Now I Know Why Maternity Leave Is Not a Vacation and Why Today’s Moms Are True Heroes
It was 30 years ago when any mother whose kids were not hungry and were well-dressed could consider herself good. But today’s society places catastrophically high demands on women with children. Apart from their direct duties, they also have to perform the functions of pediatricians, psychologists, and early development specialists 24/7 for several years and, on top of that, suffer from the feeling of guilt for not being able to reach perfection.
I spent 3 years on maternity leave (yes in Russia, maternity leave is 3 years!) and I firmly know that being a mother in the 21st century means doing a job that those around you will grossly underestimate. I would like to tell Bright Side readers why today’s mothers have as much heroism in their routine matters as our grannies did — despite the availability of diapers, dishwashers, and robot vacuum cleaners.
A mother spends the whole day with her child... alone
Never before had a woman’s life changed so drastically with the appearance of a baby as today. After returning home from the hospital, many moms face complete isolation. Relatives are somewhere on the phone, friends are on social media, and their husband is at work, while mom spends the whole time alone with the baby.
My son became the first newborn baby who I had ever held in my arms. I had no experience with children, so the main feelings I experienced during the first months after giving birth were fear and confusion. I constantly felt that I was doing something wrong. Why is he not sleeping at night? Why is he always crying? What’s wrong?
I gained 60 pounds during pregnancy and lost 70 pounds by my son’s 1st birthday — without dieting or going to the gym, just because of stress. My baby turned out to be one who likes to spend time in my arms, that’s why I had to learn to do all of my household chores while holding my baby, while an ordinary visit to the toilet turns into a special operation called “do it in 10 seconds before the neighbors call the guardianship authorities because the baby won’t stop crying.”
My granny used to leave her elder son alone at home starting from 3 months old and go to work. She would come back during lunchtime, feed him, and leave for work again. When the baby grew bigger, she would tie him to a table leg so that he wouldn’t get in trouble. My father was luckier — he was taken care of by his “older” 5-year-old brother. Today it’s unacceptable, but 70 years ago it was the norm.
Modern moms don’t leave their babies alone, they don’t let them cry in the crib thinking that “they will fall asleep once they cry it out,” they feed babies on demand, and instantly satisfy each and every need of their little human, completely forgetting about their own needs. Has any generation of women done this before? No. Doesn’t it deserve some respect? Yes.
A mother has to constantly make decisions.
Like any modern mother, I have to always make decisions that the health, development, and well-being of my baby depend on. Massage or infant swimming, Doman cards or Zaycev cubes, name brand clothes or no-name brands? Neither our mothers nor our grandmothers were tormented by this endless torture of choices. My brain is exploding. And yours?
I go to a shop and I freeze: ordinary porridge or omega-3, yogurt with probiotics or biolact? Diapers are all special in their own way too. There are dozens of names, hundreds of packages, and I have to learn carefully, analyze, and choose which one will suit my baby the best. Neo from The Matrix with his torments over which pill to take knows nothing about the real torture of these everyday dilemmas.
There are no more precise recommendations. The pediatrician prescribes a list with 10 medical items if a baby has a cold, explaining it by saying, “My duty is to prescribe all of these to you, you decide to take them or not.” At first, I would honestly go to the pharmacy, pay $30, and try to get all those pills into my son. The experience showed me that 80% of this list includes totally useless dietary supplements.
In my childhood, we were treated using milk with honey for all illnesses. We would wear the clothes we managed to buy or re-design. Recently, it took me 3 weeks to choose the first winter overalls for my son based on the reviews of more experienced moms and recommendations on various forums. Finally, I bought overalls for $70 and my baby grew out of them within 2 months. That’s how I began to use the sites where people sell used items.
Of course, diversity of choice is cool. Still, the need to make important decisions non-stop is a serious emotional burden that got put on the shoulders of today’s mothers. And we have to cope with it every day because no one except us is going to do it.
A mother has to do everything at once.
There are only 24 hours in a day and I only have 2 arms, one of which is always occupied by my little one. From everywhere I hear that I have to keep an eye on my son 24/7, do household chores, pay attention to my husband, look good, and have my own hobbies, otherwise, I’ll become boring. Frankly speaking, I have no time to think about half of these things. How about you?
Let’s say I am cooking oatmeal for my son. The baby is moving his arms, which is dangerous because he might get injured. I put him on the floor and give him a couple of toys. While I am transferring the oatmeal to the plate, my kid manages to reach the cat bowl and gets a handful of cat food, pondering whether he should make fireworks with it or have breakfast. This all took about 10 seconds. How is someone supposed to leave their kid alone to go wash their hair?
My entire day is spent cooking food for my son and for myself and my husband (we eat different things), walking outside twice a day in any weather, washing the floor because the baby crawls on it, and playing various games with him around 20 times a day. In the evening, I am supposed to put the baby to bed, come out to my hubby well-groomed and with a sparkle in my eye, and then go play some kind of sport or engage in a hobby. Where should I find all this energy?
People around me think that I have no right to get tired because I have a dishwasher and diapers. But these wonderful inventions in no way affect the fact that during the first year of my child’s life, I didn’t sleep for more than 3 hours in a row and didn’t separate from the baby for more than an hour. I know that many mothers live in this kind of regime. It’s not like we’re walking a tightrope, but there is definitely something heroic in it.
My kid disturbs everyone.
Our world became extremely focused on kids, but at the same time society shows no tolerance toward a woman with a kid. I understand that strangers don’t have to adore our kids, but mothers also shouldn’t be feeling flawed because they are with a little human whose actions are not always predictable. After all, a while back we all were little kids, weren’t we?
There has never been such a humiliating attitude toward women and babies as there is now. A kid starts to cry outside and experienced old ladies start growling, “What kind of mother are you? Is he sick or what?” If you ask a neighbor to stop drilling during the legal quiet hours, he starts to hiss through his teeth, “Another crazy mother is interfering with my repairs.”
One year ago I was on a plane with my son. Before takeoff, a dolled-up old lady demonstratively asked the flight attendant to give her another seat as far as possible from us. By the way, my kid stayed silent for the entire flight. She was then placed somewhere in the tail of the cabin where, the entire flight, she had to listen to a screaming cat. But no one complained about it — people are more tolerant of our 4-legged friends than they are of small children. If that was a toddler crying, it would be a totally different story.
Sometimes I just want a simple humane attitude — the same as we allow other people. Yes, I gave birth to my child for myself and no one owes me anything but the sky will not come crashing down if you give a seat to a small kid on a bus or hold the door for a mother with a stroller — just because it’s difficult for her and you were brought up well by your parents. I truly believe they did their best to make you a good person and I am doing the same for my child.
Instead of a conclusion
I know the history of my family well and I can confidently say that the life of a mother has never been easy. Our grannies were helped by relatives because at those times several generations would live in one apartment. It’s technical progress now. Our grannies were exhausted by physical work, today’s moms are exhausted from the emotional load, high demands, and loneliness.
Even raising a kitten is not an easy task if you do it according to the rules, so what does that say about raising a baby? That’s why if you see a nervous mother on the street with a bun on her head and a crying baby in her arms, don’t rush to judge her — better yet, help her if you can. An encouraging smile and the words, “You are doing a great job!” cost nothing, but they are a true gift for each of us.
Do you think it was more difficult for previous generations or is it more difficult for today’s mothers to raise kids?