Let’s be clear: we are not mothers. We approach this issue, MOMS, as daughters and view motherhood from that side of the relationship. As daughters, we were once housed in and depended on the protection of our mothers’ bodies. And we continue to benefit from all the love, care, and wisdom our mothers gave, and still give, to us freely. We are feminists and we are the children of feminists.
Like many children of our generation, our mothers were the first women to inform our understandings of feminism: both intentionally—through the lessons they imparted, the dreams they shared, the regrets they whispered—and unintentionally—through our observances of their choices, their successes and failures. We heard our mothers advocate for women’s rights, and then watched them settle for something less both at work and at home. Sometimes the contradictions that structured their lives confused us; sometimes they made us angry.
As we get older, we find ourselves reassessing our judgments of our mothers’ choices and lifestyles, posing more generous questions in order to better understand why compromises were made and injustices tolerated. We can see now that we are not so radically different from our mothers. “I feel as if there is too much to write,” says contributor Emily Hill, when confronted by the similarities between her grandmother’s life and her own. Like our mothers and grandmothers, the distance between our own lives and our ideals remains huge.
Inevitably, we ask ourselves: are we turning into our mothers?
But what if this question weren’t tinged with horror? What if we didn’t try to bury the ugly and unpleasant aspects of our maternal inheritances? With this issue, we’re trying to approach this question differently, opening ourselves up to feminism’s proud, complex, and messy heritage. Instead of disavowing feminism because of the racist and colonial legacy that we inherit as Western women and Canadian feminists, what if we engage with this history and do the work we can to decolonize and reimagine our politics, our theory, our stories, and our activism?
At its most fundamental level, motherhood is a relationship; it’s that thing that takes place between parent and child, but which also connects women with one another and to their broader communities. That said, the work associated with mothering, childcare, and household chores has existed largely as a private endeavor, endlessly unfolding in women’s supposedly natural habitat: the home.
How can we rethink the experience of motherhood collectively? As contributors Marija Cetinic and Madeline Lane-McKinley propose, in their theses on postpartum depression, moving beyond the isolating trappings of motherhood might require a “radical kinship … premised upon love more than labour.” If we expand beyond traditional parental roles and relationships structured around property and the nuclear family, we might find new possibilities for communality and also, suggests Eva-Lynn Jagoe, the space to transform traditional parent-child relationships. Similarly, but writing from the perspective of a daughter, Zoë Ritts, in her literary essay, powerfully imagines an alternative union between home and mother, illustrating the life of a domestic space after a parent has died.
Like the way that reproductive and domestic labour is falsely understood as private vocations, motherhood is often framed as the ineluctable conclusion of a woman’s biology. But as many of the stories featured in this issue and gathered from our second Open Secrets survey demonstrate, there is nothing fated or inevitable about the work, love, and care associated with this role. The idea that a person has an inborn instinct for mothering because of their gender identity or biological abilities is becoming increasingly outdated, but it must be challenged, repeatedly, when forming alternative and inclusive family structures.
Although we have not experienced the realities of parenting, we have reached “that age” when the question of motherhood becomes unavoidable. We face the possibility with a mixture of hope and apprehension. Hope: because motherhood can be creatively fulfilling, and undoubtedly transformative. Apprehension: because motherhood can serve as a limit, irrevocably altering one’s capacities and resources, and because we know that the incredible amount of work that goes into childcare is woefully undervalued and lacking support in our country.
And we know what a “good mother” is. She’s not the mother who stays home and devotes herself entirely to her children, nor is she the mother who works overtime and relies on paid childcare and family members to do her parenting. Instead, she seamlessly gives herself to both—parenting and work. Self-sufficient and selfless, the “good mother” is always happily working, balancing her time between her children and her colleagues. She appears to have it all—the ability to choose when to have children, the means to choose how to raise those children, and the know-how to succeed in an increasingly precarious workforce. She is, in this sense, upholding feminist ideals of choice while molding herself into the perfect neoliberal subject. This mythic mother is an aspirational figure, every iteration of which further legitimizes the lie that this life is possible for everyone—or anyone.
But we know aspiration from outright deception. With the exception of Quebec, affordable childcare remains out of reach throughout the country, with childcare costing between 25% and 35% of a woman’s income in most Canadian cities. At the same time, childcare workers (the vast majority of whom are women) are often overworked and underpaid. As we know, Stephen Harper’s reign as Prime Minister has been calamitous for women and trans* people, and the measures he alleges “help families,” such as income splitting, are actually only beneficial to the richest 5% of families, and do nothing to help those who need it most.
Ignoring the impacts of class, race, and gender does not make these realities go away. Pretending that it’s possible to succeed despite certain barriers does not make it so. “Turning into my mother,” writes contributor Mary-Dan Johnston, “is a multifaceted kind of failure: physical, emotional, and financial.” It is a “radical failure,” she says, but it is also resistance. By holding up the ugly and undesirable inheritances we are told to conceal or overcome, we can begin to demystify the idealized mother. By speaking openly about the aspects of ourselves we are taught to see as shameful, we can start to comprehend some of the intersecting forces that exploit and oppress.
And so, this issue is an attempt at gratitude and an offering of understanding to our moms and mother figures, who are sometimes the last women we consider as our sisters in this struggle. We are trying hard to appreciate what it means to be a mother, physically, emotionally, and socially, and to acknowledge that the role of mothering deserves more societal recognition.
With love and solidarity,
Your GUTS editors
Nadine Adelaar, Ella Bedard, Natalie Childs, and Cynthia Spring
We’d like to thank our resident mom editors, Melanie Phillips and Maureen McEvoy for their brilliant editorial skills, as well as Minda Sherman and Jeanine Spring for being very necessary sources of inspiration and support as we brought this issue together. We love you, moms.
Our Moms Issue will be released throughout May 2015