what is motherhood

What motherhood is and what it isn’t: treating your family like flatmates (Ep #58)

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with Rachael Jansen

I’ve been meaning to have this conversation about what motherhood is, and isn’t, for a while, because I think it’s time we learned to treat our family like flatmates sometimes.

Given that we are at the time of writing and recording this, approaching Mother’s Day – albeit a very different one given the isolation situation – it seems like the perfect time to do it, especially as many, many women have added an extra layer of responsibility to their already busy and weary load as mothers: that of teacher as well as remote learning continues.

Long before now, the role of mother has been confused with the home help, and it’s this expectation of a gender role that adds to the fatigue and frustration of many women.

So to clarify what motherhood is: being a mum means I am responsible to care for, protect, raise and of course love my kids.

Motherhood does not come with the requirement of responsibility to do laundry, dishes, clean house and pick up after everyone. They are not in the job description.

I’ve talked before about my great meltdown in the laundry. The day I lost it as I sorted my family’s dirty clothes in yet another Saturday of servitude, slaving to the ever-needy Bosch front-loader and the requirement my family seems to have for clean underwear every week.

It was the culmination of many years and many things, most notably the reduction of my life from what I had planned for it as an individual to what it had become – seemingly playing a supporting role in everyone else’s lives.

I just was so very tired and sad over being the one to do all the things for everyone, at the expense and sacrifice of me and my needs.

It wasn’t anyone’s fault – it just happened over the years and we had all fallen into the routine of me as the mother doing the ‘mum’ things.

This happens to many women.

We get into the habit of home care and duty because we’re there with the baby in the beginning.

But then it never really changes, even if or when we return to work.

In our desire to do the right thing, and show our care and concern for others, we continue to clean up after them long after they need us to, because it seems to everyone that that is our job or role as mothers.

Then we end up busier and more tired and crankier and potentially more disillusioned.

Statistics show us women still do the lions share of household labour, even if they work the same or more hours as their spouse.

It’s a hangover from previous times and we ourselves must stop enabling it.

How to clarify what motherhood is

Care goes all ways

We can start by redefining what ‘taking care of’ means, and see care as a whole-of-family affair. Care goes all ways – everyone as individuals has a responsibility to care for each other, like a circle, and that means feeding, cleaning and tidying the home in which you all dwell and being responsible for the part you play in making a mess.

Hand over responsibility, not a list

Often there’s an expectation that you will always do it, that it’s your job and responsibility and that the rest of the family ‘helps’ you. When you ask for help, you retain ownership of the responsibility.

Instead, delegate the responsibility. Hand it over entirely and never think of it again. If the wheels fall off, let others deal with it. Don’t worry about when or how they do it – it’s their responsibility, not yours so let them deal with it their way.

Have the conversations

Start having the conversation about everyone makes the mess, so everyone can do their part to clean it up.

Have the conversation that as a mother or wife or partner, your responsibility is love and protection, not laundry and dishes.


Just as you separate the whites from the darks in the laundry, separate what is motherhood, and what is not.

And on that note, Happy Mother’s Day.

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