What Mothers Do, especially when it looks like nothing - review
What Mothers Do, especially when it looks like nothing by Naomi Stadlen
Review by Claire Paye, mother to Amelia, 7 and Charlie, 4
This is an extremely encouraging book for any mother, particularly for mothers of newborns, although, as you'll find out why when you eventually read this book, you won't have time to read it in your child's first year, or you'll be too tired to.
Naomi's book is based on years of informal research, having run discussion groups for mothers for many years. It is full of quotes from mothers which back up her theories. As a mum at home full time myself I do find it hard to say what I'm actually doing when I'm with my children, and this is one of Naomi's points. There is often no official vocabulary for what is going on. The chapter titles are her summary of what is happening. One of my favourites is, 'Being instantly interruptible'. Naomi illustrates how a mother may be busy with a number of jobs : making the supper, sorting the washing, tidying up : but all of this is dropped in an instant if her baby/child needs her. At first it takes a while to pick up the threads but mothers become very good at doing a sort of 'file save' mental action, which means we can pick things up exactly where we left them and carry on. But the fact that we can be interrupted is very important for the child or baby to build their sense of security. As babies grow a bit, the mothers can establish whether they do need instant attention or could wait a few minutes.
Another chapter is on the topic 'I get nothing done all day'. Naomi outlines what mothers are actually achieving in terms of 'mothering'. Some of it involves the mother learning from her child or baby what will help them the most. Even comforting is a learned procedure as babies are soothed in different ways, which soon become instinctive to the mother. Other activities involve the socialisation of the baby or child. For example, a mother who is out with her child will explain to a friendly adult why their child is nervous and hiding whilst explaining to the child that the adult is just being friendly. She is interpreting the world and acting as a go between.
I like the observation in the chapter on 'All the responsibility' that a mother realised this baby was her primary responsibility for life when her husband/the baby's father offered to change the baby's nappy 'for her'. I raised this principle with my husband the other day when he said he had done the washing up 'for me'!
Reading the book helped explain to me why I feel so tired by the time the children are in bed even when I don't feel we've had a particularly hectic day. It also corrected my thinking that post-bedtime is my only productive time of the day, the only time I get my 'work' done. It is a very affirming book and is well worth setting aside/carving out the time to read. A final observation that I really identified with is that mothers become almost compulsive multi-taskers. I identify with that. I always feel I should be doing more than one thing at once and finishing this without opening another file to work on has been a great achievement!
I met Naomi Stadlen when she talked at the AGM of a group I am a member of called Mothers at Home Matter. Although I enjoyed her talk, we all gained a great deal from sharing experiences, as she herself pointed out, which is one reason she continues with her weekly gatherings. Hearing that someone else doesn't have the answer either is surprisingly encouraging!