Regretting Motherhood As a Counter-Narrative Towards Therapeutic Cultures of Motherhood

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 11:15
Oral Presentation
Armi MUSTOSMÄKI, University of Jyväskylä, Finland
Tiina SIHTO, University of Jyväskylä, Finland
During recent years, the deconstructing the motherhood myth has been visibly present in public discussion, in blogs and tv-shows that deal with issues regarding motherhood. It is becoming increasingly acceptable to discuss the ‘forbidden emotions’ of motherhood - to say that motherhood is not always wonderful or fulfilling. Mothers can complain about children going through terrible twos, lament over lack of time and criticise the pressures caused by the cultural ideal of intensive mothering. Even though these forbidden emotions have become more accepted, mothers are still in many ways attached to the ideal and practice of “good mothering”. In our analysis we are interested in emotions and experiences regarding regretting motherhood, as they appear in a popular Finnish anonymous online discussion board vauva.fi. We are interested particularly on the narratives and counter-narratives that can be extracted from our data.

In the data, women who express regretting motherhood compare their emotions and actions with the cultural narrative of intensive mothering. The narratives lay out how in current cultural understanding of motherhood, it is acceptable to talk about the temporary difficulties of motherhood. Thus negative emotions, such as exhaustion and frustration, may be expressed. Expressing these feelings are entangled with therapeutic cultures, which promise that even though motherhood is complex and sometimes difficult, one can overcome these problems by talking about them and by (professional) help. The promise of therapeutic culture is that eventually, the love one feels towards one’s child makes all the negative emotions and hard labour worth it. This is what we call therapeutic understanding of motherhood. However, the women who express regretting motherhood neglect the therapeutic promise of overcoming negative feelings. Instead they build their own counter-narrative - where their regret is an embodied experience, a permanent state, where non-motherhood could be described even as an identity.