One of the many reasons I have never wanted to become a mother is that becoming a mother meant becoming a mother. That is, to anyone who saw me, referenced me, or identified me, I would cease to be “Sylvia,” cease to be a “woman,” and would be only a “mom.” Someone who raises children – period. At the same time, my husband would somehow retain his identity – his name, the fact that he is a man, an individual – with “father” or “dad” added to the many roles he plays.
Not me. I’d just be a “mom.”
The Today Show over the last several weeks has proven that I wasn’t being overly dramatic or paranoid to anticipate that a loss of personal identity would accompany motherhood.
It began with “Coma Mom.” Coma Mom Defies the Odds, the Today Show reported in early September. Click the link, and it’s “Mom defies the odds after devastating accident.” It’s an incredible story of a woman’s (sorry – a Mom’s) survival after a family vacation goes horribly wrong.
But what does the fact that the woman is a mother have to do with the story? I wondered.
Maybe they called her “coma mom” instead of “coma woman” because she was on vacation with her family – which includes children – when they noticed her missing during their moped ride.
I thought, “Maybe this is an isolated incident. Maybe they call her a ‘mom’ for a reason.”
But then the Today Show, in one single day – today -, offered further evidence that there’s definitely an imbalance in how our society perceives parental roles.
“A 67 year old California man is lucky to be alive today after his car plummeted off a mountain road into a ravine,” the Today Show’s Natalie Morales said. “His family found him on Thursday during their own search. He may have been stranded there for up to six days.” He drank creek water and ate leaves and bugs to stay alive. That’s one dramatic story, all right.
And he had children – children who found him in the ravine. Yet – he’s a “man,” not a “dad.”
An oversight? Maybe, I thought. But then:
The Today Show aired the story “Mom reinvents herself” about a fifty-something woman who, after she and her husband lost their jobs, decided to use the escape-artist skills she’d been practicing since she was 17 to earn a living. Not one word in the story about her children. They had nothing to do with her decision, weren’t interviewed, and didn’t even show up in the form of a picture on the wall. Still, she’s a “mom” – while the man in the previous story, the one found in the creek by his wife and children, is a “man.”
The Today Show obviously isn’t the only media outlet that does this.
Do we place so much value on the role of “mom” that once a woman has children, she ceases to be anything else? Do we place so little value on the role of “dad” that whether a man is a father is practically irrelevant? The imbalance has to contribute somewhat to how each sex views his or her role as a parent. I mean, this is a country that barely blinks when a man leaves his children but will readily crucify a woman who dares to leave hers, that treats a man fighting to be with his children as a veritable miracle and a woman sticking with her children as…you know…what moms should be, duh.
In other words, men go into parenthood knowing they’re dispensable, and women go into parenthood knowing the colossal weight of the entire family rests on them (and they’d better do a damn good job of it, because their brand new identity is at stake).
You have to wonder whether more men would fight for custody of their children if it were communicated to them that their role as “dad” is just as valuable as a woman’s role as “mom,” and that their dedication to their children – not financially speaking – is every bit as expected as is a mother’s.
You also have to wonder whether ceasing to treat mothers as holy figures would remove some of the pressure women feel to have children. All of this emphasis on “mom” and “mother” continually reminds us that, as far as society is concerned, we’re much more valuable as child-bearers than we are as, well, anything else. That woman up there has been practicing her escape-artist maneuvers since she was 17, she’s finally making use of them at 50-something, and “escape artist” didn’t take precedence in the headline over “Mom”? Are you kidding me? What does this say to little girls but, “Tut tut, now, honey. You can play with your little hobbies and develop your little skills, but always remember none of it will matter to anyone, or even be very interesting to anyone, unless you’re also a mom“?