This time last year I was very pregnant indeed; this year I have an almost-one-year-old boy who does not stop. I’ve always noticed the way we talk about moms and motherhood in our culture; now I’m hyper aware. Last year I posted about a smart essay Anne Lamott wrote about how Mother’s Day is a sham. This year I feel like ranting about a viral video.
I don’t find this video heartwarming at all. It’s a dirty trick played on honest job-seekers during the slow recovery from a recession, and a gross exaggeration of a mother’s duties and trials. Sure, moms are on call 24/7, but they do, in fact, get to sleep sometimes, although there certainly were times this past year when I felt like that wasn’t true. Mothers are also allowed to sit down every once in a while. You don’t need to have a degree in medicine AND finance AND culinary arts to be a mom. What a ridiculous standard to set. And really, it’s an obvious ploy. Of course they’re describing mothers. You’d have to be clueless not to get that immediately.
I’m never the first to criticize something that goes viral. Lindy West rightly calls the ad manipulative. Blair Koenig from STFUParents points out that this is all marketing, advertisers flattering mothers in order to sell greeting cards and cleaning products, and how insulting that is. Eve Vawter on Mommyish says ads like this promote a damaging idea of moms as martyrs. Mary Elizabeth Williams rolls her eyes at the contradictions of this message: it’s the hardest job, but also the best, most important one of all time ever.
Catherine Deveny tells how this myth contributes to inequality by ignoring the contributions of fathers and perpetuating the idea that a woman’s place is in the home. Jessica Valenti says that the motherhood-as-job trope is itself one of the things that makes motherhood oppressive and crazy-making, since it’s part of the culture of total motherhood. Sure, being a mom involves a lot of tasks that often feel like a job, and a tedious, grinding one at that, but it is really not a job. It’s a relationship. And I don’t want to cheapen that relationship by describing it in terms of employment and market values. I don’t want to care for my son out of obligation, or an expectation of compensation, the way I would complete tasks for a job.
There’s no need to glorify mothers with overblown rhetoric about unbelievable sacrifices and superhuman feats. Motherhood is normal. It’s just part of life. It is possible to appreciate moms without inflating their daily lives into the torture of suffering saints, or worse, slaves. It’s nice to be honored on Mother’s Day, but the hyperbole in this video just distorts what should be a sweet, simple, fulfilling relationship. It would be a lot easier to be a mother if the only shit I had to deal with was in my baby’s diapers, and not also on the internet.