For the past few days, every corner of the mom internet has showcased a photo of a doctor, also a mother, on a high-school football field examining a player as part of her job. She practices sports medicine, but what is remarkable about the photo is that she has her 3-year-old daughter strapped to her back in a baby carrier. She is also visibly pregnant. She deserves a trophy, Motto tells us, while Mashable says the photo is inspirational. The doctor, who posted the photo herself on Facebook, said, “This is what moms do.” They get things done, even when the babysitter cancels.
I have been awash in other writers’ writings on motherhood since I became a mother myself. I enjoy this part of my job, because there are so many beautiful things written on the topic of parenting. But I’m going to come clean: There is also a lot of shit shoveled out into the world just to fill a content void. The mother with the toddler strapped to her back is an inspirational story: I read her words on Facebook, and I think, “Hell, yeah.” But then I read all the content made out of it, and I just feel… tired.
The internet is vast and publishing online means filling a bottomless hole. In the past few years, as blogging has professionalized, the media — which we all know is struggling to stay afloat because revenue margins are very thin — has awakened to the content goldmine that is motherhood. Parenting stories usually don’t require a ton of expensive reporting, and the audience is constantly (literally) multiplying. Motherhood isn’t alone in this — lots of other zones of existence are being exploited likewise, and we’re probably overall better for it. The more things there are to read, the better! But these days, when I fire up my browser at 8 a.m., I’m often overwhelmed with how MUCH of it there is.
At least half a dozen times a day, I find that I am implored, begged, or commanded to feel empowered or inspired by another mother’s everyday act of breast-feeding, or holding her baby, or having a natural birth or a caesarean. Make no mistake: I am not belittling the actual accomplishments of these women, and I count myself among them. I am awesome several times a day, myself. But I am also exhausted by the way I am being spoken to, as if I need to be told not just what happened, but how to feel about it, too. “This is powerful.” “This is inspiring.” “This is so badass.” “You’ll never forget this.” “This is perfectly summed up.”
As a content maker myself, I can tell you we’re all guilty of these conceits from time to time — no shame there. But I do think we’re heading in the wrong direction with our motherhood narratives. Yes, this woman with a 3-year-old strapped to her back at work is cool, and it’s definitely viral, but isn’t it also sad that she didn’t have any child-care options? Especially considering that she is also pregnant, isn’t it an upsetting image that depicts something that is wrong with our country, rather than being 100 percent inspiring?
“Moms get things done” is a great message and it’s true: Women get things done, even at the expense of their own health. We’ve been hearing all about that this week, after Democratic nominee for president Hillary Clinton revealing she was diagnosed with pneumonia but continued her campaigning activities for several days afterward. Good for her for toughing it out, but wouldn’t it be nice if she could get a sick day?
Yeah, the doctor with the kid strapped to her back is very inspiring. But she also needs paid leave and child care, if she doesn’t have it. She could use someone to help out, I bet. She’s not complaining like me, she’s making the best of the situation, but I’m happy to say it for her. I’m happy to use even the most inspiring photos as an opportunity to point out where we can do better. And if that sounds like “complaining,” well, so be it.
At the end of the day yesterday, my daughter’s playroom looked like one of those “real” Facebook photos you see making the rounds occasionally, usually accompanied by a mom’s rant about how reality looks and how it’s okay that things are a mess and she didn’t get to shower and the baby is asleep finally after skipping two naps. We love these posts because we’ve all been there: We might feel like failures, but we know that tomorrow we’ll start fresh, and our kids will still love us. That’s empowering, too, no doubt. But sometimes, I’m just too tired to feel the power wash over me.