Mothers. The word itself is a feeling. An idea of unconditional love, warmth, grace and affection. Of loving scoldings laced with authority. Of a person who you will always belong to, never grow up for and who will be there for you irrevocably. In this definition, propagated by popular culture, with pedestalizations and sacrifice, ranging from the iconic ‘Mere paas ma hai’ to Secret Superstar’s Najma, each mother has been straddling various roles based on the cultural need of the time.
While in the 60s-70s, she was either an authoritarian or a trophy worth winning, while conforming to moralistic values of the time, to now, when she endures abuse, cushions her children, their dreams and their basic desires to live. The role of the mother still seems stationed as a provider, and as a relationship to the protagonist relegated the role of either a conscious keeper, a jolter, a moralistic watchwoman or a mere safety net.
How different are our lives from popular culture really? One would argue – not very. The idea of a home completes itself with the presence of the mother even today. Not because of the person the mother is, but by the role she plays in providing for the rest of the family. She is the pressurized anchor of the family that holds everything together.
From providing the food to running the home to taking care of the children, stringing together everything from lost lunch boxes to emotional handicaps. Not because she has asked to play this role is all its glory, but because it is a gendered expectation. She works too. Outside the home and inside as well.
She fights inequalities outside at work, but her role in the universe of the home remains just as demanding and unrelenting. Yet questioned. So, when a homemaker is asked “what do you even do all day?” or a woman is asked to “lay down dinner please”, despite having worked all day (home or physical place of work), these statements themselves are heavy with gendered expectations.
Does a man’s job in parenting end once he has shared his sperm?
The task of parenting is still primarily the mother’s. I recently saw a post on Facebook by an old schoolmate, who had shared a photo of herself and her son, in a loving embrace. It was captioned “Men are what their mothers make them”. The ownership of raising the right man, the right child, is that of the woman’s.
Does a man’s job in parenting end once he has shared his sperm? Or is it merely limited to financial provisions and the exercise of authority? Parenting, the conversations, the empathy, the depth is a prerogative of both parents. Why are most emotional conversations expected to be handled by the mother? How is it that a man can absolve himself of the duty of raising a child?
In the 80s and 90s, fathers were the authoritarians – the world revolved around them, you had to be home and make your presence visible to them. The humanization of the father, with vulnerabilities, happened only once the relationship moved to a conversation of two adults.
Why mustn’t we accept vulnerabilities as we grow with our children? Why mustn’t we teach them that it is human to be vulnerable? Is vulnerability merely a woman’s forte? Are we not gendering this right from the beginning? Parenting, its ups and downs, its honesty must be shared. And no, men are not what their mothers make them. It is what their parents make them.
How many conversations do we have, for mothers as humans and not as a role even in our popular cinema? Barring English Vinglish, when Shashi makes a decision to do something for herself, purely herself. That guilt of putting herself over her family’s expectations is real. The need to be present constantly to fulfill expectations is a societal need, constantly spearheaded generationally and by popular culture.
As soon as a woman becomes a mother (often the choice isn’t even her’s), her own desires, big or small, take a back seat. Why do we penalize a woman for putting herself first? A legitimate desire is stifling, given the guilt she is saddled with.
There is a slow change where women are negotiating expectations with their own personal desires. But it comes with self-laden guilt, of ‘ignoring’ a child, not spending adequate time in the home. Whose definition of adequacy is this? Why is her absence guilt-laden, and everyone else’s absence excusable?
There are rare conversations of the need of financial independence for mothers. What it takes, the education and the implementation. Are we afraid of disrupting the idea of familial balances with these confrontations? With financial independence, not only do we liberate the mother, we also absolve the man from the pressure of ‘taking care of’ or providing for his mother.
We remove the dynamic of pedestalization of the son as a saviour and allow him to be treated as an equal. We keep the independence and dignity of the woman intact for her to lead her life as she pleases. Do we not have enough strength in our relationships for the mere love in them, that we must straightjacket them in expectations to ensure they live? A girl wanting to take care of her mother? For a generation above, a hard idea to swallow.
Why do we penalize a woman for putting herself first?
I have had the misfortune of witnessing the staunchest of feminists who expect their mothers to be available for every beck and call. That the provider of food and emotional anchorage is them. There is a consistent sense of taking them for granted, refusal to acknowledge their personal choices and disregarding their points of view.
It is critical for us to explore and accept their personal-political. We can’t be conditional with our feminism. When we fight for equal rights, opportunity and no discrimination, we must include our mothers and their autonomy in that conversation. Not our definitions of liberation or our expectations from them with regard to our life or their’s.
But is everything downhill? Is there anything changing? There are people in their own specific families that start the change in their microcosms. My greatest example of feminism has been my father, calmly dusting the home every night, helping wrap the kitchen, while my mother took care of finances. Every decision was made in consultation with each other and each other’s time was mutually respected.
There are families where both parents share equal responsibilities of raising their children, encouraging a more open, and therefore a deeper, stronger bond in the family, enabling more honest conversation. But this needs to be less deliberate and more organic. It will start with us looking at our mothers as mothers later and people first.
Also Read: Motherhood And The Work-Life Balance