All mothers are different. For some having a child is a life-changing experience requiring an array of prenatal courses and months of reading to get their parenting skills up to scratch, at least theoretically. They stop their careers mid-track and take time off. Some decide to become a full-time mum.
For others having a baby is a minor inconvenience. Having an elective caesarian reduces lifestyle disruption to a minimum (it can be planned to a day). So does feeding with a bottle (as mother’s presence remains optional). Then a maximum of four weeks to recover and find a convenient daycare that would take such a small baby on. And back to work. Some wonder whether they should have had a kid in the first place.
What does it mean to be a good mother in the 21st-century Australia? As the authors of The good mother: contemporary motherhood in Australia point out, the answer is far from straightforward. While the once dominant image of a good mother as a white, heterosexual, economically dependant and child-focused female is no longer adequate, the archetype of good mother persists in new incarnations and mothers continue to be judged and judge themselves.
In fact motherhood seem to have become more complicated in recent years. Once women were expected to stay home, now they are expected to care for the child and work at the same time. In fact stay-at-home mums tend to be perceived as lazy and irresponsible; bad citizens perpetuating welfare reliance and promoting ‘wrong’ attitudes.
New mothers are expected to look great and sexy weeks after the delivery. The media, incessantly dissecting and promoting post-natal fitness and diet regimes of celebrity mothers, reinforces this expectation, creating additional stress and maintaining class divisions.
New mothers are also expected to cope. Forget about post-natal depression, lack of sleep, feeding problems, body image issues, the list goes on. And the data shows that they still do the majority of housework and childcare, often on top of paid work, whether they are single or in a relationship.
An Indigenous mother stands in sharp contrast against this image of a white Australian do-it-yourself supermum. While Aboriginal mothers have often been represented in the media as negligent, this negative perception does not take into account the importance of the traditional kinship systems, which involves all adult family members in the care and education of children.
Indigenous mothers are not left on their own. And neither are the mothers in other ethnic communities with closely knit families. Grandmothers and aunties come to the rescue and take on some of the parenting responsibilities to the benefit of all. Grandparents feel needed, parents get help, while children are loved and cared for.
And then there are other mothers - those that adopt. On top of the usual parenting issues they often have to deal with the legacy of biological mothers who by virtue of their absence subvert the bond and whom theories of genetic determinism consider ‘real’.
Lesbian couples living in sometimes hostile and homophobic environments also have to deal with additional issues beyond the parenting challenges. They have to deal with questions about the ‘real’ or ‘tummy mummy’ versus the ‘other mother’ and the absent father.
If you would like to find out more how society, the government, and the mothers themselves regulate what it means to be a good mother look no further. The good mother: contemporary motherhoods in Australia is the book for you.