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The joke of ‘Mother’s Day’

Two weeks ago I promised myself I wouldn’t blog till I finished the current draft of my novel. I’ve tried really hard to push this blog piece down but it keeps resurfacing in my mind, tormenting me, and so I realised the only way to get back to finishing my novel is to write the damn piece. I know that by writing this piece I am, in a way, shooting myself in the foot. But I became a writer to write so that’s what I’m doing.

Mother’s Day was the final straw. I didn’t feel like celebrating at all, and I’m a mother. I was outraged by the concept of ‘Mother’s Day’. Putting aside the obvious idea that it’s a marketing and money-making scheme, our society has allocated one day to celebrate mothers yet for the other 364 days a year we get the complete opposite. We are branded as whiny, selfish, brushed aside when we strive for success in our careers and we’re cut no slack at all.

What’s worse about ‘Mother’s Day’ is the expectation to do something special for mum with the family, like go out to lunch, make her breakfast or hang around her, when that’s what happens every other day. I did do the lunch, and the pressies, but deep down what I really wanted was to have a day for me, alone. When I mentioned my thoughts to a member of my extended family, I got ‘how selfish’ thrown back in my face, and ‘mother’s day is about family’. As mothers, society expects us to sacrifice who we are as individuals for the sake of our children and when we strive to keep our individuality we are branded as selfish.

The workplace doesn’t embrace mothers. It doesn’t help mothers advance their careers while they struggle to maintain a work–life balance. I posted a piece about motherhood on Overland earlier this year, detailing an experience I had with a residency I enquired about, where I was told my daughter and partner could visit me on the weekends during a four-week residency. A few weeks later their website posted ‘no children or pets allowed’. When I corresponded with the director about this, he said he would get back to me but never did. Since posting the article, I have still received nothing. It is an utter disappointment that a state writers’ centre not only doesn’t support writing mothers but also ignores them. Hopefully the new head of the Victorian Writers’ Centre can address this issue, because being a mother is an important part of life that should be explored in literature. We should be encouraging this, not suppressing it.

To me, society seems to have forgotten that if it weren’t for mothers, there’d be no human population. Our society is completely built against the mother and for the singleton. ‘Mother’s Day’ is an absolute insult. Society should focus on the other 364 days a year and maybe then there’ll be something worth celebrating.

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Koraly is a widely published Cypriot-Australian writer and performer. She is the author of the controversial Love and F**k Poems. Koraly received an Australia Council ArtStart grant. She presents on 3CR radio and has a residency at Brunswick Street Bookstore. Her 2013 La Mama show is Exonerating The Body. She is mentored by Christos Tsiolkas.

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  1. I got an empty house for five days for Mothers Day (Tarzan took Boy away to another state and left three chocolate cakes in the fridge – I kid you not – just in case I starved to death). It totally rocked, I highly recommend it. The house was EXTREMELY quiet though, which became a little spooky after three days.

  2. I’m not sure I could disagree with you more Koraly (I know that will shock you). Firstly you might want to reconsider the statement that ‘without mothers human life wouldn’t exist.’ Although technically correct, you might struggle to carry on human life without a male involved there somewhere.

    I completely disagree that society is built for Singles. Now I haven’t being single for a while (much like yourself) but I think you’ll find being single in society is a lot harder than you think. Try buying a house as a single person. Try going on a holiday, you’ll have to pay a single’s supplement, essentially a fine for travelling alone. It ranges from the simple like finding a recipe that’s designed for one person, to the life changing. Try having a baby if you can’t find a good man.

    No, society is not built for mothers. It also isn’t built for single people, or black people, or left handed people. Why? Because it’s just that, a society, it is made up of thousands of different kinds of people, it should not favour any one group, the same way it should not punish any one group.

    Does it punish Mothers? I don’t think I’m qualified to answer as I’m not one. That’s the point though. We only know what it is like to be ourselves. You see the problems of the world from a Mothers’ perspective and you cry foul (quite rightly) but I think you’ll find that fathers struggle to find a work life balance as well.
    I’m sure there are thousands of fathers out there who have sacrificed a lot for their kids, and there are thousands of business people out there who have sacrificed their health to be successful. Thousands of Immigrants who have sacrificed their life in their birth country for a new one in a new country.

