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What it takes to be a feminist mum

Updated on: 26 January,2024 04:01 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Rosalyn D`mello |

Answering the calling of motherhood means having to live in the trenches constantly, doing messy, unpaid, revolutionary work

What it takes to be a feminist mum

What no one tells you about motherhood is that there is a heavy weight to the co-dependency, especially if you are committed to parenting in a way that is gentle and compassionate. Representation Pic

Rosalyn D’MelloUnder regular circumstances, now would be when I would need to have lunch organised. According to the routine we have followed for the past six months, my partner would take our child away from the apartment from at least 8 am until 10.15 am, giving me space to work and cook our daily meals. He would then rush back, bathe and eat before leaving for work by 11.15 am. Where we live, any form of domestic help is unaffordable. However, this Monday, we began the process of acclimatising our child to day care. There is only one public or government-subsidised ‘kita’ per town and there’s usually a wait list. We were lucky to secure a spot. There’s a methodical process by which the child is habituated that spans two weeks. For the first week, he is expected to only be there for an hour, accompanied by one of us. Since I work in the mornings, my partner has taken on this responsibility. We haven’t had the guts to enlist him for longer than 12 hours a week. But hopefully, within the next 10 days, he will be able to manage spending four-hour stretches of time alone with his caretakers. This process of him acclimatising means I am slowly gaining longer stretches of work time. From having ‘no time’, I am accruing ‘some more time’.


It means, however, that the tendency to be as productive as is motherly possible during that ‘some more time’ is quite compelling. I was already able to do ten times more than most regular people during less than half the hours, and now I find the need to excel further in order to do less once our child wakes up from naptime. He is now inching towards two years, inhabiting that final 23-month stretch that is characterised by teething, tantrums, language leaps and bursts of emotions. 


I cannot even begin to tell you how exhausted I feel, physically and emotionally. Because no matter how supportive your partner is, as ‘mother’, you are the default caretaker, the person to whom your child runs to in order to report on your partner or other caretakers or other children. You are the person they consider the administrator of their affairs, the person responsible for consolidating the weight of all their emotions, who must entangle the particularity of each cry and learn to distinguish the whines of peril from those of frustration, anger or pain.


Meeting some of my dearest friends in India who are not only partner-free but also child-free did make me miss my glory days of abandonment and lightness, when the only body I had to soothe was my own, when my default status was queen, not prisoner of time. Except, I had zero conception then of the endless hours I had on my hands. I think back now with nostalgia towards how liberating it was to binge on a series and simply order in. I travelled so much that I had an array of routines, one for every place I was in during my moments of itinerancy and one for when I was in my apartment. I revelled in being able to nurse these inconsistencies. For the longest time, I think this even lay at the heart of why I didn’t want to be a mother, or why I was able to easily suppress any felt or projected maternal desires.

What no one tells you about motherhood is that there is a heavy weight to the co-dependency, especially if you are committed to parenting in a way that is gentle and compassionate. It takes so much to remain calm or to maintain a countenance that exudes calm when your toddler is unreasonably crying while you are trying to change his soiled diaper, or when you leave the room. There are so many forms of behaviour that are simply irrational, logic-defying. To practise attunement with yourself as well as this helpless being you have either birthed or adopted into your care takes so much out of you and you may not always find the time to replenish your reserves, even though you are aware that love is not a finite resource. It’s easy to run out of patience and struggle to be the best version of yourself especially in their moments of distress and disquiet, when they are most in need of unconditional love. You have to contend, sometimes, with watching yourself fail and learning to hold compassion for that failing self.

To articulate some of this is to only scratch the surface of what constitutes the emotional labour of primary caregiving, the very labour that has been historically invalidated, that even feminism could be guilted with turning its back on. So much second and third-wave feminist movements were about women repudiating motherhood, renouncing it for the trap it presented. If you are single and wondering whether you are missing out, I can tell you this much: embodying feminist motherhood involves living constantly in the trenches, doing messy, unpaid, revolutionary work. In every moment of failure and success, I am able to hold myself only because I exercised my choice in answering this calling.

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D’Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx
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The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.

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