Today I wanted to share one of the wisest things that my mother has ever said to me.
“Motherhood separates the women from the men.”
When she said this, I cracked up, because I really expected her to say “girls” instead of “men.” ”Motherhood separates women from girls” would have been an only mildly helpful platitude, but my mom doesn’t really go for platitudes.
What she did say is brilliant because it works on so many levels. At first glance it looks almost like a tautology. Of course, men can’t give birth, so the ability to give birth is one of the main things that distinguishes the sexes. I think she meant a lot more than this, though.
One of the most difficult things for me about having a baby (I think I overuse that phrase) was the sudden change in the dynamic of my marriage. Sam moved to NYC with me so that I could go to grad school, and we didn’t really have very different roles our first couple of years of marriage. Cooking and cleaning for two people just isn’t that much work, and it seemed kind of fun after school and work. But when I got pregnant, everything changed, and it didn’t always feel like something I had willingly chosen. When you carry a baby for nine months, you can’t ask anyone else to hold him for you for a little while. There’s no delegating, even if you have the most loving and giving husband in the world (which I do). You find out that a certain aspect of a certain kind of feminism is a myth. There’s nothing men or “society” can do about the fact that women are the ones who must be pregnant, give birth, and nurse the baby, if any of these things are going to be done at all.
These are the three things that objectively can only be done by women, and I know there are many people who would argue that they are the only things, but at least in my little family, being a mother and being a father are two very different things, and sometimes it feels like motherhood is the greater emotional burden. Maybe it’s a silly stereotype that mothers worry about their kids more than fathers do, or maybe it’s not silly. In my limited experience, motherhood has separated me from Sam in a way, and at least in our situation, traditional gender roles have come into play much more than they did before. Somehow, I didn’t expect this.
I don’t mean that motherhood has made Sam and I any less close as a couple. In that sense, we are closer. But it’s just an annoying truth, which I know some people will deny vehemently, that women go through a very different experience than men do when a baby comes into the family.
I really didn’t want to get controversial. I just wanted to show that I’m grateful for my mom, and for Sam’s mom, and I wish that everyone in the world had equally wonderful examples of motherhood.