frustration at the pressures of work and home, and other life failures and successes with incredible beauty and insight. There was a time when digital spaces for mothers were incredibly supportive and not monetized. The salad days.
This other stuff – the unattainably aspirational images, the carefully curated household gripes wrapped up in neat conclusions, the monetization of homemaking – has real social consequences that haven’t fully unfolded yet. Jezer-Morton suggests that the ability for mothers to tell the truth about our lives online is increasingly only an option for those who can afford the fallout, and is arguably reckless for the rest of us.