What is it like being a mother in South Africa?

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What is it like being a mother in South Africa?

There are over a million births in South Africa every year. Over a million women become mothers for the first, second, third time (or more). Over a million unique experiences and stories. There are layers and each woman carries with her, her own story of joy and pain of becoming and being a mother.

Every motherhood story is unique

Picture mom at a few different levels:

As an individual, every mom has a variety of experiences and expectations. Her physical and mental health play a part in her motherhood story. Mom might have lost a child, or struggled to fall pregnant, or perhaps wasn’t planning or wanting a child.

Consider, too, the father of the child. This man might be present, engaged, supportive and the child was planned and prepared for. On the other hand, this man might be the opposite, or some combination of each of these descriptors.

Within the household, there are many factors at play. Are there other children and adults in the home? How do they interact with mom? What about financial security? Can mom rely upon a steady income stream during this important season?

What about the community: are there supportive, strengthening services available to mom to help her through this new chapter? What about violence in the community? What if the only available service to mom is inconsistent, or even hostile to her?

These various factors are at play to produce a motherhood experience that is completely unique to that woman. Some of these factors strengthen mom’s capacity whilst others weaken it.

At each of these levels are crises that can have a sudden and negative impact on family functioning. From fires, to floods, to job losses, violent protests, crime, sudden illness – these can all shake mom and her capacity to flourish.

Stereotypes are dangerous

It is so easy to lump people into boxes or categories based on a few pieces of information – at the individual, household or community level. This is why it is crucial to “see mom” and try to understand her individual story, her household story and her community story.

We can make terrible assumptions about mom by looking at just a few factors and thinking that she is a good mom or a bad mom, or a mom that needs support, or doesn’t. To think that mom is automatically “okay” because she _________ – fill in the blank (has a job; is married; is in a house; has done an ante-natal class etc) is problematic because we assume that she doesn’t need support. This is superficial and dishonouring to mom’s unique story. Similarly, to think that mom is not coping because she ___________ – fill in the blank (lives in that community; is a single mom; is too young or old etc) also overlooks the strengths and assets that mom can call on to push through or overcome the challenges she faces.

The story of mothers is multi-dimensional. In every mom are challenges they are facing as well as strengths that they can call on to overcome them.  Part of being the modern-day village around families is to see them, to know them and how best to walk alongside them in the journey of motherhood.

What are mothers facing in South Africa?

In the interplay of factors at the individual, household and community level we can observe some trends or patterns. These can help us better understand motherhood in South Africa. These are not generalizations or stereotypes, but statistics that try to capture something of the experience of mothers in South Africa.  Swipe through to discover facts sourced from Embrace, and watch this video from the Embrace Learning Community.

Being the modern-day village and seeing mom

As you seek to become a modern-day village of support and care around all mothers, it is necessary to listen carefully to her personal story with all its joys, pain, strengths, disappointments, resilience, dreams and hope. We, as the loving, supportive caring community or the ‘modern-day village’ need to build mom’s confidence and skills to see her flourish in her role as mom as she seeks to provide responsive nurturing care for her baby.

What is it like in her shoes? How can we truly see mothers, moms, women around us?

Here are some questions to consider:

  • What are mom’s hopes and dreams?
  • What are her unique gifts and strengths?
  • How does God see her?
  • What kind of support could she use?
  • How can I be part of her village of support today? In the workplace, in the home, in the church, in the community?

As you are part of the village, remember:

  • Mom has knowledge, abilities, skills and strengths – Affirm mom
  • Mom is the expert on her child – Listen to mom
  • Mom’s health and wellbeing are important to raise a healthy child – care for mom
  • Don’t just focus on cute baby – see mom
  • Treat mom the way you would want her to treat her child – love mom

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