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    Jean-Baptiste Greuze, The Beloved Mother, ca. 1770

    Modern Mothers

    Today’s Instagram moms are toned, tanned, and manicured – and blissful in their mommyhood. Who wouldn’t want to be more like them?

    By Kirsten Sanders

    August 15, 2022
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    • Tim

      I appreciate your raw honesty, and as a pastor who hosts MOPS groups, I see full well the toll that so many women carry on so many levels. The suck into social media comparison is real and harmful. Naming the truth in love is how we deal with life, and to be able to name the struggle to me is a form of pastoral care. I have always believed that the best illustrations of God's love are familial, and family is never easy. Faith is not easy, and we have to wrestle with our own faith and with God. Relationships, with God or children, take time, honesty, and patience. After all, when taken seriously, instagram does not capture life, and I thank God for that. Thank you.

    • Tim

      I appreciate your raw honesty, and as a pastor who hosts MOPS groups, I see full well the toll that so many women carry on so many levels. The suck into social media comparison is real and harmful. Naming the truth in love is how we deal with life, and to be able to name the struggle to me is a form of pastoral care. I have always believed that the best illustrations of God's love are familial, and family is never easy. Faith is not easy, and we have to wrestle with our own faith and with God. Relationships, with God or children, take time, honesty, and patience. After all, when taken seriously, instagram does not capture life, and I thank God for that. Thank you.

    • Emily

      I found this to be beautifully written, and agree that motherhood is increasingly viewed as a choice in affluent countries following the demographic transition. There's nothing wrong with using this group as a target audience. However, I want to gently push back against the idea that modern mothers are delegating child-raising more than moms in the recent past. Both mothers and fathers (in the Western developed countries measured) are spending significantly more time in child-raising now than at any point in the past 50 years. It feels right to say that modern moms view having kids as one step along the path to self-actualization and spend more time thinking about their own comfort, beauty, or Instagram. But at least historically, the opposite is occurring. See: Our World in Data's excellent 2020 summary, "Are parents spending less time with their kids?"

    • Patricia

      This article was not helpful nor encouraging but shaming and judgmental and i am shocked it was published. The art mentioned hardly reflects the reality of a poor family in an occupied country or any semblance of Mary’s trials any more than social media represents the reality of peoples lives today. Maybe after working from home during a pandemic with 3 kids with on-line school , helping their aging parents, moms and dads need some time for themselves. Did your churvh open its doors to help families during lockdowns when parents had to go to work in essential jobs? Did they provide daycare ? Have they poured budget money into helping during financial crisis? No Christian should engage in mommy wars. It is ugly and not helpful in a suffering world. In my area of the country a small ranch house costs a half million dollars. College is a financial burden for decades. Families are struggling. The few who post gyms, spas, are a tiny piece of America and usually white upper class. It is not the reality of motherhood today. But then who wants to see an Instagram post of a mom, after a 12-hr shift at Amazon, next to a wine glass while her kids watch TV?

    • Frank

      Beautiful.

    There have always been mothers, and presumably good and bad mothers, contented and stressed-out mothers.

    For centuries, the chief image of the ideal mother was the Madonna and Child. The Virgin Mary cradles her son tenderly, her head inclined toward him with a gesture of devotion.

    ModernMothersEmbed1a

    Raphael, Madonna and Child with Book, oil on panel, c. 1502–1503

    But there was also the Pietà. As Michelangelo depicts it, Mary cradles her son after his death. She holds him as if he were a child, his head drooping over her shoulder, the proportions off now that he is no longer an infant. She still inclines her head toward him, the grief forming a circle that draws the viewer in. The love that exists in both these images is the universal love of a mother for her child, a self-giving love that will bring a mother much more than happiness.

    Contrast this with an image entitled The Beloved Mother, drawn by the French artist Jean-Baptiste Greuze around 1770.

