The Ever-Impossible (and Worsening) Standards of Parenthood

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I am one of the many humans that follow loads of hipster mom’s and dad’s on Instagram, purely to catch a pic of their kids in outfits usually resembling models in an Urban Outfitter’s spread (creepy? probably). Alongside their adventurous parents they go hiking, farmer’s markets in the city, strutting around in matching Ray-Bans, both baby and parents looking casual-cool and put together. I am glad these kids have the opportunity to experience this awesome stuff so early in their lives, yet, I feel that these super-social, super-cool super-mom’s and dad’s play a part in perpetuating the impossible standard of parenthood, especially that of motherhood, and with social media and the likes, the unrealistic standards are higher now than ever.

The standards stem from similarly unattainable standards of femininity, dictated by society and imposed onto women from birth. We have been color-coding babies beginning in the 20th century, and from there, constructions of womanhood and femininity have grown as cement as ever. The human female is bombarded with advice on how to achieve mythical femininity- one must be both poised and charming, produce beautiful and talented babies, and play the biggest part in shaping them to be at the very least, not complete assholes. Feminine behavior implies knowing how to make some seriously good casseroles, keeping a neat house, lending a helping hand in the community, and being a docile mate. These standards have largely remained unchanged.

My mom raised my brother and I. This is my experience with the impossible standards of motherhood. For the many moms like mine, who worked tirelessly all week, kept food in the cabinets, paid the bills, and failed to miss a weekly showing of Grey’s Anatomy, for the countless parents who struggled to maintain quality of life for their children, these standards reflect the ideal woman, the ideal parent. These persistent messages are often internalized by parents who struggle to meet illusory parenthood goals, causing them major distress and fallacious feelings of inadequacy.

This breaks my heart to write, because my mom has constantly expressed this feeling, wishing she could have given me more, provided more “things,” had less cereal-for-dinner nights, been a better mom, “that” mom. My good friend’s lovely mom, who compares herself to those who have the privileged choice of staying at home, wishing she fulfilled “that” role of domestic motherhood. The normative material, idealistic culture that surrounds both femininity and parenthood is both unfeasible and artificial. It creates an enormously persistent burden parents must bear, often sacrificing their own mental and emotional health in the process.

Although I have yet to parent a child other than my second-life Sims families, I’m sure that like any identity, any role in one’s life, parenthood looks different for everyone. I’m gonna presume it entails hard stuff. Messy in a variety of ways. As people, as a part of this culture, we must stop perpetuating the ideal parenthood narratives. We must stop believing the notion of a perfect standard for any selfhood.

One thought on “The Ever-Impossible (and Worsening) Standards of Parenthood

  1. Thank you so much for writing this. I had my son the Thursday before the start of Spring ’15 semester, and went straight back to class on Monday and back to working full time the next week. It was so difficult walking around campus as a college student and then going home to a crying baby all night. I felt almost guilty for not being able to live this “perfect mom” life and give that to my son. It took a long time to realize that the things I was already doing were what made me the “perfect mom”. Motherhood is never easy, but genuineness and hard work make it all worthwhile.


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