Pop Culture & Motherhood

Like many of my birth-y friends and colleagues, I was intrigued to see the new theatrical release, Tully. The story is about a newly postpartum Momma of three small children and “Tully” the night nanny who comes to help her get back on her feet after the birth of her third baby.

Initially, some in the birth world were very vocal in discouraging people from seeing this film for various reasons: the way it depicted postpartum doulas, the fact that not enough attention or screen time was devoted to postpartum mental health issues and concerns, some shocking plot twists. I’m not going to give away too much information — because I hate spoilers! And maybe you’re like me. When someone tells me not to see something, I usually end up wanting to see it even more! So, of course I went to see it last weekend.

Around this same time I was also binge-watching The Let Down an Australian comedy about new motherhood on Netflix. And it struck me that pop culture is painting a very different picture of motherhood these days.

Pop culture has decided to throw away the image of motherhood being all about rainbows and unicorns — and I don’t think that’s a bad idea. In fact, I wrote about how I’d love for us to get rid of The Goddess Myth of mothering here on my blog. But I’m afraid that in our rejection of this myth, we’ve gone too far in the the opposite direction.  And I think dramatic movies like Tully and comedic shows like The Let Down might be setting up newly pregnant women, or those who are still considering motherhood, to think, “Oh noooooo! I don’t want that to be my life!”

In fact, after I took my 18-year old daughter to see Tully, I asked her what she thought. Her response was, “Did you take me to this movie on purpose? Because that was really good birth control, Mom! After seeing that, I don’t think I ever want to have kids.” UGH. I’m afraid this might be where we’re heading…

Now I’m not saying that every person should become a parent! That’s a personal decision and I have nothing but respect for those who make the choice to remain childless. Parenting is definitely not for everyone! 

But to decide to remain childless because pop culture has depicted parenthood as something to dread and avoid at all costs? I do have a problem with that.

Whenever there’s a need for correction, when the pendulum has swung too far in one direction, there’s an opportunity to turn that around. But unfortunately, this usually results in a pendulum swing to the other extreme. And that’s where we find ourselves right now.

There were parts of Tully that I appreciated: Charlize Theron’s commitment to the role, for one! She didn’t play the ever gorgeous badass woman we’re used to seeing her play, with those incredible six-pack abs on full display. Nope! We get to see her character, Marlo, and what a real postpartum body looks like! Theron reportedly gained 50 pounds for the role and it took her 18 months to lose the weight. That, alone, was incredibly refreshing to see and I’m sure many new Mommas will appreciate Hollywood not giving them yet another impossible postpartum body image to compare themselves to.

Tully also captures the disconnect in libido and intimacy between couples that normally happens after a baby is born — and this is rarely ever discussed in movies. We get to see the real challenge of Marlo juggling, not just a newborn, but her two other small children, and what it’s like to parent a child with special needs.

And while it might be more of a comedic turn, The Let Down gives us much of the same. We see Audrey, played by Allison Bell, driving the baby around at night to get her to sleep (been there, done that!) We watch as she and her partner Jeremy negotiate real parenting decisions from two very different perspectives. Probably things they (we) never thought to discuss before the baby arrived. We vicariously experience the ups and downs of being a full-time, at-home parent as well as what it’s like for Mommas who work outside of the home to strike anything close to a balance.

And while I welcome realistic expectations about all things, I’m concerned with the way motherhood (and parenting in general) is being depicted these days:

“Parenthood: It’s a constant state of suckiness that you’ll likely regret! So, for those of you contemplating going down this road, save yourself — and get a puppy instead.”

Parenting is a decision that — whenever possible — is best made with eyes wide open. It’s challenging work, this raising of the next generation! And it seems silly that we wouldn’t recognize that before jumping in feet first.

But oftentimes, we romanticize this next step in creating a family…

We think about how having a baby will make our relationships stronger, that we’ll be even more in love with one another than ever before, that we’ll spend hours gazing at our perfect, sleeping newborn and feel fulfillment and utterly content in our new role. This expectation is extreme, unrealistic and sets us up for huge disappointment!

The changes that occur individually, as well as for your entire family, are rarely given consideration. And so, you bumble your way through one of life’s biggest stressors thinking, “Why didn’t anyone tell me what it would really be like?”

Your perspective on whether or not the decision to become a parent was good or bad, can be traced back to whether or not you felt adequately prepared for the job.

This huge life transition from woman to mother, man to father, individual to parent, and couple to family means a tremendous amount of change occurring in a relatively very short period of time.

It matters a lot that you feel like you’ve been given realistic expectations (not doomsday predictions!) about what those changes will be and what they will mean for you as an individual and as a family. It matters whether you have enough support and the right support to parent as a part of a larger community.

Because, we’re not meant to “go it alone” in this world! We’re meant to work and live in community. And that means identifying your “circle of support” — your people who will be there for you on the days when this parenting gig seems harder than you can handle…  but also there to celebrate with you, too.

Because, despite how mothering is being depicted these days in pop culture (either perfect and ever-so-happy via YouTube, IG, Pinterest and other social media or The.Worst.Decision.You’ve.Ever.Made via movies and TV shows of late) something a little more subtle and nuanced is probably more accurate.

There are days when parenting is really challenging and you’re not sure if you’re cut out for it. It’s intense — physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. You’ll have days where you’ll seriously consider throwing in the towel and letting someone else more capable than you raise your child(ren).

But, believe me, there are days when your heart can’t even handle how good it is. You won’t believe how much you love this little person. You’re excited for the chance to have a “do-over” at life and experience everything that this big, crazy world has to offer you with the new eyes and fresh perspective your baby provides. Their joys and struggles are your joys and struggles. And you’ll finally understand what it means to love unconditionally.

None of this is to say that there aren’t things — both funny and intensely dramatic — that women and parents will find relatable in the latest depiction of parenthood that pop culture is serving up at the moment.

But for the sake of the next generation, it would be helpful to share that there are some things about this gig that expectant or new parents might actually like… maybe even love. It would be nice for expectant parents to have a realistic idea about what they’re getting themselves into, for sure.

But let’s not destroy the potential that they might experience joy, too — okay?

Have you noticed the trend of the pendulum swinging from “Motherhood is AMAZING!” to “Motherhood SUCKS!” – ??? What are your thoughts about this trend? Do you think it’s helpful or harmful?

And if you wished that you’d had better preparation for what becoming a parent would really be like, it’s never too late to take a Becoming Us class with me! I’ve had parents of toddlers come back to learn what they wished they had learned before their first baby ever arrived on the scene. You can find more information about Becoming Us classes here.


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