Growing up, I understood motherhood as a burden. In those days, to be an only child was unusual; most of the families I knew had two, three, four children. Noisy families, with multiple television sets, blue swimming pools, cello lessons, riding lessons, barking dogs.
Many of these mothers were married to ghosts – the invisible fathers of that generation, appearing only at night, and even then, only for an hour or so in terms of dedicated consciousness. Both moneyed and comfortable, these women raised their children alone: emotionally unsupported, and turning to each other in their exhaustion and frustration.
The suburb in which I was raised was a place of secrets. The secrets of alcoholic mothers, of mothers who were beaten by their husbands, of mothers who smoked themselves into ICU, of mothers frozen by the discovery that their husbands had made passes at their daughters, of mothers flagrantly betrayed by their fathers of their children. One came home to find her husband of 30 years in bed with his secretary and divorced him, only to die soon afterwards; one was institutionalised on hearing that her husband of 25 years had impregnated a young girl; another found her sexual health forever impacted by her husband’s yen for prostitutes.
Some of these mothers committed suicide, leaving long, long shadows over the lives of their children; some doped themselves with pills, not knowing how to process the rage and grief; many of them divorced and grew old silently, their restraint matched only by their bitterness.
Their daughters learned to understand motherhood as synonymous with restriction and unhappiness. The solution, we told ourselves, was work. Arbeit macht frei. We would never, ever allow ourselves to be so vulnerable. We would enclose ourselves in glass. We would be like men: sexually free, emotionally unencumbered, economically autonomous. If we had children, they would be participants in our lives rather than the axis.
En masse, we accepted the bar as masculine.
It was only after having a child that I realised that the bar is what we make it. Everything I was taught to understand as true was only true within the narrowest of historical contexts.
Motherhood, I discovered, is not a series of menial tasks, but a revolution.
From today, Mama: Dispatches from the Frontline of Love is available online and in bookshops throughout Australia and New Zealand (news for overseas readers soon).
My essay about motherhood is published in the May issue of Vogue, out today.
The extra tickets to the launch of Mama on April 23 have almost sold out. For the very last ones, please click here. If you can’t make it, I’d love to see you at one of the events below:
April 24 – Dymocks CBD (click here)
May 30 – Readings (Hawthorn) (click here)
Please share this post with any parents you feel would benefit x