    Any reward comes with sacrifice Koraly, You just need to believe that the reward is worth the sacrifice.

  3. I’ve been single for a long time, and it sure does seem from my POV like the world is geared in favour of coupled people, as Leon points out.

    When people ask when I’m going to settle down and have children, and I have to explain that I don’t plan on that ever happening, I’m met with patronisation, pity, disbelief, frustration, even argument and demands that I explain myself.

    Maybe it’s a grass-is-always-greener situation.

  4. I agree that the world is easier when you are a couple, but childless, and the statement published by the writers center clearly sums that up: ‘no pets or children allowed’, in the workplace especially. The workplace is built for the singleton and there is no doubt about that. It wouldn’t kill some workplaces to be a little more flexible considering children are only furthering human kind.

    Fathers do struggle, but generally, nowhere near as much as mothers. If you are a woman, and you announce you are having a child, forget about your career. You aren’t taken seriously. The world is your oyster when you are single, and I am sticking to that.

  5. For me, the issue is neither a person’s relationship status or the fact that they have children, but the stereotypes attached to our choices.

    For example, Tara talks of people asking when she is going to ‘settle down and have children’. There is an inherent stereotype in that view of parenthood and the respective view of singledom. I am a mother and I would consider myself far from ‘settled down.’ There is nothing I did before I had children that I don’t, or wouldn’t feel able, to do now – it just might require slightly more organisation. (For example if I wanted to go acid tripping for four days in the Tasmanian wilderness wearing only green body paint then I guess I’d have to organise a sitter first). On the other hand, many single people I know have completely ‘settled down’ (tenured job, mortgage, plaid pajamas etc). There’s also, of course, the assumption that singledom and childlessness go hand in hand, when in this day and age, this assumption is laughable.

    Similarly, Koraly, you talk of extended family viewing your desire for personal time as ‘selfish’. Don’t take on other people’s warped views of motherhood. A mother is simply a person who has a child.

    Of course, there are social and financial factors, but for priveleged and educated women who have chosen motherhood, the manner in which one ‘mothers’ should be entirely up to us.

  6. Maxine, I completely disagree with your statement ‘There is nothing I did before I had children that I don’t, or wouldn’t feel able, to do now’ well apparently not, I can’t apply for a fellowship at the writers center because I have a child and you can only apply for a minimum of three weeks so I would have to not see my daughter for 3 weeks. Sure, mothers can do anything, but in the end either the child must suffer or the mother must swallow her dreams. All I am suggesting is that maybe if there was more flexibility, especially in the workplace, and if workplaces were more accommodating, there wouldn’t be such a struggle.

    • Well, technically you could go for three weeks… A friend of mine went to the Mid-East on business for 3 months and left her kids with their stepdad. It sounds like more of a choice to me.

      To be quite honest, while I love kids, if I was going to be at a retreat to write intensively for a few weeks and other guests had their children visiting, I’d find it pretty distracting. (Obviously, if the house was all yours for the duration of the fellowship, then of course, kids should be able to visit.)

      But that’s all irrelevant because living off a single income, I can’t afford the time off work to go to a writers’ retreat anyway. I can’t even afford to get sick. I taught with two cracked ribs for all of last semester.

      I could probably just afford 4 days tripping in the wilderness covered in green body-paint though, Maxine, so next time you’re planning that, count me in.

  7. Perhaps I’m in the minority but I work in a workplace that is very family friendly. We have generous maternity and paternity leave, and flexible working hours for mothers when they return to work (assuming they come back at all of course).

    You know what we find?

    Very few Mothers come back full time. They realise that family is more important than their careers. They are not forced to make this choice. They are not forced to sacrifice their careers. They choose to.

    It’s worth saying that I work in a office so they can afford to make this decision It would be harder for factory workers I imagine, and you might want to remember that in all this argument that yourself, and myself, are lucky enough to to be financially comfortable, so we have the luxury of navel gazing and worrying about ‘sacrificing a career’ rather than just earning enough money to eat

    The other thing we find is that the ‘single’ workers and I’m talking here about both single people and fathers are expected to work longer hours, stay back, go on business trips interstate, in short they pick up the slack from the mothers.

    Here is the thing. If a mother says she has to leave to pick up her kids from school, or can only work three days a week then no one bats an eyelid. We understand where her priorities are. If a single person, or more worryingly a father leaves at 5 on the dot then everyone questions what is wrong, and labels that person lazy.

