As a Woman in my mid-twenties, I have been noticing an increasing amount of personalized family, pregnancy, and baby-related ads, particularly on social media. Heck, even Bridget Jones had a baby in theaters this fall. In addition to this relentless baby-propaganda, as I perceive it, I have found myself at a point in my life, where everyone I know seems to either be pregnant, or have one or two children already. Slowly but surely, the feeling has crept up on me that I am entering a stage in my life where motherhood could become a reality for me; something I had never given too much thought to. I have noticed, however, that for some reason, I seem to have a strong aversion to both, me becoming a mother, as well as other mothers around me.
This notion particularly struck me when I recently walked out of the movie theater after watching Bad Moms. To give anyone who has not seen this recent movie a notion of what it is about, I will briefly outline its essentials. With prominent cast members such as Mila Kunis, Christina Applegate, and Kathryn Hahn, the movie promises to be a classic (Rotten tomatoes). Bad Moms is a Comedy that portrays the life of several overworked mothers on the brink of exhaustion, who are acquainted through the middle school their children attend. The movie showcases the overwhelming amounts of responsibilities mothers have to balance, with extra curricular activities, help with homework, PTA meetings, and their roles as employees and partners in marriage. Main character Amy, played by Mila Kunis, is barely keeping her head above water, trying to juggle all of her responsibilities, when she finds out that her husband, an unshaven, lazy, unsupportive guy in sweatpants, has an affair. Offset by this event, she kicks her husband out of the house, decides to stop trying to over perform for her family and to take care of herself more. Her newly adopted deviance, however, is perceived as completely unacceptable to the other moms at her kids’ school, who believe that she is out of control. Amy is able to join forces with two other moms, however, that are just as fed-up with the overbearing social pressure put upon them within their community. The trio attempts to win more of the PTA members over and to dethrone the preppy dictator, played by Christina Applegate, who is the head of the organization. The overall message of the movie is for mothers to understand and support each other, rather than to pressure one another into being perfect, since this is exhausting and nearly impossible to sustain permanently. One thing that the directors did incorporate very cleverly was interviews with the cast and their own mothers, immediately following the movie. These interviews underlined the message of the movie, that most new mothers learn as they go and that supposedly no one knows exactly how to raise their child from the get go.
As most mainstream movies these days, Bad Moms has a strong, very promising trailer, which unfortunately gives away most of the comedic highlights. I also feel that, much like its main message, the movie portrays that things just fall into place. Several examples of this are the facts that Amy seems almost entirely untouched by the fact that her marriage over and is ready to date and develop feelings towards another man almost immediately. Additionally, she quits her job at a coffee company, but is somehow still able to carelessly afford her beautifully decorated house in a Chicago suburb, which is among America’s largest and most expensive cities, as well as a sports car and spontaneous splurges at cafés and restaurants with her friends. The potential loss of any of these luxuries do not seem to concern Amy at all, despite the fact that she might be facing a divorce soon, which I find to be very unbelievable and unrealistic. All together, I believe that Bad Moms was probably expected to make fairly easy money, due to the famous cast and a message that pleases the masses. In my opinion, however, the movie was no more than a badly made, Disney-like, cheesy fairy tale with fashion and electronic music.
Besides the fact that I felt a little bit dumber after watching Bad Moms, due to how unrealistic and cheesy this movie is, I felt so unreasonably angry and was unable to quite pinpoint it. I felt the strong urge to write, to explore my feelings about this – why I was reacting so negatively, and why this reaction seemed so strong. Perhaps, because the content of the movie struck a chord where I feel currently most sensitive, the fact that I feel I am dealing with a quarter-life crisis, with an emphasis on a conflict between idea of motherhood and my current young-adult identity.
There are two major life crises that are most commonly recognized, the midlife crisis and what some people might call teenage angst. A quarter-life crisis, however, is a term that is still largely unheard of, but is gaining more recognition in recent years.
