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  • Jesse Whattam

“The Good Mother,” The Good Grandmother? Post Conference Questions and Thoughts

Jenny Jones calls this archetype the dominant maternal identity, wherein the mother is doing her caregiving in a happy, nuclear household, providing the moral and religious inspiration alongside a father who works in the public sphere. At the conference, Andrea O’Reilly talked about the ten commandments of patriarchal motherhood, including naturalization and individualization. Rather than thinking about mothering as a learned skill or role, these ‘commandments’ position it as a natural instinct which is the sole responsibility of women. The Good Mother’s love is unconditional and there is no room for ambivalence. Tina Miller discussed how the neoliberal economy has added to the expectations of the Good Mother. The mother must “produce” not only a happy child, but also now a “successful child,” which is to say a child who contributes to the economy. Not only is this middle class notion meant to serve the neoliberal mandate of endless growth and profit, but it also produces more poor and single mothers. These marginalized mothers cannot fulfill the “good mother” ideal and face increased surveillance, judgement, and policy intervention. Further, Christina Fernandez and Rachel Robertson, along with others at the conference, discussed how mothers of children with disabilities have exacerbated expectations of the Good Mother forced upon them.

Though I had previously thought about the unrealistic and patriarchal expectations mothers experience, they are so entangled into our social fabric I wasn’t able to see just how embedded this stereotype is. Despite my continual reading and learning of feminist work, the lack of inclusion and attention given to ‘mother’ as an identity within feminist thought definitely supports the continual normalization of the Good Mother ideal.

Since the closing of the conference I have begun to notice more and more the subtle and not-so-subtle ways the Good Mother ideal is embedded and circulating our society. It is in advertisements for every cleaning product, it is in the portrayals of mothers and fathers in movies, it is in the pictures of mothers on the front pamphlets for new university students.

I have heard the ring of these patriarchal expectations that are hovering over mothers, in everyday conversation. In a line at the grocery store, I heard the cashier point to a family and say, “of course mom is making you eat your veggies! Wait for dad to give you the chips!” Tying together motherhood and beauty expectations, I overheard a mother and father talking about talking a family picture. As the mom explain she is not okay with her “post-pregnancy tummy” yet, someone pointed out she didn’t need to worry about it. Her response was “well society tells me I have to be the fit mom six weeks after, so yes I do.” The notion of “momma bear” has come up multiple times, where the mother is the relentless protector of her children. While I don’t see this as a bad thing in and of itself, I am wondering how much this is about loving, protecting or caring for children and how much it has to do with the expectation