    In this drawing, the rich fold of the drapery curtains ornaments the central figure, the beloved mother, reclining under a pile of six adoring children. The child above her kisses her forehead while five more snuggle or incline their faces toward her. Her husband echoes this delight in the mother with his outstretched hand. An elderly woman looks on, also adoringly – even the two spaniels at her feet gaze lovingly at her.

    Jean-Baptiste Greuze, The Beloved Mother, ca. 1770

    Jean-Baptiste Greuze, The Beloved Mother, ca. 1770

    The Beloved Mother, art historian Carol Duncan argues, suggests that being a mother is not only rewarding but blissful. It is not simply that this mother is happy and contented; she is happy and contented to be a mother. As Duncan writes, “What is new here are a mother and a father who are consciously and ecstatically happy about simply being a mother and a father, a husband and a wife.” What is new in this image is the idea that the good mother is the satisfied mother. Being a good mother now means wanting to be a mother.

    If we were to conceive of a modern image of the beloved mother, what would she look like?

    The short answer is, she looks really good. To judge from social media, today’s moms are toned, tanned, and manicured. They are engaged in endeavors like fitness challenges and wellness journeys – all in service of being a “better mother,” which means being satisfied. These may be trappings of upper-middle-class lifestyles, but they trickle down to others as well. To be a good mother you not only have to look good, you have to be having a Really Good Time.

    Some of this is likely because parenting is now deemed to be entirely optional. When one becomes a mother, it is because one chooses to be a mother. Parenting, now a choice, is treated with valor instead of as a natural consequence of, well, sex. And if becoming a mother is something that is chosen, it should be enjoyable, or significant, or meaningful – otherwise no one will choose it!

    In the Greuze drawing, we see motherhood depicted as a source of personal happiness. Mother is the center of the drawing, draped with children and a mother-in-law, and she seems buoyant with satisfaction. This drawing, though different in its details, is not so different from the modern image of satisfied motherhood. Perhaps the best place to find such images is on Instagram, where women curate pictures of how they’d like their motherhood to look. Oftentimes we see beautiful women with their hair blow-dried and curled, their makeup applied, and cute, comfortable outfits on.

    A woman and her daughter in a pumpkin patch

    Photograph by Teksomolika. Used by permission.

    They are carting a baby on their hip or one in a baby carrier, perhaps one or two more holding their hand alongside. (Indeed, there are many Instagram moms who have a half-dozen children, all of whom who are adorable and well-dressed.) They are usually blueberry picking or at the zoo – activities that are fun for mother and child alike. The picture of motherhood presented here is of a mother who is satisfied in her role. The eye is drawn in, as with the French drawing, to a mother who is happy to be a mother.

    The need to somehow present motherhood as a source of personal happiness is acute in part because parenting small children is quite strenuous and often boring – at least for some of us. It requires constant attention to the needs of another, something that does not come naturally to the modern woman. We have also lessened our expectations about its demands. Just get them to off school or off to bed, we hear, and then you can have your own time to improve or beautify or simply entertain yourself.

    As a result, we have vast swaths of women, their youthful beauty in the past tense, hungry and glazed with beauty treatments, seeking personal fulfillment in activities that cannot satisfy. To view motherhood as an interruption in a life otherwise devoted to “me time,” to entertainment and self-satisfaction, is a dim view indeed. If our view of the good life was defined more by service and relationships, the idea of “me time” would cease to exist at all.

    And if we learned to look again to Mary instead of Instagram to set our expectations for motherhood, we would surely be less dissatisfied. Some will find motherhood fun, others will find it more challenging, but probably every mother will have to give more of herself than she thought possible. We’ll know the deep joy that can bring, but we will expect a sword to pierce our own hearts too. To be a mother is to offer oneself for the midnight cries of one’s children, and others as well. That won’t always make us feel blissful, but, like Mary, we will be richly blessed.

    Contributed By KirstenSanders Kirsten Sanders

    Kirsten Sanders is a theologian and writer. She writes from her home in Massachusetts, where she enjoys outings with her kids but also writing quietly in her study while they are with a babysitter.

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