    Neither person is going anywhere in the company. But it’s not because they are a mother. It’s becuase they are not as valuable for the company as a person with the same skills who is willing to sacrifice their personal life for the company. And shouldn’t that person be rewarded in the workplace for the sacrifices they make in their personal lives the same way that a mother is rewarded in their personal lives becuase of the sacrifices they make at work.

  8. I reject the idea that Mother’s Day is necessarily a ‘a marketing and money-making scheme’.

    I’m from a migrant presbyterian Scottish family. We don’t say ‘I love you’ all the time. We help each other quietly and without bravado. We bring-a-plate and help each other move house. We’d never say so out loud, but we’d be lost without each other. Mother’s Day gives us an excuse to say to say these most important things. It’s the formal version of picking up a tub of apple and rhubarb yoghurt because I think mum would really like it, or collecting an extra dozen eggs from the farmer’s market when I’m there.

    Sure, you can say, ‘Well, you should try harder and say it more often,’ but it’s inherent in how our family works. Don’t forget that our version of Mother’s Day come’s from the British tradition of Mothering Sunday, and the Brit’s aren’t known for wearing their hearts on their sleeves.

    This year, my sisters and I secretly organised a high tea in mum’s living room while dad kept her out of the house. We spent a week sending emails and making phone calls to organise it. We all spent Saturday afternoon in our respective kitchens mixing and chopping and baking. We didn’t spend tons of cash. I think Mother’s Day is important for our family in a way that religous holidays are important for others families. For us, it is a day to reflect and celebrate and give thanks.

    It breaks my heart that society doesn’t value its mothers like it should. In our neo-liberal world, it’s fair to say that there is no value placed on anything unless a dollar value is attached. And perhaps that’s why days like Mothers Day (without the gimicky cards, without the expensive flowers) is important – for celebrating those things that have intrinsic, unquantifiable worth. Mother’s Day is a marketing and money-making scheme only if we allow it to be.

  9. Koraly, if you are seriously that hurt by the whole thing (and so you should be), then take action. Lodge a complaint with the Anti-Discrimination/Equal Opportunity Board. Seek a meeting with the Director. Start a petition with other mothers. Otherwise this whole discussion is lost in cyberspace and you will post about this again in another three months time with no resolution. I’d be only too happy to assist in taking any of the above options. Sure, you shouldn’t have to go to these lengths, but if you don’t it will be your daughter or the one I’m carrying that deals with this same type of behaviour.

    Leon, you sound a bit like you’ve been reading ‘Fathers Rights’ websites. The father of my child regularly takes extended periods off work for parenting. The reality is that many males are too afraid of what that may look like. In most organisations, including the one I work for parenting leave is available for either of the partners.

    The reality (though thankfully not in my situation) is that the majority of heterosexual women have less earning capacity than their partners…and don’t let me even go into the societal reasons for that.

  10. Lou, thanks for your comment, and I think it’s really nice what you did for your mum. I guess as a mother, I am frustrated by what I hear about experiences mothers have in the workplace and as such, I find it hard to push past all that on ‘Mother’s Day’. I enjoy mothering my daughter, but I don’t enjoy how mothers are viewed in our society, with the ‘it was your choice’ attitude.

    Maxine, thanks for you offer. If anything, I just want that insulting line removed from their website, ‘no children or pets allowed’, which goes back to my point above to Lou, this is how some people see children, clumped with pets. I also want to raise awareness because some literary opportunities are geared towards the singleton and there are things that cane be done to accommodate mothers into this.

    Leon, I was raised that I could have the career AND the child, but after I had my daughter, I noticed that this wasn’t the case, and this infuriated me. That need to stimulate your mind doesn’t just vanish because you have a child. I am trying to juggle both, but that is only because my partner is on a good income, and understands, but what about those that aren’t? I am a better mother because I have a career, I give more to my daughter, and many mothers are at home, depressed, because their former employers didn’t provide them the flexibility they needed to raise their children.

    I don’t agree with your comment ‘If a mother says she has to leave to pick up her kids from school, or can only work three days a week then no one bats an eyelid’. They may not bat an eyelid, but that mother’s career is pretty much grinned to a halt. I still believe that the workplace can be more accommodating for mothers, cutting them some slack and allow their careers to progress while they are mothering.

