Is modern motherhood too easy?

I think about what motherhood used to mean – before technology and modern medicine and easy fixes. It meant widespread risk of death in childbirth. It meant astronomical rates of stillbirths and infant mortality. It meant expecting one out of four of our offspring die of an illness. What’s more – in many parts of the world without direct access to the wonders of modern technology, this is still largely the prevailing way of life. Wars, famine, illness and poor reproductive care mean motherhood is often wrought with loss.

But here in 21st century first-world USA, the circumstances that used to constitute the reality of motherhood now warrant awe. We possess the great privilege of viewing the loss of a child as an unspeakable tragedy. We wonder, mystified, at mothers who raise children with special needs or terminal illnesses. We tell single mothers “I don’t know how you do it” and we categorize those who’ve witnessed sickness or death “survivors” and “fighters” and “heroes” as if loss and suffering weren’t integral parts of life but rather anomalies to be regarded from a safe distance.

I’m certainly a product of this cultural mentality. I can’t fathom living as women do in areas without direct access to the miracles of modern-day technology. I’m accustomed to instant gratification and easy fixes and the expectation that my life should go as planned, be fulfilling, remain relatively free of tragedies. And I see this prevailing attitude in my maternal contemporaries too: the way we expect to get pregnant when we want, not pregnant when we don’t, acquire our “ideal” number of children, and live happily ever after with our perfectly healthy kiddos. And when things don’t go precisely according to plan, our worlds come crashing down and we’re left wondering: How did this happen? Why me?

Yet at the same time I am profoundly grateful and relieved that I exist in the here and now, because such privilege allows me to assume that my daughter and I will remain reasonably safe and happy, that nothing irreparably awful will ever happen to us. But while grateful, I also never want to dismiss the realities of motherhood for women without my privileges. I don’t want to become so accustomed to the surrealism of my life that I lose touch with what it really means to be a mother – to bear loss and suffering and death as organically as we bear life. I don’t want to become so comfortable with my good fortune that when something awful happens I am utterly crippled by it. And I don’t want to forget about the women throughout history and throughout the world who embody motherhood at its most raw and selfless.

So while I occasionally succumb to the anxieties of my privileged, modern-day motherhood I gather strength by remembering that motherhood is made of the toughest stuff. I remain humble by recognizing that my circumstances are abnormally blessed. And I don’t let myself forget that motherhood for some means struggling to put food on the table, wondering if war will destroy the family, and totally sacrificing wants and needs with zero expectations of security or contentedness.

The question remains. Is modern motherhood too easy? 


  1. Well said, Mariel! This line really spoke to me: “I don’t want to become so comfortable with my good fortune that when something awful happens I am utterly crippled by it.”

  2. A great article. It is definitely hard for most to fathom the hardships of other Countries. I’m so grateful my perspective was quickly put into check after I joined the Marine corps and saw first hand 3rd world countries.
    . Makes it hard to hate what we have here in the US.

    Great article, I especially like the quality of your perspective and thought that went into the second paragraph.

    • thank you anthony! yes, you’ve certainly had the “priviilege” [maybe not right word to use] of seeing what daily life in less advanced countries looks like. i think a lot of times moms here get so caught up in the chaos of daily life that they forget how truly fortunate they are. i know i make this mistake, anyways!

  3. What a grwat question. It needs a bit of pondering I think but my immediate thought is that parenting is relative. Parenting today has its challenges that are products of the time and place we live in. So, I suppose, what seems hard or challening to us who are lucky enough to live in the first world probably seems laughable to people who are less fortunate. On the other hand that doesn’t mean that it isn’t hard for us, in the context if our own lives and existence. Its good for us to be grateful for what we have, I know I certainly am but its also ok to say that someonetimes modern parenting isn’t easy with issues like bullying and online harassment etc it’s not as it used to be, but we’re not living in the past or in another country so it’s ok to still admit to the challenges we face. I don’t know if I’m making any sense, ill have to think about it more but what a great question.


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