Right before I gave birth to Emily I was reading Shonda Rhimes book, A Year of Yes. It had the perfect tone for my a 9-months pregnant terrified self who was about to become a mom. I loved her powerful unapologetic voice and found tidbits of wisdom about motherhood that rang true.
I recently revisited the passages I highlighted in her book and found myself saying “YES!” out loud. As a new stay at home mom, I find myself often falling into the trap of becoming invisible. What I mean is, I convince myself I should be able to do it ALL on my own. Then suddenly before I realize it I, Jessica, have disappeared. I realize I am completely burnt out, exhausted, and haven’t even thought about myself in a long long time.
Now there’s no reason for me to do this. I am blessed to have a dedicated husband who is an incredible father, and family members who are always willing help. There are also countless reputable babysitting agencies in NYC that I can explore. Alas, I still rarely ask for help. Why?
Why do I think I should just “suck it up” and do it all on my own? Why do I feel like I can’t lean on people who I know want to help? What makes me think I need to be superwoman and never complain, essentially become invisible? I think part of it is the messages we receive about mothers in our society.
Shonda Rhimes puts it perfectly so I’ll let her take it from here. In A Year of Yes she says,
“I don’t think it ever occurred to me before how much and how often women are praised for displaying traits that basically render them invisible. When I really think about it I realize the culprit is the language generally used to praise women, especially mothers.
‘She sacrificed everything for her children…She never thought about herself…She gave up everything for us…She worked tirelessly to make sure we had what we needed. She stood in the shadows, she was the wind beneath our wings.’
Greeting card companies are built on that idea. ‘Tell her how much all the little things she does all year long that seem to go unnoticed really mean to you.’
This is good we are told. It’s good how Mom diminishes and martyrs herself. The message is: mothers, you are such wonderful and good people because you make yourselves smaller, because you deny your own needs, because you toil tirelessly in the shadows and no one ever thanks or notices you… this all makes you AMAZING.
What the hell kind of a message is that? Would ANYONE praise a man for this? Those are not behaviors anyone would hope to instill in their daughters, right?
I’m not saying MOTHERHOOD shouldn’t be praised. Motherhood should be praised. Motherhood is wonderful. I’m doing it. I think it’s great. There are all kinds of ways and reasons that mothers can and should be praised. But for cultivating a sense of invisibility, martyrdom, and tirelessly working unnoticed and unsung? Those are not reasons. Praising women for standing in the shadows?
Where is the greeting card that praises the kinds of mothers I know? Or better yet, the kind of mother I was raised by?
I need a card that says, ‘Happy Mother’s Day to the mom who taught me to be strong, to be powerful, to be independent, to be competitive, to be fiercely myself and fight for what I want.’
Or ‘Happy Birthday to a mother who taught me to argue when necessary, to raise my voice for my beliefs, to not back down when I know I am right.’
Where are the greeting cards for the kind of mother I try to be? For the kind of mother I want my kids to see? For the kind of mother I want my daughters to be one day?”
This is an EXCELLENT question, Ms. Rhimes! Where are those greeting cards?
Here’s my dream- Emily grows up with a mom who is “fiercely herself”. A mom who is proud to be strong and seen. A mom who takes care of herself and asks for help when she needs it.
Who knows, maybe when Emily’s my age greeting card companies will wake up and she’ll give me a card that says, “Happy Mother’s Day to a mom inspired me to follow my dreams, who spoke up for herself and her family, and who showed me what it’s like to be a strong independent woman.” That’s a card I’d love to get.