In their book “Quaterlife crisis – the unique challenges of life in your twenties”, the authors Alexandra Robbins and Abby Wilner state, “while during a midlife crisis, people tend to fear stagnancy, “[…] the quaterlife crisis occurs precisely because there is none of that predictable stability […]” (2). They continue to argue that most young people entering this stage of life are not prepared to adequately manage new challenges that arise in the twenties. Since the twenties are generally perceived to be a fun period in life, where one is able to enjoy the plethora of new liberties that come with no longer living in the parental home, Robbins and Wilner argue that this very misconception of life in the twenties, in combination with the fact that the phenomenon of the quaterlife crisis is largely unheard of, are cause for a lot of twentie-somethings to believe that there might be something wrong with them individually, while what they are experiencing is in reality extremely common.
I believe that most people my age would agree with me when I say that I oftentimes feel lost in this world. It is during the late-teens to mid-twenties that most people are first faced with the realities of adult life. Responsibilities they never had to worry about are now becoming reality. And with trends such as #adulting on the rise in American culture, it is becoming increasingly obvious to me that, while it is not quite openly talked about, the majority of people in my age group are dealing with similar insecurities as myself. It is as though we are playing adults, without actually having a solid sense of where we are going in life just yet.
At least for me, I assumed that at some point, things would simply fall into place; my brain would finally be fully developed and, perhaps, that legendary motherly instinct would even kick in. As a female, the prospect of motherhood was something that was always assumed of me, growing up. You graduate, you make some money, have a couple of kids, retire, and you die, put into extreme terms. But rather, I feel that the older I get, the less I find the idea of an offspring appealing. Since I am lately so overwhelmingly surrounded by baby-related adds and new mothers, and am surprised to be increasingly discovering my aversion to this idea and, suddenly, the future seems uncertain and I am unsure of what kind of person I am yet to become. I am currently half way through my twenties and I feel anxiety for what the future may hold.
One of the major identity crises I recall was during the peak of my teens. Socially awkward and seemingly unable to ‘fit in’, I decided to reject the idea of social interaction, that I needed to be an outcast in order to fuel inspiration for my artwork. Looking back at this now, however, I realize that I was nothing more than deviant to something that I wanted to, but felt hopelessly unable to achieve. This was a realization that I had to recall while analyzing my current issue. I had to ask myself, am I being deviant towards the idea of motherhood, because I am feeling ostracized by a ground of people that I would like to be a part of?
The feeling of not being part of a larger group is something that goes back a long way for me. My mother died when I was fairly young, which was something that separated me from all my peers immediately. My friends and classmates suddenly seemed almost as though they were afraid of me, like I had a contagious disease. I can only assume that, subconsciously, they were afraid of the discomfort that comes with watching a person grief. Perhaps, even more simply, they were afraid, because not having a mother made me different. Regardless of their reasons at the time, however, I could not help but feel that I was being shunned and punished for a devastating event I had no control over. This was a realization I only had years after the passing of my mother, and in retrospect, I grew quite resentful towards those kids. In addition to this resentment towards my peers that lingered for years, I believe that the lack of a mother-daughter bond, as well as some unprocessed grief, is a major contributor to my strong negative feelings towards motherhood and mothers around me.
Since my mother passed away early on in my life, I did not comprehend what her death really meant for quite some time. I do recall several instances, however, in which the realization of her absence really sunk in.
I was at a waterpark with my friend, Ann-Kathrin, and her family. We were in one of the indoor pools; the waters were shallow and warm. There was a massive, metal mushroom-like structure in the lagoon-shaped pool, from which water was expelled like a fountain. My friend and I were playing in the water, chasing and splashing one another. I remember very distinctly feeling the warm water splashing against my skin and struggling not to swallow any, the smell of the chlorine, and that wonderful feeling of weightlessness. Caught up in all this fun I was having, I was suddenly taken aback when I turned around and saw Ann-Kathrin in the arms of her mother, who had been lounging on the edge of the pool with her husband. It was a strange feeling that I could not quite describe, but watching that expression of motherly affection, I suddenly felt as though I was watching a foreign species; the world felt completely silent for a moment. The feeling overcame me that what I was witnessing was something that I never consciously had, and never would experience myself. It was something that set me apart from other children my age and something I resented them for on some level.
