Martin draws parallels between the loneliness of today’s mother and that of a 1960s housewife, saying that both felt hopeless, their dreams unfulfilled and their situation deeply unsatisfying. However, she also claims that the housewives had it better because at least their work at home was appreciated and rewarded. A modern woman has to be everything: a mother, a housekeeper and an employee, all at once. It’s either that or she’s no one.
I agree with this, up to a certain point. But Martin fails to mention how much motherhood has changed in the last few decades. She does notice the fact that where once women saw themselves as housewives, they now see themselves as mothers, but she doesn’t explore this idea more deeply. She doesn’t seem to see how all-encompassing motherhood is these days.
We live in a time of intensive parenting. Parents—and especially mothers—are told to sacrifice everything in order to take care of their children’s each and every need. They’re expected to hover, preparing their offspring for the top-tier schools, trying to give them the best chance in life. Or, if they’re the more crunchy type, they’re supposed to bond with their children, carrying them around in a sling or sleeping with them in one bed. But this requires lots of time, attention and energy—thus leaving much less of it for friendships and relationships outside of the nuclear family.
Modern parenting is also extremely individualized and competitive: Each family (and again, in most cases it’s the mother) is solely responsible for their child’s development into an adult. It sounds great until you realize that you’re supposed to raise a child—a daunting and exhausting task even with all kinds of support—all on your own, with no help from family or government.
This is why we sentimentalize motherhood. We make it sound like it’s the most wonderful job on earth. The blog post “Are You Lonely, Mama?” went viral a while ago, and it embodied all that is wrong with our perception of motherhood: that it’s lonely and difficult, but “it’s OK. Just remember that this is a season and it is the most sacred season you will ever have the honor of experiencing.”
In other words, the loneliness of mothers has become so commonplace that we simply accept it and even build a whole philosophy around it to make it sound more bearable.
I know from my own experience how lonely I felt as a new mother—and still do even now. But I also know this: Motherhood is not supposed to be lonely. It just isn’t.
Martin’s article doesn’t offer any kind of solution beyond arguing in favor of a more flexible working environment. I don’t have solutions either. I can only share my personal story: It took a traumatic event involving the police for me to realize that I needed help and needed it fast.
I believe that even though modern parenting doesn’t necessarily encourage cooperation between parents, we should ask others for help—and offer a helping hand ourselves. Sometimes a small gesture can go a long way. And if we ask the question “are you lonely, Mama?” let’s not answer with, “Yeah, me too,” and leave it at that. Instead, let’s ask, “What can I do for you?”