The posts on the next four Tuesdays will be about research and media debates about motherhood. Not about parenthood, mind you, but motherhood, though there is overlap between the way the two terms are viewed. It's pretty rare, even today, to have a lot of research on fatherhood. But some exists, and I talk about the problems about that in a few weeks' time.
Today's topic, expressed in this 2013 post, has to do with aspects of motherhood which are not quite as visible but very much present. For example, in that post I write:
Something every bit as bizarre applies to fertility. It struck me forcibly some days ago, and I had to stew the idea for a bit to decide if I'm oversensitive or not. I decided I am not.
Here's the thought: If you wanted to make having children as difficult and costly as possible, both in monetary and psychological ways, how would you go about doing it? I think the answer is that you would follow many of the current policies in the US: Minimize parental leave, refuse to make allowances for fertility in how the labor markets treat workers (no subsidized daycare, no real flexitime etc.) assume that all childcare will be done by the woman who gave birth to the child, fight to remove subsidized education as a viable alternative and support instead home-schooling, largely done by mothers.
Or think of the literature on child development. Ninety-nine percent of articles about parenting are about the mothers, and the vast majority of those look at what mothers are doing wrong (not enough breast-feeding, not enough bonding, too much bonding, too much fatty food cooked for the children, the cooking always assumed to be the mother's responsibility, bad mother-child relationships as the cause of childhood depression etc etc.) And the later popular-psychology pieces are still very often about bad mothers and how they messed up their children. Think of the "Mommy Dearest" branch of memoirs. Think also of the Control Of The Bad Mother movement! This begins before the child is even born.
Then add the legal rules about what constitutes child neglect (leaving a child under twelve alone in a parked car for a few minutes, say), the persistent media-supported fears about pedophilia, the requirement that middle-class parents (mothers) chauffeur their children from one event to another, how listening to Mozart during pregnancy or watching Little Einstein after it with the baby are necessary parts of child-rearing and if you don't follow them, you are a Bad Mother. Or a Bad Parent. At the same time, the wider public spaces are ultimately not child-friendly at all, what with complaints from other plane passengers or other restaurant diners etc.
The restrictions on parental life keep growing, and the guilt (aimed at mothers, in particular) comes from all directions, including from other mothers in the Mommy Wars. But to an alien from outer space, whatever gender that creature might be, all this surely looks like an intentional policy to cut back on fertility rates!
The obvious flaw in that last sentence is that the US does NOT want to reduce fertility rates! The Republicans want more white children, for one thing, and the forced-birthers don't want women to have so much power over whether they will become mothers or not.
At the same time, the actual US policies are largely anti-children and certainly not supportive of parents.