I saw Naomi Stadlen, author of What Mothers Do: Especially When it Looks Like Nothing speak recently at the wonderful Big Green Bookshop. She led a discussion, based on her new book How Mothers Love: and how Relationships are Born, on whether mothering is different to fathering, or whether they can both fit in to the catch-all title of parenting. And I've been thinking about this since then and why it is that mothering is different.
I don't think it is because of the tingly nipples when the baby cries or the supersonic hearing that means I am the one who wakes up at the slightest snuffle in the middle of the night or the acual carrying the baby inside you, though all of that is incredibly important of course. I think the thing about being a mother, as opposed to being a father, is, in the words of The Apprentice, you are 'project manager'.
Perhaps this is nothing to do with gender and everything to do with it being the woman who tends to be at home most, in the first year at least, but it does mean that even if tasks can be shared the task of knowing what is going on isn't. Because it's not about who changes how many nappies or who empties the bin or who gets up in the night, it's about someone needing to have a whole picture view. I know how much my daughter has eaten, because if she has several not hungry days in a row then perhaps she is ill. I know if she has taken her medicine and whether we need to get the prescription refilled. I know when she last did a poo, and whether there is anything to worry about there. It's not just bodily functions. I also know whether she is growing out of her clothes and needs new ones, whether she has enough blankets and whether her feet need measuring.
This isn't a complaint - I want to be the one who knows these things - but it goes some way to explaining why it is that the job can never be properly shared, and perhaps why it shouldn't be. After all, knowing all of this takes up a lot of brain power. For two of us to do this may be a waste of those precious cells. But there has to be someone with the whole picture, and that person is usually the mother.
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