I suspect that another major contributor to this identity crisis is the fact that I feel no longer able to connect with people who have recently become mothers. It has baffled me how it can be possible that these people would change so dramatically, to the point where holding up a conversation has become impossible for us. It sometimes feels as though we were part of entirely different species. I cannot help but wonder what exactly it is that seems to make it so impossible for non-mothers to connect with mothers?
J.F. Leckman (et all) concluded that the maternal brain undergoes significant, irreversible neurological changes postpartum, in order for a mother to protect and connect deeply with her newborn. “Animal studies suggest that structural changes occur in the maternal brain during the early postpartum period in regions such as the hypothalamus, amygdala, parietal lobe, and prefrontal cortex and such changes are related to the expression of maternal behaviors” (J.F. Leckman et all). Interestingly, it is also thought that an increase in dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter essential to the reward system, takes place during the early postpartum period, through interaction with the infant. In other words, maternal motivation stems in part from the rewarding feeling the mother experiences through caring for and interacting with her baby. This is a finding that could very well explain why a new mother’s priorities change dramatically postpartum.
Additionally, studies have shown that the amount of grey matter in the maternal brain increases significantly between 2 weeks to 4 months postpartum. Grey matter being regions of the brain that have increased synapses, these finding suggest that mothers have an increased amount of neurological pathways that allow them to access certain parts of the brain more so than non-mothers; changes which would explain, to some degree, why mothers and non-mothers might seem unable to connect. Perhaps it is simply due to the fact that we, as non-mothers, are unknowingly unable to reciprocate an emotional connection with mothers, being that we have not undergone these neurological changes. Of course, one must not neglect the simple fact that new mothers are faced with entirely different social circumstances than non-mothers, being that the newborn requires the mother to be much more domestic than before, making her less able to socialize, and putting her social circle on the back burner to some degree.
The fact that I may still have some unresolved mother issues, and my seeming inability to connect with people in my friend circle lately, seem plausible reasons for me to react negatively towards motherhood. Despite these roadblocks, however, I realize that I am most likely not along in my ambiguity regarding parenthood and that self-awareness plays a key role in navigating through this stage of life. This decade of life may seem crucial to many, where we perceive the pressure to make big life decisions that will have major effects on the rest of our lives. Do I want to be a relatively young mom to be able to better connect with my children? Do I want to obtain that masters degree and focus on my career, while putting the idea of domesticity and family on the back burner? Do I need to think about a 401K and life insurance policies? Could I save 15 percent or more by switching to Geico? While most of these are valid dilemmas, they most likely do not differ much from the challenges most mothers are facing. Much like the paths we chose in the late teens and early twenties, a lot of parenting approaches will only truly show their ramifications in years to come. Therefore, perhaps us non-mother are not so different from mothers after all. Regardless of how people like to portray themselves on social media and how much they have their lives figured out, at the end of the day, and much like the characters in Bad Moms, us twenty-somethings also mostly do not have a clear sense of what we are doing. If nothing else, we can all connect through the notion that we are always facing new challenges in each stage of life, for which we gradually obtain adequate tools through life experience.
Kim, Pilyoung; Leckman, James F.; Mayes, Linda C.; Feldman, Ruth; Wang, Xin; Swain, James E. “The plasticity of human maternal brain: Longitudinal changes in brain anatomy during the early postpartum period”. Behavioral Neuroscience. Vol. 124(5). Oct 2010, pp. 695-700. http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/bne/124/5/695/ Accessed 28 Sep. 2016.
Lucas Moore; Jon Moore; Scott Moore. “Bad Moms.” Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. 08 Dec. 2016. https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/bad_moms/ Accessed 08 Dec. 2016.
Robbins, Alexandra & Wilner, Abby. “Quaterlife Crisis – The unique callenges of life in your twenties”. TarcherPerigee. May 2001. New York, NY. Accessed 28 Sep. 2016.