Motherhood can be a thankless job. It requires endless sacrifice and toil with little to no recognition. When a child is younger, a parent’s job is to care for him in almost every way. At one point, every element of a child’s life goes through his parents; every appointment, every necessity, every engagement, school, friends, etc. This is a daunting and almost impossible task, and I imagine for many people it is overwhelming, at first. It is amazing how a job that is so hard to take on, ends up being so hard to let go when the time comes.

If it is done well, it is the ultimate example of “making it look easy.” For a mother’s efforts are rarely fully seen or appreciated. Frequently, the job demands and presumes that it takes full priority and everything else comes a distant second. Society assumes that this comes naturally with the job, and in fact that this is not even a sacrifice, but a fulfillment of a biological and social “gift.” As a “calling,” mothers are expected to do all of this with no sign of effort or resentment whatsoever. In fact, it is supposed to be a joy and wonder. Heaven help the mother who suggests otherwise, for she will surely be made to pay for it. It can be hard for mothers to acknowledge or name the real work that goes into mothering, for fear of speaking against a powerful social value.

Not only are the sacrifices invisible, but a mother is sometimes also accused of doing the very opposite of all that giving, withholding. Every time she must set a boundary that is for her teenager’s best interest, or every time she must be the one to tell him that he can’t do something or have something, she is blamed. Her teen may perceive her as denying these things by choice out of cruelty or dominance. He may believe that it is her fault that he cannot do or have what he wants. He cannot see how even in those moments she is sacrificing for him. She is tolerating his blame and anger so that he can want without having to hold himself back.  She is there to protect him from himself.

The final irony is that after all of that work and sacrifice, if a mother has done her job well, she is slowly fired. Worse, she is never even told. It is as if she keeps going to work and, one by one, her responsibilities are reassigned to someone else. No note. No dinner. No gold watch. No pink slip. Just a steady decline in responsibility and authority. If you are lucky, you get a thank you several years later.

When her teen moves on, he often rejects his mother as the part of the process of growing up.[i] For years, the mother had sacrificed so much for her children. She put aside more and more of her own life to be able to give to them. When they move on, she may have forgotten what it is like to live for herself. She may find that she has not maintained the things in her life that are truly hers. If she attempts to continue her parenting responsibilities, then she is mocked for trying to do so. She is made to feel a sense of chagrin and shame for ‘holding on’ or continuing the tasks that were so essential for her to do in the past. As if attempting to continue at the job is a sign of her pathology. What’s more, her contributions that allowed the teenager to reach the point of independence/rejection are not acknowledged. The better the job she did as a mother, the more her teen is able to push her away. This job that is so “important” is taken for granted, unacknowledged, or pathologized as the final insult. [ii]

 


 

[i] As part of the developmental crisis of identity vs. role confusion. Erikson, Erik H. (1963). Childhood and society (2nd Ed.). New York: Norton.

 

[ii] One article on the weaning process discusses how a mother must be able to miss her child, feel unneeded, and still be available when the child returns to her in order for her child to master the developmental step of leaving. The child may then be able to leave her and return without guilt or fear. This echos in the later process of adolescent identity formation. Furman, Erna. (1982). Mothers have to be there to be left. The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 37, 15-28.

13 Responses to ““You’re fired””

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