When Motherhood Is a Trophy, Everyone Loses
A tale of a mommy WhatsApp group gone sour.
“Can’t find the application on the Don Bosco site, can someone send me the link?”
“Don Bosco doesn’t take in kids in nursery.” Pat came the reply.
“Which lists are up?”
Almost instantly, as though this question was anticipated, came the reply, bright and early at 7 AM.
“Only the DPSes and Mother’s International!”
There was no question unanswered and no query, however obvious or obscure, unresolved.
This was my son’s playschool’s self-created “mommy” WhatsApp group (only mothers; it did not include any fathers, not even those who appeared to be the primary caregivers). I had reluctantly joined, fearful of constant chatter like the other groups I was on, but I remained on when I found that it was a relatively silent group. It came alive quite suddenly (and how) during the nursery admissions process.
Every mother was thoroughly engaged in the process, very willing and prompt to help. It was as though, for those few weeks, we mothers had single-mindedly thrown ourselves into the task of getting our kid(s) into school and we had done so with complete cohesiveness. It was the promised land of women’s empowerment and agency, a symbol of what we could do, if only we came together!
Lulled by the wonderful digital experience, I accepted a few social invitations. And that was the beginning of the end.
With each event I attended, the sheen started to wear off. Fissures began to appear along predictable lines — between the working moms and the stay-at-home moms, between the attachment moms and the tiger moms, between every single dichotomy that existed within the framework of motherhood.
“Are you shifting houses?” It was asked politely, but dripping with sarcasm – another mother looking me up and down. In my ripped jeans and loose tee, I was going for a hip-mom-at-a-Holi-party look, which was, apparently, not good enough. I judged, too — why serve Smilies…they are just potato and oil!
The low point came when I had to rush my son, his friend and the friend’s nanny out of a party because the hostess had launched a tirade against the nanny for various imagined crimes. The nanny had been marked as a target from the moment we had walked in; the hostess followed her around reprimanding her for every little thing she did or didn’t do. The real crime, as far as I could see, was that the hostess (a diehard stay-at-home mom who, in her own words, “never spent a minute away” from her kids) was offended another mother would choose not to accompany her child to the party.
Without a clear goal, the bonhomie of the group had been blown to bits. How did we go from being on the same page — wanting the best for our kids — to tearing down how we each went about accomplishing it?
No matter the social occasion, we were relating to each other only as mothers and talking only about our children. It was as though we didn’t exist outside of motherhood. Was it because it has been drilled into us, in various ways and to various degrees, that, for all our education and accomplishments at school, college and work, being a mother would be the biggest accomplishment of our life — perhaps the only thing we would be valued for, the only way for us to leave our mark on the little corner of the world we inhabit? We are expected to study, marry, have our children (before it is too late) and then, only if there is time, think of anything else.
Of course, the moment things go south, we are expected to give up the “anything else,” as though it never mattered. Soon, we are part-timing at work and earning less than our peers. We are the default parent most of time, the name on the “in case of emergency” list (but not the first parent on record), and it is only our numbers that schools contact with their informational alerts.
Soon, it changes the way we think of ourselves – and other mothers. While we love our children and may love being mothers, it is engrained in our identity in a way that fatherhood isn’t with our husbands. Which makes sharing the load appear and feel an awful lot like slipping up. A few of us have tried to add the phone numbers of our very willing and able husbands to the informational alert list; the school said they “don’t want to disturb the fathers.”
When institutions, when society, tell you that you don’t exist outside of motherhood, motherhood easily becomes a trophy to fight for. So, we have to be well read, lest we miss the latest parenting trend, lest we are the only mother not sending our kids to the Abacus/Kumon classes. We pretend as though everything we do is a conscious decision — that we are sending our kid to the best play school because we want them to get the best start in life (not because we want them out of our hair for a few hours), or that we let them sit in front of the TV a little longer than the ideal, because the content is educational (not because we just want to get on with our work).
The fact is mothering isn’t the whole and soul of parenting. The other parts — the fathers, the extended family, the household help — need to be welcomed and expected, and need to be disturbed. They, too, should be a part of the super-efficient and collaborative WhatsApp groups, or invited to play dates and school activities.
And we mothers could learn to think of ourselves beyond motherhood, beyond our kids, and to assert that identity in tandem. I’ve shared my writing with my mommy WhatsApp group; hopefully, they’ll get to know me in a different way, and I, them. While it is true that raising our children may be the single most important thing we do, it most certainly need not be the only thing.
Jyoti Ganapathi did her BA in Economics & Psychology from Knox College, US and a Masters in HR from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She returned to India to work in the family business. Riding the entrepreneurial wave, along with her husband, she started Dosa Inc- a South Indian food truck in 2012, fulfilling a dream that they always had. She is an intermittent writer and is currently absolutely loving NPR podcasts!