By: Amber Kinser
I spent a lot of time worrying when my kids were small about everything. Even now I’m sure I fret over details that don’t need fretting. Through most of my motherhood years so far, and I’m going on almost two decades of it (wow that’s a stunning thing to see in print), I have poured a whole lot of energy—energy that might have been useful or good or uplifting, but wasn’t because I chose to channel it in other ways–into worry, doubt, insecurity about what kind of mother I am and whether my kids might be ruined in some way by my maternal fumblings. I think mostly I was convinced of two fallacies.
One fallacy is that I could ever in a bazillion years measure up to the impossible standards for mothering perpetuated glibly by my culture (even as that culture puts, or fails to put, policies, ‘norms,’ and practices in place that impede my efforts at every turn to measure up). But I can see a little more clearly now in retrospect that, by and large, the standards for ‘good mothering’ that surround me are not grounded in any true need that children have but in need that my society has to sell me products, limit my freedom as a woman, and release men and government in general from their responsibility for caring for children and families. So I don’t try as hard to measure up to those absurd standards any more, and guess what. I experience less a sense of failure as a result. And I have more time to do the kind of mothering that I believe in, that my kids respond to, and that works for my family. Oh the advertisers and school teachers and mothers who are invested in those standards have a different view, you can be sure. But I’m not in charge of mothering them so they’ll have to work through those issues on their own.
A second fallacy is that children are exceptionally fragile and always teetering on the precipices of mental health and personal safety and one wrong mere exhale, by me, could blow them over the edge. But I can see now that kids not so fragile. Kids are not at perpetual risk, they are not going to crumble because of some choice you made here or there. They tend to be rather solid, capable beings who weather life’s storms quite courageously and with firm footing. Human life is tough and human beings are equipped to live it anyway. It’s a beautiful thing really. Plus, kids are not living in a world that matches what we see on TV and in newspapers or online news updates. Face it; much of life is pretty mundane. Mostly bad things DON’T happen, and kids are safe, and they grow up to be functioning, contributing adults. But that’s pretty boring stuff in a newspaper headline or a video clip. I’ve also come to see, as my children grow, that children are astoundingly resilient. They have plenty of practice deflecting the seemingly negative impact of being completely surrounded by and cared for by wholly imperfect people. They have plenty of practice because these are the only people who make up their world, or anyone’s world. Luckily, having perfect parents is not a pre-requisite to making it through life with some measure of success. I’ll wager that the people reading this post (like the person writing it) are living proof of that.
So I’m wasting less energy now on nonsense. Maybe that’s just a natural part of being…let’s just say not way young anymore. But I sure hope that somebody somewhere could do that earlier than I did, like when the kids are little. I hope they can redirect some of their maternal worry, doubt, and insecurity energy into something cool and useful and uplifting instead. It’s such a tragic waste otherwise.
By: Amber Kinser
I was thinking this morning two thoughts. One was how much things have changed in terms of dads’ involvement in childcare, that dads are much more likely to be present at the birth of their child, to do a share of the everyday grind that parenting calls for, to attend to the sound of crying baby. The other thought was about how much things haven’t changed. That for heterosexual couples, the share that dads generally take is, statistically, still not a fair share, that care of the home is still done primarily by women even if both mom and dad work (and even if they both work full time), that dads are noted more often as (generously) “babysitting” or “helping” when they care for their own children than on doing what dads should be doing. And while I am quite pleased that men have stepped back into their families, especially if, rather than focus on getting out in front of it and “leading” it, they focus on getting in the middle of it and serving it, as women have done and still do, I still despair at the disproportionate amount of family and home care that men continue to offer up overall. So in light of this comparatively lower level of family engagement, I’d like to place a moratorium on giving dads extra credit for doing what women just get standard credit for (which usually isn’t much). The fact that men’s family engagement continues only half-heartedly is perpetuated when we insist on swooning over the image of men participating in the daily grind. I have been at the mall and seen girls or women who comment on men pushing a stroller through the stores as soooo sweeeet!. And to be honest, I probably was such a girl at some earlier point in my life. The interesting thing about this image is that at pretty much any point, a walk down the central aisles of the shopping mall will provide numerous examples of women pushing strollers, plenteous women dealing with children who are insisting on the purchase of this or that or children who are so dead tired all they can do is hang on people (not strangers alas) and cry or, better yet, just whine. And it is these women we’d have to look right past, or right through even, to see these sweeeet guys pushing strollers. I’ve heard young men, and because I work at a college it’s college men I’ve heard, saying that bringing their little nephew along with them functions as a “chick magnet” and I wonder why that is. I wonder why we insist on giving women almost no real credit for the parenting daily grind but gobs of extra credit when men do brief moments of it. I wonder why women say “thank you” to their male partners for cleaning up their own kitchen, or folding their own laundry. I wonder if we could start to give fathers the same credit for the parenting work they do that we give mothers, or that we should give mothers anyway. I wonder what would change if we acknowledged the continuous work that is parenting, appropriately valued mothers for their motherwork and supported them in it, and then gave men exactly the same amount of credit when they do the same amount of work. A good bit would change, I’ll wager.
