The Greatest Role: A Mama’s Rant

As I type this, my toddler is asleep on my lap. He woke up early from naptime, disrupting my writing time, and promptly snuggled up against my 9-month pregnant belly (which, honestly, in its constant state of Braxton-Hicks tightness, can’t be that cozy) and fell back asleep. I’ll admit I played with his sweaty post-nap hair and his face is more than angelic right now. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to type. I’m doing some sort of yoga upper body twist and trying not to breathe too deep while I type on the laptop to the right of my right leg. It’s not easy.

That’s the point of this whole blog, right? The choices made in motherhood are not easy, particularly the ones made in the stage of being mama to babies and tinies. It requires more of us than we can imagine. It requires we lose ourselves in the process.

I’m not saying being a mom requires we forget who we are. But it does ask that we reject many of our self-centered natural longings. For instance, I wish my prego hipbone wasn’t completely uncomfortable right now and that my left foot wasn’t tingling asleep. But I’m giddy that my kid is still sleeping and I have time to write this. I love writing and besides being a mother, it’s what I do.

Monday morning we had a play date with a former neighbor and her son at our favorite park. My friend, who is a working actor, shared with me about how difficult her surprise second pregnancy has been for her lately. (She’s at the end of her first trimester.) She was just feeling like she was back in shape after her 2-year-old’s birth and was ready to get the kind of acting jobs she’s been missing out on for the past 2 ½ years. And now…

What could I say? I reminded her of what I remind myself: this is a short season of life. Our children are beautiful and this time will fly past us and it’s okay to admit that being a mother isn’t enough. We are allowed to long for other things in our lives: work, especially.

However, when I came home from the play date and got my kid to sleep, I was shocked to see a few different articles Monday afternoon smacking around Natalie Portman for her earnest Oscar acceptance speech. In it, she referred to motherhood being her greatest role yet. This post and this article both ask the question, “Is motherhood really Natalie Portman’s greatest role?“ Both take to task a society that loves to expound on how children should be the center of a mother’s life while men are not held to the same expectations.

And here’s what I hated about these posts: KJ Dell’Antonia mocks Portman’s pregnant glow, patronizingly looking forward to the day when Natalie won’t be so quick to define her work and life values so simply. Then, Mary Elizabeth Williams refers to motherhood as “reproduction.” If that’s all it is, I finished my role with August 2 ½ years ago and I’m almost done with mothering T-Rexy before he even has a non-dinosaur name. Williams quotes a fellow twitterer, Lizzie Skurnick, whose response to Portman’s acceptance speech was, “Like, my garbageman could give you your greatest role in life, too, lady.”

I’ve said before that I believe in feminism. I’m proud of my friends who choose to work and raise their children. I’m proud of my whip-smart lawyer best friend who works full days, loves her son and is raising him to see women as capable, tender, and intelligent. What I don’t support is the nasty, better-than-thou-tone I often find in pieces written by feminists who can’t seem to see motherhood as anything other than an abuse against women.

The reason most of the women I know are not quick to align themselves with feminism is because articles like these demean motherhood. News flash to Lizzie Skurnick: when you refer to the reproduction possibilities of your garbage man, you forget that motherhood is not reproduction (just as producing sperm is not fatherhood).

Yes, KJ Dell’Antonia, Natalie may be in the glowing, I’m-about-to-have-a-baby fuzz of her hormones. Sure, she hasn’t yet experienced the struggle of sacrificing everything to raise a child. But that also doesn’t mean she is praising “reproduction” above all else. Stating her belief that raising a child will be her greatest role doesn’t have to mean that she is demeaning her career at the pinnacle of success.

Last week, my husband reminded me (and himself) that he doesn’t want to get to a place in his life where he realizes he’s been successful in his work and has failed as a husband and a father. Some things just matter more because they are about people, about relationships, about life. And the act of creating and loving and molding a human is more important than personal success. Why? Because people are always more important than ideas, theories, and movements. The physical trumps the abstract.

Does that mean I hope Natalie Portman will stop making movies and progressing her career in submission to her role as mother? No. I believe women are far more than baby makers and raisers. And the world needs our minds and our gifts. I just hope that when she’s home with her toddler trying to get her work done, and he falls asleep on her lap, she will be at ease with her belief that he matters more than anything else she can do. Because he’s real, because he’s lasting.


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7 Responses to The Greatest Role: A Mama’s Rant

  1. Sam

    YES. This says it so perfectly: Some things matter more because they are about people, about relationships, about life.

    I agree, in a sense, that Natalie is probably flying high on happy pregnancy hormones (also, being professionally lauded at every turn). She is beautiful and in love with her fiance. Still, some of us have dreams of motherhood that are just as important and valid as someone else dreaming of running a company or getting their PhD’s in whatever.

  2. Wow, I had no idea people were criticizing Natalie for that comment. When I saw the tweet about this post I thought it meant you were criticizing her and I ran right over here to read what you had to say because I couldn’t imagine why. I suppose I am not too surprised that some feminist types would hate the comment, because so many women view babies as accessories, especially in La La Land. Many have armies of help with their children and trainers and chefs to get themselves back to looking as if they didn’t just pop out a watermelon. Those women are clueless and missing the point and what they say goes in one ear and out the other for me.

    Now don’t get me wrong, I hated the baby stage. I don’t do well with sleep deprivation and my body was pretty much wrecked by childbearing, no matter how hard I try to reverse the damage. I choose to work part-time because I have a great, flexible work arrangement, get paid well and feel like I NEED the mental stimulation engineering gives me. As a Christian mom, I get criticized for not devoting every hour of my life to my small ones, but that’s my choice. And I did, in fact, roll my eyes at Natalie’s comment…because it seemed predictable and schmaltzy…but her whole speech made me smile just a bit.

    Ok that’s already too long a comment, I feel like I could go on forever and I see now why you wrote this post. :)

  3. Melissa Fitzpatrick

    I am not a Mom but I adore this post. It is insightful on so many levels. Thanks for ranting.

  4. Clio

    I don’t quite get the mindset that feminism means trading in one rigid stereotype for another :) I consider myself a feminist even though if I had my druthers, I would be a full-time stay at home mom. To me, having the freedom to choose what is most important to me, and follow that without having to consider my gender is what feminism is all about.

    I didn’t see the speech, but it sounds sweet and a bit cliche :) But I don’t think that matters because it’s her moment. She gets to say what she wants!

  5. Campbell

    My little one just asked me today, “do you ever go to work, mommy?” and in the moment I’m just mumbled out something about spending my days with him and his sister. But afterward, as I was thinking about it, I wished I’d had a better answer for him — something that would keep him thinking (later, as he gets bigger) about my choice to be with him and my ability to do anything else. I know it was just a simple question, in a simple moment, and I’m assured that my daily life with him will teach him more about how our family values work, gender, feminism, choice, sacrifice, accomplishments, relationships, etc. but somehow I felt as though I should chalk this one up to a lost opportunity, lost moment. sigh. …. Thank you, Micha, for always having something to think about.

  6. Jayme

    Beautifully & well-put. Thank you for putting into print what every mother believes in her heart, regardless if she admits it.

  7. I am a SAHM to my four little ones, and I struggle with this issue. I adore my children. I am obsessed with them. I have such difficulty getting away from them. But I want to be more than just a mommy. Somedays I feel suffocated by the chores and responsibilities, by the need. I have my own dreams and goals for the future. Everything seems taken over by them. But I’m not allowed to say that, because the women who can’t have kids will be offended, and the working mothers will point at me and say, “We told you so,” and the homeschooling mothers will say, “How dare you!” I just want to be a mom and still be me. I love both parts.

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