Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Mask of Motherhood by Susan Maushart

Title:  The Mask of Motherhood: How becoming a mother changes our lives and why we never talk about it
Author:  Susan Maushart
Pages:  247
Publisher:  Penguin Books
Genre:  Nonfiction
Format:  Paperback
Source:  Personal copy (Book Outlet)


Susan Maushart explores the vast range of emotions that come along with motherhood, and why many women are afraid to speak honestly about the low moments for fear of being viewed as bad mothers.  Maushart is a sociologist and mother of three.  She writes about how motherhood affects marriage, friendship, self-esteem, and sex.  She writes about lactation, being a mom who works outside the home, being a stay-at-home mom, juggling the many jobs associated with motherhood, and about how becoming a mother changes your life.  Most importantly, by writing about these things, Maushart is letting women know that they are not alone.

Motherhood is certainly rewarding, but it's not always an easy walk in the park, a point that not many women talk about openly.  Maushart is examining this mask that many women wear to conceal the realities of motherhood, looking at what lies beneath and asking why it's being worn in the first place.


I found this book quite interesting.  Personally, I find the women in my life to be fairly open about pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood.  I'm lucky to have friends with whom there is nothing held back, even when it's unpleasant or difficult (I'm looking at you, Andrea!).  The Mask of Motherhood was published in 1999, and I think that in some ways the mask has been removed with access and outlets to real talk about childbirth and child rearing.  In other ways, the mask is more in place than it ever was.

The Internet has certainly provided an outlet for women to share the nitty gritty about pregnancy, giving birth, and caring for a baby.  Women are able to access information like never before, and especially with sites like Scary Mommy (for example), read some candid pieces about what it means to be a mother.  There may be a humorous spin, but the sentiment is there - caring for a small human is not as straightforward as one may think.

I do, however, see certain aspects of the mask present itself even more forcefully in 2016.  Fueled by social media, it can be hard to not be under the impression that all the other mothers have it all together.  I can scroll through their instagram and see pictures of smiling children, nutritious lunches with veggies cut into fun little shapes, everything captioned with #soblessed.  It's not real life.  But I think there's pressure to present yourself as a mother who has her shit together.  If we're having an "off" day and we end up inside on a beautiful fall afternoon, I can scroll through facebook seeing my friends post pictures of their kids playing in apple orchards and start to feel bad - even though the baby was fussy and the 4-year-old was overtired and a trip to an orchard would have resulted in a slew of meltdowns.  I'd be interested to see an updated version of this book with chapters about the Pinterest moms and mommy bloggers, the desire some women have to make every moment magical and caught on camera, and pressure to feed your kids only gluten free, chemical free, organic snacks.
I found some of the statistics presented in the book to be the most interesting parts.  Of course they're slightly dated, so numbers are no longer exact.  In particular I found it interesting to read about women making the transition into motherhood.  According to Maushart, that transition is harder for women over 30 who have established themselves both as individuals in their personal lives and in their careers.  I found myself nodding my head so hard during this particular chapter.  I remember the stress and the anxiety associated with my first born.  Some of it had nothing to do with my age or making the transition into motherhood.  But in hindsight, some of it did.  I agreed with so much of what Maushart had to say about making this transition - I wish I had read this when I was about 3 weeks postpartum with Dominic.  

Maushart has a great voice, mixing cited factual information with personal stories.  It's a perfect balance.  She provides tremendous insight on many of the unspoken parts of the journey to and through motherhood.  She writes about identity, working, and the roles women play in their families.  Statistics should be taken with a grain of salt, as figures and trends have shifted in the last seventeen years.  

Overall I really enjoyed this book.  If you're pregnant with your first child, if you just gave birth for the first time, or if you're a seasoned parent - there's lots of food for thought here.  I think Maushart presents a lot of ideas about what so many women are thinking or have thought about childbirth and child rearing.  I am guilty of wearing the mask - not necessarily about sharing real information, but in trying to give the impression that I have everything running smoothly.

Highly recommend!  Click here to purchase a copy (and to support Kate's Library)!

1 comment:

  1. My kids were born in the 1980's, and I don't remember all the pressure to make every waking moment perfect. I think social media has driven that. But I also remember feeling like a lousy mother some of the time. Also very isolated, because I was a stay-at-home mom without a lot of friends who had kids. If you're just raising your kids now, have faith - mine turned out really well, if I do say so myself, despite my fears that I was doing it wrong. And believe me, there were a lot of not-so-Kodak moments. A book like this can do a great service to mothers who feel they must be perfect.