Monday, October 1, 2012

Felicity Huffman on Societal Expectations on Motherhood

As a follow up to the prior post, I wanted to explore a bit more our society's expectations with regard to women's attitudes towards motherhood.

I myself really love, love, LOVE being a mom. If I had my way, my husband and I would adopt a dozen kids. Kids are just amazing to me. Being a mom is such a beautiful experience. I get teary eyed at those P&G commercials celebrating motherhood. Because I'm so enthusiastic about my role as a parent, I fit the societal expectations we have about moms. 

If you are a mom, per society’s expectations that role is supposed to be the center of your being and a spiritual experience like no other. I may not live up to most traditional societal expectations of women, but I do meet that one! But does that make me a superior person? Of course not. It is simply a matter of my passion lining up with societal preconceptions for my gender. Lucky me.

But I’m very cognizant that not all women live up to such societal expectations. However, I had never really thought about the existence of such expectations until I heard an interview with actress Felicity Huffman on 60 Minutes in 2006.

For those who are unfamiliar, Ms. Huffman played the character “Lynette” on Desperate Housewives. Her character was beloved by many because Lynette was a mother of a bunch of kids, but she was no June Cleaver. 

Lynette was a brilliant woman whose career meant a lot to her. She made a lot of mistakes as a mom and didn’t always spend much time parenting them. Her kids were a mess at times. She was not always thrilled to be pregnant and adding to her clan. One famous scene from the series involved Lynette in the waiting room at the OB-GYN’s office during her umpteenth pregnancy. Her blunt words to a dreamy-eyed first time mom were seen as honest by some, cynical by others. Regardless, in that famous scene, Lynette scares the heck out of the new mom who has just had her rose colored glasses removed.

In the 2006 interview, Ms. Huffman is asked by Lesley Stahl about whether motherhood is the best experience in her life. Ms. Huffman replied, “"No, no, and I resent that question, because I think it puts women in an untenable position, because unless I say to you, 'Oh, Lesley, it's the best thing I've ever done with my whole life,' I'm considered a bad mother. And just when I said no you, you went back."

The rest of the interview was insightful too, but consider this quote.  Lesley Stahl, another famous working mom, had apparently shown a negative physical reaction and literally was taken aback when Ms. Huffman said motherhood was not the best experience in her life. Clearly, this was not the expected response! I had never thought about it before this interview, but we expect women to just talk about how wonderful parenthood is and we think badly of them if they don’t think parenting is the best thing ever.

I agree with Ms. Huffman that even the question puts women in an “untenable position.” Socially, they have no option but to answer in the affirmative. So it takes real guts to do otherwise. It is also very honest to do so. To even recognize that in oneself, I think takes a lot of honest self-reflection. Many may not want to admit they enjoy or get more fulfillment out of something else. That is not what women are supposed to say. They are supposed to love being mommies. Even to the exclusion of other activities.

I really do love being a mommy. Cleaning up puke and diapers is not so hot. But I have to admit my husband has done more of that than me, so I’ve had it a bit easier in that area.   It is hardly glamourous to do the hard work of disciplining kids and not being a perennial Santa Claus. But I do find being with and raising children to be a terrific experience. I am amazed at how they grow and develop. I find it amazing to look at my kids now and think back to all the milestones they have achieved already. It wasn’t that long ago they were not too verbal and getting to the potty in time was a real challenge. Now they express their ideas (sometimes with fairly sophisticated words), read books (some without pictures), fold laundry and chop vegetables. Before long they’ll be driving and voting. How exciting to get a front seat to all of this and hopefully have some influence in the amazing people they are becoming.

But again, I do not think that these attitudes make me a more noble person than someone who is not as gung ho on kids and parenting. God endows each of us with talents, he puts different dreams in our hearts. We need to respect that individuality. Not all women are the same. Having a vagina doesn’t ipso facto mean that you’re going to love children or be a good parent. I’ve known amazing women who followed their calling in ways that didn’t involve motherhood. I’ve known women who just didn’t know how to relate to kids. That is ok. That doesn’t indicate a character flaw. It is not a sign of immorality. Parenthood is not their calling, their gifts lie elsewhere. We have to remember that and not impose a one size fits all preconception that not all women can satisfy.
Romans 11:29
God’s gifts and calling can’t be taken back.


  1. That is a really good post. It seems that women are in a tough position regardless of what they choose. If they work outside the home, they're neglecting their kids. If they stay at home, they're lazy.

    My wife has been fortunate to be able to stay home with the kids. Counting our seven adopted kids and foster kids, we've had more than a dozen cycle through our abode. I wouldn't say that being a parent has been my favorite thing but it is a God given privilege and honour to have such a task placed before us.

    I think it would have been fine with that woman to just say "no", being a mother isn't the best thing ever. For the reasons you stated above.

    Please tell me you don't watch desperate housewives!

    Good post.

  2. I love Desperate Housewives. God has blessed me with a daughter and a career. I've loved being a parent more than my career, but my career is still very, very important to me. To say this to some other Christian women is almost like saying to them that I throw daggers from my car at pedestrians as my hobby.