Blog by Jessi Lusardi

While reeling from the shock of new motherhood, I started to notice the amount of media messages focused on mothers and motherhood.  The first place I noticed it was at the check out counter at the grocery store (as that was my most frequent, and oftentimes only, outing with a new baby).

I was well aware of the media focus on girls and young women, and of the very real effects on their self-esteem and early sexualization, but this was something very new, at least to me. Magazine covers barked, “Lose that baby weight!” “Mothering is more fulfilling than having a job or traveling!” “You can do it all because there is no more glass ceiling!” “Stay at home Moms are better than Working Moms!” “Only feed your baby organic food!”

I began to question my ideas surrounding what a “good mother” really was.  Did I really need to cook fresh food every night, bake perfect cupcakes, lose weight in 6 weeks, keep an immaculate house, have perfect hair, attend volunteer meetings, and find a way to make money at home through some yet-to-be-identified craft-like hobby? It sounded like June Cleaver on steroids.

My Mom was not one of those mothers. Yes, she worried about whether she was doing her best for me, as all parents do. But she was also a single parent, putting herself through school, grudgingly having to live on welfare and low paying jobs. These are the things I knew about my mother at a very young age: Life was relentless. She was alone. She only had me.

She was also a wonderful role model, and taught me powerful lessons as a young girl.

Through her example, I learned to be independent, resourceful, and assertive. While being polite and courteous was important, being “nice” wasn’t something I had to aspire to in order to be successful in life. My own voice mattered at home, and therefore I learned that it mattered in the world around me as well. I was never afraid to speak up, and I knew I should be listened to when I did.

When my mother went back to college at 40 years old, she would take me to her classes, because she didn’t have enough money to pay a babysitter. I got to watch as my mother put herself through school. I learned that commitment to your dreams and goals is paramount to your own happiness.

Arguably, the most important lesson of my young life came while having to stand in line at the welfare office one afternoon with my mother. Again, I was on break and my Mom had no babysitter; I was probably about 11 years old. Unfortunately, there were no magazine headlines aimed at mothers telling them how to navigate through the welfare system, or even how to support themselves on their own while raising a healthy child. Her intelligence and dignity insulted by the person at the window, my mother refused to be rebuffed and persisted in getting us an appointment.  I learned the power of resistance that day, and the ability to calmly tell someone “No, you are wrong.” I witnessed the graceful poise it takes to think through your anger, and let people know that, yes, you have a right to be there, you have a right to support your family, you have a right to want something more for your daughter.

The ability to speak up, the importance of believing in your own happiness, the resistance to those who think I am less than I am, are lifelong survival skills that will stay with me. These lessons speak louder than any message could ever shout from billboards, magazine stands or advertisements.  I am certain that the best thing I can do for my own daughter is not to have perfect hair, worry about the weight I haven’t lost, or bake cupcakes everyday.

Although I may not have control over the messages about motherhood coming from media, I can choose to define my own version of what a good mother is and does, and to pass those values on to my daughter. For me, it is to be a good role model for how I want her to behave, to let her see the positive solutions to my own struggles, and of course, to give her my attention, time and love everyday.

Jessi Lusardi is a community activist, writer, and mom to 3 year-old Lily.
She loves to read, explore new places, and spend time with her 88 year-old grandmother.




Part of a blog series for mothers sponsored by MaineGeneral Health