Why you should forget the mothering magazines

Updated Oct 12 2015
Guest post by Nicole Tuohey

Nicole and Casey

The hardest part of being a mother is trying to be a mother.

Let me clarify.

The hardest part of being a mother is trying to be the mother everyone tells you you must be.

For me, being a neo-riot grrrl/feminist with a strong will and an even stronger spirit, it was particularly hard. I wanted desperately to be the mother that I read about in parenting magazines, but I was dealing with raging hormones, leaking breasts, and a sneaking suspicion that that mother with the glossy hair and Ann Taylor clothing wasn't who I was supposed to be.

I've found that it's a little bit harder for an offbeat mother to feel comfortable with her mothering and the way others perceive a mother to look, sound, and act like.

I remember taking my daughter to a mommy and me story time at the local library. I was excited because she would get to interact with other children. We entered the library and walked back to the childrens' section where I found a circle of mothers and children and the librarian-about eighty years old- all looking at me with such disdain I immediately felt shame for still looking the way I did before I had my daughter.

My tattoos were visible, my piercings were still in and my hair was streaked with pink dye. I felt like running but knew I had to stick it out for my daughter. She enjoyed herself and despite my own issues, we even went back again.

Far too often we're expected as women to immediately give up dreams and hobbies because it's in the "best interest" of our children. I was told on numerous occasions that I should drop out of college because my main focus should be on my children … and that if I didn't they would suffer.

I think what would really inhibit my ability to parent my children is giving up my dreams. Not only would this teach them that when the going gets tough the tough get weak, but I would feel resentment toward them for no fault of their own.

I will remain the same person that I was before I had Madelyne and Casey, albeit with stretch marks and a floppy abdomen, not only on the exterior but the interior as well. Dreams and goals are what hold us to a purpose in life and these will remain the same as well.

The best piece of advice I can give is to forget the magazines and commercials. Such things are created for mass consumption — not for individual use. Do what feels right for not only your children, but yourself.

The best part about being a mother is being yourself and a mother.

  1. Someone asked me recently what is the one piece of advice I would give to any new mother and I said "trust your instincts." Reading Parenting magazine (which I got as a gift) doesn't make me feel inadequate, it just makes me feel like there are SO many women out there who are out of tough with their instincts and think that parenting has to be ONE certain way. This is INHERENTLY not true.

    I really enjoyed this article and I must say, you clearly don't live in Portland, Oregon where most of the mamas I know fit your description. We are a whole new generation of savvy, political, out and aware mamas and we ROCK.

  2. I ran a half marathon last year and one of the most gratifying parts of it were seeing the number of kids and dads on the sidelines cheering on their mums. I It made me realize that alongside the benefits the mothers had in taking part the event their kids also benefited from seeing that their mother is also *shock* a person too.

  3. I really love this piece. I can't believe some people recommended you drop out of college? WTF? You are absolutely right that your kids will benefit from seeing you keep going, and the number of piercings or pink streaks you have can in no way affect your love for your daughter, so it's really not anyone else's business is it?

  4. I remember being 6 or so when someone called my mother by her first name in front of me and it only then occurred to me that my mom had a name other than Mommy. Its easy for us to become homoginized, but its important that we retain our person-hood so that we can pass that on to our children, that they are who they are, not what they do or what theyre called.

  5. So many people work so hard themselves at being 'normal' and conforming that they see someone doing things differently as a threat. And the idea that you'd be passing on your non-conformist lifestyle to your children!! Shock Horror!!
    They don't want to answer their children's questions about your tattoos and hair colour. And they don't want to think that their are choices of how to be in the world beyond the mainstream.

  6. great piece! I'm not a mama (yet) but I have always hated the notion that once you're a mother, you can no longer be your previous self. granted, a lot of changes come with having babies but you should never stop being you.

  7. It's amazing how one's appearance automatically pegs them into a hole! I have pink chunks in my hair and my fiance has a blue mohawk and we both have facial piercings, and it's insane how people don't take us seriously as parents! I find it especially so with my son's teachers-the older they are the less serious they are inclined to take either of us despite the fact that we are both well educated, respectful people and not just some young, punk parents.

  8. I'm sorry you had such a negative experience at the library – as a children's librarian, that breaks my heart. And if you ever do move to Portland, OR (hi, Hank Renfrow!) I promise you and your baby will be welcomed at my storytimes, and we can compare tattoos and piercing afterwards! 😉

  9. I believe that this story was awesome. I too am a mother of four and can not believe that anyone should tell you to drop out of college. I am 33 and still in college and my kids look up to me for it. I have been told by many that they are proud of me for being me, and not trying to be like the other mothers out there. Each person has there own personality and should be free to express it. You go girl, thanks for the story.

