Why Do We Shame Mothers Who Ask For Help?

One of my favourite television shows that centred Black people has to be the Empire series. Featuring actresses like Taraji P. Henson, Empire gave a running commentary on things like drug abuse, queerness, motherhood and the gendered angles of racism.

In my first year in university, there is a memory from it that is clear as day. I was in my room with some friends watching Empire when one of them asked why a new mother was so “lazy”. 

If my memory serves me well, the woman’s offence was that she was a stay home mother who needed a nanny. I remember going back and forth with her trying so hard to explain that raising a child is not something that is easy for one woman no matter how hands-on she may be.

I cannot remember how the conversation ended but what I do know is that it is a memory I come back to a lot when I need a reminder that sometimes internalised misogyny sees women shamimg other women even if we may also want help.

In Nigeria and indeed most African countries, it is not uncommon to hear most mothers praised as “sacrificial”. It is also not uncommon to have mothers who are working and actively contributing to the financial wellbeing of the family. A home where only the man contributes financially is quite rare in most Nigerian families.

Now, even though mothers actively contribute to the finances of the family, they also shoulder the burdens of housework and childcare with the societal belief that frowns on a man doing housework.

And why is that? Why have we made it such that in parenting, only women sacrifice more than is normal. Of course parenting is difficult but why is it one where men breeze through without being active participants while women endure illnesses like high blood pressure because they are under severe stress?

Furthermore, why do we shame mothers who state a desire for help? Why is it that mothers who publicly express that they are stressed out and tired, are told that they “do not love their children” and are made to feel guilty? What is it about mothers needing nannies, paid doulas and au pairs in pregnancy, motherhood and while raising the child that gets some other women super angry?

How do we move forward as a society if workplaces are also designed with the mindset that help for mothers is a foreign concept? If workplaces do not give adequate maternity leave, pumping rooms and do not have office nurseries with in house nannies? Why is it that most of the time women are made to choose between motherhood and career? Why can’t women who want kids go into the labour room, confident that their labour to advance the human species will not see some of their dreams or even all of their career aspirations cut short forever?

Speaking with O, she explains that motherhood been career suicide can be linked to the capitalist nature of most societies.

In her words: “The nuclear family is the punishment. Women weren’t meant to parent alone. Parenting is supposed to be within community, first among family and then the greater village.

We lost the village because capitalism doesn’t work well with the village and mothers had to carry that burden, then we lost inter-generational families and women picked up the burden. Generations have been piling more on women for a long time.

So yes, having children can be career suicide unless you have family help or paid help.

Lots of women don’t get help and they dissociate from their situation by wearing the lack of help as a badge of honour. Men have different memories of their childhood. They don’t see the struggle especially if they didn’t get to participate in it and they feel that the work is nothing.”

For Zainab Atta-Oyewole, she says that motherhood in her experience is one that makes help very necessary.

To quote her: “I use myself as a case in point when this topic is discussed.

This patriarchal mindset has been passed down from generations and sadly women have enabled it the most. They immediately thrust the responsibility of raising a child onto the woman. They  see a child roaming the streets or straying and ask “where is your mummy?”

Thinking back after giving birth, the next two years afterwards my life wasn’t mine. I pretty much grasped at straws. I realise how much it takes a toll on the mind and body of a woman.”

She went on to say: “The men don’t even understand the pain their wives feel when they are absent fathers and when they aren’t present partners.

The sacrifice of impact is immense and sometimes unbearable, that’s the truth, so a community in the form of nannies, daycares, present partners is very necessary.

Our minds have to pivot completely in order to end career suicide for women. We need more mentors in the corporate and public service space willing to take on a woman struggling to get her act together and guide her to fulfilment at work or in business.”

When asked to give her opinion, Blessing had this to say: “I grew up around women who attained a certain level of career success. I noticed two things. First, they married late for their era (mostly late twenties). Second, they were unashamed about shifting the burden of help to younger female relatives and dependents.

For me, I know I’m going to ask for help. I just don’t want that help to come at the expense of other people. Systems for getting help already exist in patriarchal systems, they are just not convenient for women with less resources, and also opens dependents up to abuse.

The solution will come when we first get men to see childcare and housework as an equally joint responsibility and secondly when we make it natural for women to obtain assistance with work at home, things will be better.”

There is no better way to end this article than with the words of Ekowoicho when she says that: “The change lies in the truth being told to children and preventing them buying into patriarchy.”

Indeed, true progress will start only when there is an active awareness about the burden of housework and when workplaces are designed with the knowledge that some women will always want children and want to work.

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