Excerpted text from Momma Love introduction:
Momma Love is not only about the love a mother shows. It’s about the love she is shown, by herself and the world around her.
We all feel an undeniable pull toward our mother’s love. If the bond between you and your mother was strong and healthy, it created a space of unparalleled safety and comfort for you. If it was distorted or missing, you’ve probably spent a lifetime coming to terms with that fact, seeking it out or letting it go. Either way, mother love is profoundly symbolic and powerful—so much so that entire religions, mythologies, and classic works of literature are built around either the sanctity or the destructive power of it. Societies need “Momma Love” in order to survive, but very often don’t know how to take care of it properly.
The details and rituals of motherhood largely go unnoticed and are taken for granted. They are talked about among mothers in private places—in toy-strewn living rooms, in kitchens, or over the phone while a child throws a tantrum on the floor nearby. To an outsider, motherhood seems like a profoundly important secret society, one that I started this project to understand more fully.
Each woman I photographed for this project has the truth of her experience to offer. In creating this book I have attempted to bring a community to light, creating a patchwork-quilt of advice, empathy, reflection, commiseration, opinion, anger, assurance, and love. In order to nurture healthier mothers and a healthier society, honest conversations about the realities of motherhood and how mothers are treated are necessary.
Thankfully, my attempts to steer these photos away from typical portraits of women smiling and hugging their children were met with great enthusiasm, on the part of both the mothers and the children. I took this as a testament of their desire to acknowledge and maybe even honor the complexity of their relationships. Often, after an interview was done, the subject came to me nervously, concerned that in the process of revealing her ambivalence, struggles, or conflicts regarding motherhood, she hadn’t made it clear how much she adored her children. All I could tell her was what I believe, in no uncertain terms: Admitting to the complexity of the situation doesn’t negate love. On the contrary, if you’re committed to someone in spite of it being hard, it might just be evidence of a more powerful kind of love.
Ali Smith: FULL EXHIBIT HERE
The daughter of Two Suns, the chief of the Blood (Kainah) tribe of the Blackfoot Confederacy, Natawista was born about 1825. When she was 15 years-old she traveled with her father from Canada to Fort Union, a trading post located on what is now the North Dakota–Montana border. While there, she married Alexander Culbertson, the chief trader for the Upper Missouri Outfit of the American Fur Company. Because of the intense competition between American and British traders for the Blackfoot trade, it was common for officers to marry the daughters of chiefs to cement trading relations.
Natawista worked as a diplomat, a hostess, and an interpreter with her husband for nearly thirty years to bridge the gap between the white traders and the native inhabitants of that region. During their years together, they had five children. In 1858, after having made a considerable fortune in the fur trade, the Culbertsons moved to a farm near Peoria, Illinois where Natawista’s life was described as “unconventional” at times. Sometimes in the fall, she would set up a teepee on the lawn, discard her white woman’s clothes, dressing in her Indian garb, and spend several weeks in her teepee. In 1868, the couple moved to Fort Benton, Montana and Culbertson resumed trading. However, just a few years later, Natawista went to the Blood camps in Alberta and never returned to her husband. She died there in 1895.