    Your comment that fathers or singles are expect to ‘pick up the slack from the mothers’ is where the problem lies. It isn’t slack, it is mothering, part of the human race, part of life. It isn’t studying a diploma, or going to gym it is MOTHERING and without it there would be no human race. And this is what I mean when I say I don’t want to celebrate mothers day, because it makes a mockery out of me. My family make me feel special every day, and that’s all I need. I don’t need a marketing ploy to remind me what the world is made of.

  11. Maxine, I agree with you actually. Most males are too afraid of what it may look like is that take off time for parental leave. In fact that’s my point.

    Careers are affected because you make the sacrifice and therefore a worth less to the organisation as someone with the same skills who doesn’t make that choice.

    It is the fact that you take time off that causes you to be held back, not the fact you are a Mother.

    The fact that in many relationships it is expected that the female make that sacrifice rather than the Male is a whole other discussion. Although I think it might be connected to the fact that as you state ‘The reality (though thankfully not in my situation) is that the majority of heterosexual women have less earning capacity than their partner’

    I don’t mention this is a disparaging way. but I’m interested in a couple of statements you made. You mention your husband regularly takes extended break off work for parenting, and also that he earns less than you. Do you think these two things are connected? i.e. Does he have less earning capacity because he spends more time with the family. Or alternatively, does he choose to be the carer more often because he earns less?

  12. Koraly, Let me start by saying I know you are good mum. And I know that you love mothering. I can tell that when I see you and daughter and your partner together. Yes having a career does make you a better mother. Hell having a career makes most people a better people, happier people, having a baby makes a hell of a lot of people better people too.

    You do need to see things from all sides however, rather than just your own, the world is not out to get you Koraly, the same way that it is not going to roll out the red carpet for you.

    Businesses are not there to ‘cut you some slack.’ They are there to make money – pure and simple. You can argue that in the long term it makes good business sense to be more accommodating so that you can keep your staff, but let’s face it most businesses don’t show loyalty to their staff, the same way employees don’t tend to show loyalty to their employers.

    From a business perspective it is ‘slack’ There isn’t any less work to be done because your child is sick. I’m not saying you shouldn’t go look after the child, it is your right, a your role as a PARENT (because let’s face it fathers can do it as well) to do that. But someone has to do your work if you are not there.

    It was a choice for you to have a child – A completely life changing choice. But still a choice. There are sacrifices, but there are also huge rewards. The same way choosing not to have a baby has rewards, but huge sacrifices.

  13. Leon, I think you are trying simplify a critical issue. I don’t think the world is out to get me but I think what happened to me isn’t an isolated issue, it is happening everywhere. Of course businesses need to make money, but sometimes they can afford to be more flexible and they aren’t. And there is a lot of discrimination going on. Have a read of this: http://www.sa.org.au/australian-politics/2708-single-mothers-lives-mired-in-poverty

    Tara, of course you wouldn’t be able to work for three weeks with your child. All I was asking for was that she visit me on the weekend. The house is three bedrooms on a huge piece of land in the country, can hardly disturb anyone. The fact is that I COULD go, and initially they said I could do this, but then they put up that ludicrous and insulting comment of their website ‘no pets or children allowed’ and I was told, over the phone that Rosebank was for dedicated writers to finish their manuscripts – what? I’m not dedicated? because my daughter needs me? I work twice as hard now to stay in the game.

    • Way back in the 80s, not long after I fell pregnant, I read an article in the Age about some proposed new low-rent housing folks were disapproving. I can’t even remember where it was, but I do remember that a local resident was quoted as saying ‘We don’t want drug addicts, mental patients and single mothers moving in’. This was my new category. I brushed it off as ‘Well … better company than socio-economic bigots’ but I’ve never forgotten the sudden feeling of being marginalised. A few years later, a landlord was ‘being amazed’ that I didn’t have a television because so many single mothers used them as babysitters. When I pointed out that many parents (and grandparents) and other carers used the television as a kind of baby sitter, she said, ‘Good on you for standing up for your kind.’ So yes – how about we have a second day: Single Mothers’ Day. Hmmm, wonder what that would look like? Actually, no – I’m having visions of some kind of Women’s Weekly KKK burning giant bonbonnierie in my garden or stoning me with wedding rings …

  14. Leon, firstly I don’t have a husband: I am not married.

    My son’s father and I have around the same earning capacity. At the moment he works full time in a very demanding job. I work three days a week.