  10. Nicole…always keep yourself. You've got it all right. The struggle to raise our children the best possible way we can takes enough thought all on its own…if we have to dilute energy to forcing ourselves to be what we're not, there's not enough left to parent effectively. I know, I tried it for the last nineteen years of my parenting life. It doesn't work. We have to be ourselves…granted the best selves we can be…never, EVER stop learning and growing. THAT is what our children need from us. If we give up ourselves to become only Mom, our kids sense that and it instills in them a power that they neither need nor want. What does it say to a kid when they get old enough to realize that mom or dad gave up their life for him/her? Either that…"Wow, I sure owe them a lot…why did they do that…I'll never be able to pay that back." {guilt guilt guilt}…or how about "I'd better not follow my dreams either. I'll just have to give them up when I have kids." …and "YES! If they'll give up themselves for me, I can make them do anything!" Just be yourself, everyone. Make all the mistakes we all make, learn from them and don't ever beat yourself up over them. Love on those kids because they just don't stay kids long enough. 🙂

  11. This article made me tear up. I was 21 years old when I gave birth to my daughter and it was so rough. I was immediately thrust into this mindset that I was not being the mother I should be. I was trying to learn everything about parenting a newborn but I was terrified to leave my house with my daughter. Why? Because of the look I got from every person around me. It took me almost seven months to relax and come to terms with myself as a mother. My daughter is over a year old now and she is a socially butterfly! She makes sure that everyone knows she and I enter a room, and my confidence is beginning to be my shield against those judgmental eyes.

  12. I almost laughed out loud at my first PTA meeting. Most moms looked like they stepped out of a J Crew or LL Bean catalog (maybe JC Penney?). I'm still in jeans/homemade skirts and black Ts. (While I'm sure that some people enjoy/identify with that clothing style, I am suspicious of such homogeneity.) I have a great family life and support network – I feel my relationships are sincere and solid. I am a person of integrity (if not humility). I can laugh at myself, so I never cease to be amused. At any rate, I have never had a subscription to a parenting magazine, and have only looked at them in the doctor's office. IMO, the articles were mostly filler for ads and many seemed particularly biased towards pharmaceuticals which also bought significant amount of advertising in the magazine (Parenting). Now you now I'm a nutter.

  13. I'm so sorry about your librarian experience! I'm a children's librarian and I swear we're not all like that. I have tattoos (started a sleeve with CareBear/My Little Pony!), visible piercings, and am constantly changing my haircolor. When I had it bright red, girls would tell me I looked like mermaid Ariel and when I had pink streaks it was constantly complimented. Kids love individuality and the stuffy parents and old librarian are just jealous that they're not as fun as you or that the kids' attention is getting taken away from them 😀

  14. I have to make a plug for Mothering Magazine and HipMama zine – both are right on and supportive for all kinds of mamas, and make me feel great about the (less-than-mainstream) choices I've made so far as a parent, and give great advice/info about issues that we'll be dealing with as our child/ren grow.

  15. I feel your pain. My son is already being picked on because of the way his parents look. I was so incredibly torn on what I should do. I wasn't sure if I should change my image or not… its important to both his father and I to be who we are, and be comfortable in one's skin. But when my four year old boy is being outcasted in pre-school because his parents look a little bit out there… its hard.

    Finally, when I asked my son if I should tone it down and look like the other mothers (as in take out my piercings and make my hair a normal color, and grow it out since its in a mohawk) he told me, 'I don't care that much, Momma… the other kids can be mean to me if they don't like it. I don't need to be their friends if they don't like you as much as I do.' And I said, 'Are you sure, little man?' And he said, 'Yep. Its good you're so bright… I can see you from far away when I'm on the swingset.'

  16. I completely and wholeheartedly agree with this piece. Be strong and revel in your individuality. THAT is what your children need to learn…not about being like everyone else. I'm a tattooed and pierced (although moderately) mother of two who is writing out her dissertation on funerary archaeology and who couldn't wait to stop breastfeeding! Doesn't mean I don't love or put my kids first. And seeing my children strong, healthy and confident lets me know I'm on the right track. Good luck!

  17. "I think what would really inhibit my ability to parent my children is giving up my dreams. Not only would this teach them that when the going gets tough the tough get weak, but I would feel resentment toward them for no fault of their own."
    This part really touched home with me, because it made me think, with some bitterness about my own mother. She dropped out of college because she got pregnant with me, got married to a man she didn't love, had another baby (my sister) and has spent the rest of her life working a job she hates to support her family. She is a smart woman, and she used to draw, sew, bake, etc, but she is mostly worn out now. She has never said she resented us out loud, but she doesn't need to; I've always been good at reading between the lines and reading body language. I wholeheartedly think that I would have admired and respected her more if she had continued her studies and kept her hobbies while raising me and my sister, instead of marrying my dad (which ended in divorce and then a second soulless marriage) and embittering her life with the choices she made. Still, I am grateful for all that she has done for us, but I keep wondering about the what ifs!

  18. Ran across this as I've been debating for a few days whether or not to start a sleeve tattoo. Thanks for reminding me that being a mom shouldn't prevent me from being me. : )

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