The Mother Blame Game

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Have you ever felt the burden of blame being heaped on you as a mother? Mothers are blamed for a whole host of child activity ranging from the mundane like having a child with a snotty nose to something major such as having a child who is a mass murderer (Adam Lanza the mass shooter in 2012 whose mother was blamed even though she was the first person he shot).  ‘Mother blame’ is the name of the game.

A journal titled ‘The Mother-Blame Game’ published by Demeter Press lays bare the extent to which blame permeates the lives of mothers. The journal is an interdisciplinary and intersectional examination of the phenomenon of ‘Mother blame’ in the twenty-first century. It dissects the socioeconomic and cultural expectations of what constitutes “good motherhood” because ‘Mother Blame’ is a divisive concept which sifts the supposed good mothers from bad mothers.

I have a special interest in this book because feminist mothering is not a well known concept in the UK so I often use ‘Mother blame’ as an entry point explanation of how feminist mothering is a mitigating and fight back set of ideas which frees mothers from having to conform to a patriarchal idealist version of a good mother.

The patriarchal narrative assumes that mothers have a monopoly on their children’s lives and, therefore, can be blamed for things that go wrong. In the introduction to the journal the editors, Vanessa Reimer and Sarah Sahagian, challenge this supposed monopoly by arguing that “family members, peers, and social institutions such as schools, churches and media play varying roles in children’s lives as they grow”. 

The myriad of participants in a child’s life does make one wonder why and how the patriarchal culture locates only the mother with blame. The journal uses the explanations of the maternal theorist, Adrienne Rich, as a starting base for analysis. Rich wrote about how the patriarchy determined what part women shall play or not play and “in which the female is everywhere subsumed under the male”.
Subsequently, Rich explains, the patriarchal society assumes that women are ‘natural mothers’ who have no further identity beyond that of being nurturer to their children. Consequently, mothers who ‘fall short’ are blamed.

Falling short of mother perfection results in ‘mother blame’ which , according to the journal, is commonly used to persecute “the welfare mother, the teen mother, the career woman who has no time for her kids, the drug addict who poisons her fetus, the pushy stage mother, the overprotective Jewish mother” and, scarily, this is not an exhaustive list.

The chapters are divided into four thematic sections which cover facets of ‘mother blame’: Mother blame and the body, blaming ‘othered’ mothers, mother blame in popular culture and sharing mother blame stories:strategies for success. The cultural practice of ‘mother blame’, as evidenced in these sections is pervasive.

This journal isn’t a read only for mothers. The editors don’t have children but confess to being guilty of ‘mother blaming’ in the past. Their transition was helped with a “critical lens informed by feminist politics and maternal theory” which enabled them to recognise the standards against which mothers are judged that “no human being could ever live up to them”.

In the spirit of collective sisterhood the editors invite readers to join them in “daily, purposeful efforts that will continue to debunk-and finally end-the ‘mother blame’ game”.

I have responded to this invitation by making a list of ways in which I have personally suffered from ‘mother blame’. As a start, I am not going to defend myself anymore when my daughter eats at McDonald’s. She only does it about once a month and sees it as a treat rather than a staple diet. Yes, ‘mother blame’ even creeps into eating habits. I was once also blamed because she got off an escalator in a train station rather slowly.


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