    And no, I don’t feel the two are not connected. He just feels that any imagined pressure for men to put work first is just a convenient excuse.

  15. My only daughter just left home to live in a share house with friends. Mothers’ Day seems different already.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HAxfh8ukosQ

    Human beings of all kinds living lives of meaning (relationship, creativity, meditation, etc) don’t fit in this materialist/capitalist ‘society’.

  16. Hi Clare, thanks for reading – that video was hilarious. I completely agree about the materialist/capitalist society. It’s all about money and stuff the children.

  17. Hi Clare, one of my friends is single mother and she lives so poorly. When I think of myself and the obstacles I face trying to juggle a career and mothering, I think it must be so much worse for single mothers, because they have to do it on their own. Not only that, but like you said, there’s a stigma attached to being a single mother. That’s why, for me, it’s important to voice the struggles I’m facing not only for coupled parents, but more importantly for single parents, that have it to much tougher. Yes, there should be a ‘single mother’s day’ but, I’m reluctant to even say that because we need to do more than just have a ‘day’ for mothers, as a society we need to shift our mentality on what it means to be a mother and children should be embraced into it, not kept at the sidelines.

    • I have had the luxury of a supportive family and extended network (including a Steiner school community), but it is tough financially to run a home on one income/benefits. I know plenty of married mothers doing it tough too – especially if they want to stay home for the early years. I have a couple of friends who, because they’re married get less family support but feel just as ‘single’ in their parenting as I have been. I might not have had much money, but I had a ball when my daughter was little – I really loved that childhood realm. It becomes more difficult when the kids become teens and cost more (and actually need a heap of time being supported with homework, etc and guided through the sweet agony of adolescence) – but you receive less government support! Argh!

      Anyway, Mothers’ Day is supposed to be a spiritual event, celebrating the Goddess…not something the average family (whatever that is!) is familiar with these days, perhaps.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mother%27s_Day
      http://www.dayformothers.com/mothers-day-history/
      http://www.theholidayspot.com/mothersday/history.htm

  18. I totally agree that due to being a mother, you may face discrimination in the workplace/ other environments. However, I feel I must write that as a single, never married 30 y.o. woman with no children, I face discrimination in the workplace in different ways. As I am single with no husband or child to go home to, I am invariably the one staying late to finish critical projects as I “don’t have anyone waiting for me at home”. If I say I have dinner plans with friends (that I have cancelled on multiple times to finish work) this is seen as no where near as important as some one who has a child to attend to. I am by no means saying that friends are more important than a child, although it is different things in different people’s lives that are important to them. Whether you have a child or not should not diminish this. There has been many a time when a colleague/ boss leaves around 5:30pm to collect their child from day care and I am stuck in the office until 10pm finishing off things that are really their responsibility – prime example of being discriminated against as a single person. If I was to say something of this nature, I would be seen as selfish! If I leave at 5pm (normal leaving time is 6pm) to go to a specialist appointment people say “thanks for coming in” because I’m not doing a 10+ hour day. All that I wanted to point out from this little rant is that people who are not mothers are discriminated against too. In fact, we are all discriminated against in one way or the other… and single people don’t get a “Single’s Day” ;)

  19. Anna, this discrimination you say you face as a single, I believe, is an excuse. Let me explain. I too, have worked as a single in the workforce and the truth is it is up to the individual to stand up and say ‘no, i’m not staying back late’ or ‘i will, but i want time in lue’. Do you think that mothers or fathers simply just click their fingers and instantly get a reprieve? My partner had to threaten to quit because he was working 60+ hours a week and doing hours from home all while having a child under 1. And after making this move to push back, or as they call it in the workplace ‘taking the pedal off’, he hasn’t moved much within the organisation because there are other ‘players’ working harder. It is a singles CHOICE to work as hard as they do, and they do it to advance their careers. If you are contracted to work 40 hours a week, work forty hours a week.

    The difference between you having a dinner you have to cancel and a child being picked up from school is that CHILD has nobody other than it’s parents to pick them up. The CHILD needs its mother and father to SURVIVE. Your friend on the other-hand does not require you having dinner with her to survive.

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