February 23, 2021

On Taking Up Space.


I’ve never loved Mother’s Day cards.

They always seem to celebrate a mom for disappearing. For becoming invisible, for sacrificing everything for her kids. And as a mom, I never imagined that’s what my daughters would want to celebrate me for. Where are the cards that say “Thank you mom for living an amazing life and showing me how to take risks and be adventurous!” or “Mom, I love that you follow your dreams and take us along with you for the ride!”

Sacrifice is the essence of parenting. It refines us and makes us better people, but it doesn’t seem to be something that’s celebrated or encouraged on Father’s Day.

As a culture we have pretty shallow and tired tropes of what it means to be “mom” and “dad”, don’t we?

And when it comes to creating safe spaces for mothers and small children, they are few and far between.

When I had kids, it was as if culture didn’t know what to do with me. It would have just been easier for me to stay home. I constantly had to ask the question, “is this place kid-friendly?” or “is going out today going to be worth it?” Even in a friendly environment, there are unspoken but clear boundaries for where it’s okay to be a mom, or a child. That restaurant? No way. That coffee shop? Not a chance.

In a culture where we have been conditioned as women to become less visible, to hide, to remove ourselves from the public space, especially with kids, choosing to do the opposite makes a statement.

Once I had my second child, I found myself constantly apologizing to people when I was out with them. It was as if I had to be sorry for even existing outside of my home. The people around me weren’t necessarily sending that message, but I had internalized it to the point that I felt constantly on edge about my children’s behavior, even the slightest outburst or misstep.

And then I realized- I wasn’t just apologizing for them. I was apologizing for my own existence outside the house.

So much of it comes back to shame, doesn’t it? Shame causes us to hide behind whatever is close or comfortable. When we hide ourselves behind our roles, or who we are to everyone else, we can avoid doing the scary, hard work of finding out who we really are. Not who we are “to them”, but who we are. Full stop.

I love the photo of Licia Ronzulli bringing her daughter to work at the EU Parliament. She is making a statement. Bringing her daughter into that space probably wasn’t the easiest choice. I can’t imagine that there are any accomodations for mothers or nursing babies. But she brought her anyway. She worked, she mothered, and she made space for herself and her choices in that building, with those people.

She took up space, with her daughter, and she didn’t apologize for it.

I’d like to see that on a Mother’s Day card this year. 🙂

It's time to thrive, mama.

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Hilary Barnett

Hilary Barnett is the founder of The New Mystique where she believes every mother is extraordinary, and typically writes the words that she most needs to hear.

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