On Care-taking, Creativity and Self-Care: An Essay on Parenthood and Gender Bias

A note from team #BBATX: We are creative risk-takers. Strong and capable decision-makers. Bold and powerful makers. Which means we bounce back. We push forward. And when we fail, we try again.

So, for our Winter ‘18/’19 programming theme at #BBATX, we’re exploring resilience. We could not think of anyone more resilient than our parents, caretakers and caregivers.

According to the US Department of Labor, as of 2017, 70 percent of mothers are part of the workforce and 40 percent are both the primary caregivers and breadwinners of their household. And despite spending more time at work, mothers are also spending more time than ever on childcare. Even still, care-taking parents report that they feel pressured to be even more involved with their children than they already are. 

Moreover, sexism, racism, homophobia and other discriminatory beliefs can make parenting even more difficult. Our education systems are often biased and don’t offer full reproductive health education—and our medical system is just as influenced by discriminatory biases as the rest of society.

It’s time we care of our caretakers.


So, today, on the blog, BBATX community member, Emily Laughlin, has penned an essay on parenthood, identity and self-care. Read on for her op-ed.

 Emily Niksich Laughlin is a mom. She could never have predicted the crazy experiences, shocking cultural messages, and major identity shifts that becoming a parent entails and wants to spread the word in order to help new parents transition and integrate the reality of our very young into a visible and regular part of society. She does other things too, like: architecture, interior design, real estate, fine art photography ( eanl.co ), and is currently working on a series of large format photography. Besides time in New York, and Houston she has mostly lived in Austin since the late nineties.

Emily Niksich Laughlin is a mom. She could never have predicted the crazy experiences, shocking cultural messages, and major identity shifts that becoming a parent entails and wants to spread the word in order to help new parents transition and integrate the reality of our very young into a visible and regular part of society. She does other things too, like: architecture, interior design, real estate, fine art photography (eanl.co), and is currently working on a series of large format photography. Besides time in New York, and Houston she has mostly lived in Austin since the late nineties.

“So… parenthood. 

You’ve discovered you have the powerful ability of actual life-giving and are making a go at child-rearing. Let’s acknowledge how powerful that is! Yet still, many who are transitioning into the role of a parent are easily robbed of discovering that power by way of traditional role definitions, internal and external guilt, general judgement and assumptions and new cultural expectations (largely driven by sexism, racism and other identity biases) as soon as they go about bringing a baby home.

Like most things in our image-based culture, what you see online largely differs from the truth—and so it goes for pregnancy, childbirth and parenting. Conflicting messages between media’s representation of parenthood and the reality of parenthood can leave new parents with feelings of guilt and inadequacy (just like body image issues exasperated over time and cultural expectations). This is why we have to talk about this life stage in an open public forum.  

Our society defines success by monetary and intellectual achievements, and we devalue and dismiss the important role of parenting to our society. We miss out on the importance of getting down to our child’s level, spending time exploring in the present moments with and deeply connecting to our children. This takes time. Children are being brought up in a world with continuously improving standards for healthcare, cleaner living, basic safety, and a clearer understanding to approach mental health. Parenting is a daily physical and mental challenge. Parents are constantly juggling the now-ness and needs of children and their own adult goals.  As we create higher standards for parents we must assign more value to the role and provide more support accordingly as a society. We should all be caring in some way for our collective young and their parents.

Many of us know all too well, though, that once one becomes a mother (or the primary parent expected to care-give), there is a sudden and unhealthy cultural expectation set upon balancing children and life—and no real support to navigate the change. All too often people tune out mothers’ and caregiving parents’ needs as complaining—and the labor of parenthood largely remains hidden behind closed doors.

There is also the narrative of maternal bliss—that you must appreciate every moment because it goes by so quickly. And, yes, some of that exists and is amazing, but parenthood can also be like riding on the back of a raging elephant through the aisles in a porcelain shop. It’s hard to be told to not only grin and bear it, but to do it gracefully and happily since it will be over soon (and you’ll simply miss the good parts). 

There are vast contrasts between the messages society tells you—the luring imagery of social media families and highly designed baby gear—versus the actual intense physicality of having children—the emotional heavy lifting of parenting, all while trying not to mess your children up.  That contrast, paired with the fact that so much of the work of caring for young children happens behind closed doors, can leave any parent with periodic feelings of isolation, insecurity, shame and inadequacy. 

The attention and presence required to be there for young children does not mesh with a productivity-based, overly-scheduled society. And it’s strange that one of the most crucial and human and roles in our society remains deeply under valued and sorely hidden. Although many of us are caretakers, parenting labor is not readily respected, understood or validated, and this plays in line with other gendered Catch-22s. 

Despite the taboo, parenting, care-taking and mothering are all natural parts of our existence, which is exactly why we absolutely have to talk about this life-stage in a public forum and parents (and their supporters) have to start advocating for themselves. As a society, if we are going to continue to throw new expectations upon young families, we have to begin to expand the parenting description. We have to recognize the gender bias of care-taking. We have to address the negative ways gender roles impacts the role of care-taking, too. We must acknowledge that parenting young children is both a stressful and meaningful time, which sets the stage for future development. We must see that the emotional work of raising young children is a valuable investment to a stronger society and support caregivers accordingly. It will serve to make stronger bonds, more resilient children, and ultimately a stronger society.

So, to parents, expecting parents and future parents: Your children are ALL of our children and you must speak up—not just to each other but to have relationships and understanding from those in others life stages to find support. We must advocate for ourselves. We must advocate for parents whose experiences we may not share. We must tell it like it is. We must schedule in our own self-care. We must find out what truly gives back to our energy banks, get some help and make that part of our REGULAR parenting duties. Don’t shoulder all the burden, nor judge others when they do it differently. It will look different. Also, remember that all the services in the world won’t replace human connection. We need friends. We have to actualize love and ask ourselves how to create more of it.”


PS: You can join us in Austin, Texas for a candid conversation around parenthood on Dec. 1, 2018 from 1 to 3 PM at BBATX’s new headquarters. Click here for more details. Curious about all of the programs we have scheduled during this season of resilience? Head here.

Jane Claire HerveyComment