BREAKING NEWS: Kim Kardashian feels like a bad mother. Hears child crying in next room and doesn’t go to comfort her. Confesses this to a friend and feels much better afterwards. The “Breaking News” heading is mine, but the item itself appeared somewhere in the reams of social media commentary that turn up here and there these days.
Is the mother reading this supposed to feel Kim Kardashian is a terrible mother, or rather that she herself is not so terrible as a mother for not always comforting her crying child? Either way, it is not exactly breaking news that mothers are not always there for their children, that this makes them feel guilty, that they feel they are bad mothers, and that it helps to share those feelings with other mothers.
The pandemic has left its mark on so many aspects of our lives and changed so much of our behavior. An interesting change has taken place regarding women’s role as mothers, as caregivers of their children and as workers both in and out of the home. There appears to be little discussion any more about “women’s role” in its traditional meaning and the importance of mother care to children’s development.
The pandemic has forced countless mothers back into the home as primary caregivers to their children not only because of the impact of the economy but also the failure of schools to open reliably. The role of schools as primary caretakers of children and the lack of other universal childcare has become abundantly clear.
In the past there was endless discussion about the conflict women themselves experienced between their feelings as mothers caring for their children and their needs, both economic and professional, to work. Now it is the voices of industry proclaiming the need to have women back in the work force and decrying the absence of a national childcare system.
Although the focus has shifted to the need of the economy for women in the workforce, mothers themselves have experienced their return to full time child care as a continuation of earlier demands that mothers meet social needs through the rearing of children. At the present time, because school classes are being taught remotely, mothers see their children needing their supervision in maintaining a meaningful educational schedule. Substituting for teachers has become part of childcare.
Our country has a long history of attempts at social engineering in which social ills are sought correction through child rearing. Mothers as teachers is not a new idea. In the past, when children’s achievement in school fell behind that of other countries, the cause was laid at the early childhood years and mothers were trained to read and speak to their children in various ways.
Child rearing has long had a mental health agenda in which various research findings have been translated into methods of desirable mothers’ response to children to insure emotionally secure, normal development. Social media has become the channel for recommended parental behavior.
The main point is that mothers not only care about their children, but also carry the weight of a long history of being held responsible for children’s development, as well as feeling criticism and blame for the outcome. They believe a good mother would always be responsive to a child crying in the next room.
Now the pressure of life in the pandemic as full-time mothers has brought forth the real feelings that arise in ongoing interactions with children. Mothers are human who can give themselves permission to experience the full range of human emotions.
Exhaustion and frustration are not breaking news.