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The Value of Motherhood

You look around at the piles of washing that are starting to resemble mountains. There is a waterfall of dirty dishes cascading from your sink. Your “life admin” to-do list has become as long as Rapunzel's hair. Your baby cries and you wonder silently to yourself, as you pick her up, what exactly have you achieved today, no scrap that, you wonder what it is you have achieved this month!

Motherhood is an often overlooked and undervalued role in our patriarchal, consumerist society. A society that is so hyper focused on achievement, material reward and fast track results. Mothers more so than ever are expected to be able to do it all: raise a child, keep the house clean, oftentimes as well as working outside the home too.

This is an idea and image exacerbated by the rise of social media and the curation of our lives into little squares. When we look around online we end up pushing ourselves to be it all, and do it all to keep up with everyone else's image. But at what cost to ourselves, and potentially our relationship with our child?

This endless comparison between our version of motherhood and the curated version of others is driving so many of us to exhaustion.

Most of us subconsciously believe, thanks to the society in which we were raised, that to be a successful woman or mother we must be able to balance all the things. We believe we must care for our child, maintain a career, keep the house clean, and that we must at all costs keep on achieving more. It is this falsely held belief that leaves so many of us feeling guilt, shame, and like a failure when we become mothers because we rightly fail to balance all the things our society expects of us.

It is time to view the work of motherhood for what it is - the most important and productive work of our lifetimes.

This idea of having to do it all and keep up with the day to day tasks of our pre-motherhood life is incredibly stressful, particularly for new mums. These are the mothers who are still adjusting to motherhood themselves, who have just had their worlds flipped upside down with the arrival of their beautiful new baby. The rollercoaster of hormones and immediate changes to our sleep and daily schedules makes it impossible, for good reason, to keep up with life as we once knew it. And that is OK! In fact that is just the way it should be.

This diminishment of mothers' work in our own minds and those of society needs to change. loving, caring and raising our children is valuable, important work - it is what our biology is wired for. We are meant to fail at keeping all the balls in the air because infants are designed to need all of us in those early years of life. And frankly, they don't give a f*&@ if the floors are clean. They need warmth, security, and comfort, above all else.

So imagine instead of our minds focusing on the things we haven’t achieved (when looking through our pre-motherhood lens, anyway) we instead see responsive parenting for what it is: the necessary and valuable work of shaping the next generation through our love, support and guidance. If we look at it this way we realise that the simple act of being with your baby is productive, and that a lot of the other things can wait.

When we begin to shift the narrative inside of ourselves that our “accomplishments” do not lie solely in our careers, and most certainly not in our ability to keep our houses looking clean, we can make space in our minds to notice that the growth and wellbeing of our children is a big accomplishment all in itself.

The rewards of motherhood are not fast, it is a long term game, perhaps this is why our work is so undervalued. Our get rich, get everything now society cannot fathom giving so much for so little immediate return. Perhaps this is why society has become so disenfranchised with valuing the long term role and investment that is motherhood, because the payoff, while great, is too far into the future to consider.

So how do we change this paradigm, how do we shift from a place of feeling we need to do it all, to slowing down and remembering that we are valuable in so many little ways.

Here are 5 ways to flip the narrative when it comes to “doing it all” in motherhood:

  1. Stop comparing yourself to everyone else, especially strangers online. Your journey is beautiful in all its messiness, embrace it as it is.

  2. Remember that this is but a season, when you look back in 10 years time the saying will ring true: the minutes pass slowly but the years go by in a blink of an eye. You won't regret holding your baby while they sleep, I promise you that.

  3. Practice letting go, allow the to do list to build, practice becoming comfortable with a little bit of discomfort around things being unfinished. Accept that things in this season will not be as they were before you had kids.

  4. Remind yourself that just because this work is not paid it does not mean that it isn’t valuable. The relationship and wellbeing of your child is priceless.

  5. Ask yourself often “Is this task/job/work really more important than the relationship with my child?”

Next time you feel like a failure because you are not keeping up with the previous version of you, or a version of you dictated by society, give yourself permission to kick that feeling to the curb.

When you can no longer compete with the mountain of washing in the corner, when you look in the mirror as you hold your child close, stop yourself for a moment. Look into your eyes, the eyes of a mother, and remind yourself that despite your unwashed hair, despite the three-day-old PJ’s you still wear, this is the MOST important thing you could ever do right now - holding and mothering your child.

You have not failed if the dishes are still in the sink at the end of the day.

You have done so much, despite the pile of washing growing in the corner.

Your care and affection for your child is worth more than all the money in the world, in fact it is priceless.

There are mountains of unacknowledged worth in playing, holding, caring and soothing your child.

Remember this, and forget the rest.

There will come a time when your children are older, and you will easily knock things off your to-do list, be smashing your career goals, or doing any other number of things deemed productive by society. But it's ok if that is not your reality right now and your version of productivity looks different at the moment. It doesn't make it less valuable or worthwhile. One day you will look back with clarity and know that you were doing the most valuable job in the whole world.


Jessica Guy is a certified Infant and Family Sleep Specialist, former sleep scientist, and studied psychology (with a research focus on child development). She lives in Melbourne, Australia with her partner and almost 3-year-old daughter. She is available for one to one sleep and wellbeing support here

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