We should end Mother’s Day as soon as possible
When I was in primary school, my teacher taught me pottery so I could make presents for Mother’s Day. She should have taught me something else to show my her my appreciation.
Don’t get me wrong, my mum was absolutely thrilled about getting the coffee mugs I crafted for her and has been using them for over 25 years for the only purpose they are good for: ashtrays.
But if my teacher had been teaching me and my classmates how we could contribute to the household, how to clean dishes, sweep floors, tidy our rooms, and wash our clothes, perhaps we wouldn’t need Mother’s Day.
A society that largely puts the unpaid household work in the hands of mothers, however, needs a day of flower bouquets that will wither as quickly as its good intentions to change something about their situations.
And change something we should.
One of the most controversial research results that I have seen in the fields of positive psychology shows why this is problematic: According to a study conducted in Germany by researchers of the Max Planck Institute of Demographics research, the single event that leads to the largest DECREASE in happiness is the birth of the first child. On a happiness scale of 0 to 10, 0 being the worst and 10 the best, the average Western European is at a 6.5. The birth of the first child — the amazing start of a new life — causes an average drop in happiness of a staggering 1.6 points, higher even than the loss of a partner or the loss of a job (-1 point each).
The conclusions of this study were largely ignored, and I can understand why: The outrage and even personal attacks that I have faced when talking about these results were so large, any mention of it is now quickly accompanied with: “It’s not the kids’ fault. It’s society.”
I have observed with great concern what I think is the reason for the dramatic drop in happiness in young mothers: the threefold pressures they are facing on a daily basis: the pressure to be the best possible mother, the best partner, and the best careerist.
Elon Musk might be able to lead SpaceX, Tesla, and SolarCity, but even he would not be up for the task of nailing all three of these. Heck, any normal person struggles to be good at one.
But I see young mothers confronted with one or several of these pressures on a daily basis: from a friend who had to defend herself for wanting to go back to work part-time after giving birth, to the nasty comments about young mothers’ bodies (“are you pregnant again?”), to the tears in the eyes of a close person when she was yet again judged for being (understandably!) overburdened by her situation (“But you wanted two kids!”).
That last incident happened exactly one year ago, and caused the young mother to say the words that made me write this post: “I don’t need flowers, I don’t need a nice breakfast. All I want is to not be judged.”
The bright side
Fortunately, there are movements that try to raise awareness for this epidemic of unhappiness among young mothers: I am very hopeful that the #regrettingmotherhood movement will help us reconsider the hostile environment we create for young mothers.
The body positivity movement extensively covers the topic of postpartum body (if you speak German, I highly recommend UnfreakingFassbar, which documents the unbelievable statements mothers and other women must endure about their bodies on a daily basis). And Scandinavian countries once again show that children and career are not mutually exclusive if proper policies are in place, ensuring gender equality in the raising of kids and day care centers to all.
Appreciation, (literally) deflowered
To show our appreciation for mothers, we don’t need a day that tries to cover up these issues by showering roses over them.
I will call my mum today. But perhaps one day, kids don’t have to anymore, and their mothers will miss the poems and pottery, but be happy to be no longer held to these abnormal standards that make many unhappy.
But whatever will happen, I will continue to thank my mother… on my birthday. On the day when everybody congratulates me (for what, exactly?), I say thanks to my mum for going through everything she had to to give birth to me and raise me. And after that, I usually apologize for not cleaning, sweeping, tidying and washing while growing up. And, of course, for the ashtrays.