The 6 myths of motherhood and why it's so important we ignore them, by author and mum-of-ten

Myths are shaping mothers’ lives and our views of motherhood - it's time to leave them behind

mother with her two children in a park
(Image credit: Getty Images)

An author and mother-of-ten has revealed the six myths that she believes are 'impacting the ways we experience motherhood' and shared why it's so important to ignore them - and how we can.

Motherhood is a rollercoaster. There are ups as you watch you children hit developmental milestones, or send them off to school, or watch them grow and start to build a life for themselves. But there can also be downs. 

We know that mums can often feel not good enough and some even start to regret Motherhood as they struggle with parental burnout, dealing with screaming toddlers, and navigating the daily struggle of comparing themselves to glamorous 'Mumfluencers' online. But there is one thing, and maybe only one thing, that can stop this cycle of comparison, guilt, and feeling not good enough. 

According to Danusia Malina-Derben, a mum-of-ten and the author of Noise: A Manifesto Modernising Motherhood, believes that busting what she calls the six myths of Motherhood can help mums leave behind 'the fantasy of being a good mother' - a fantasy that she says is not only not achievable, but doesn't even exist. 

"Countless myths surround mothers and motherhood, and these myths impact the ways we experience motherhood as well as how we observe, judge, and treat mothers," she shared with Psychologies. "Intense focus on an ideal of ‘Good Mother’ is probably the most enduring myth, embedded across cultural and socio-economic locations. This myth forms a significant part of our collective 'fantasy baggage' and is not a model mothers can truthfully aim to replicate in real life."

The 'Good Mother' myth, Malina-Derben explains, is supported by 'six systemic narratives' that shape the idea of a 'Good Mother' and she's keen to bust the myths and give mums some more guilt-free freedom when it comes to parenting.

So what are these six myths and how can we bust them?

1. Motherhood is Our Calling. "Being a mother is persistently positioned as the culmination of women’s existence," Malina-Derben says. "This same myth tells us we can be a mother, have a career, have it all, but our children must come first." 

Any parent will know how impossible it feels to 'have it all.' We only need to look at the Motherhood penalty, the way childcare commitments have a disproportionate impact on a mother's career, and the latest research into parents' flexible working arrangements to know it's not true. "When we strip back Western, white, upper-middle-class narratives that blanket this myth, it falls apart," Malina-Derben says, highlighting the way white middle-class mothers often view motherhood a calling for themselves and others since they do tend to have the resources to 'have everything.' 

2. Mothers Must Make Our Children Happy. "It’s key to remember there’s a considerable difference between putting in place the best conditions we can for our children to be happy and taking responsibility for their happiness in ways we ultimately can’t control," the expert says. 

"It’s better to teach our children to have developed understandings of their mental health rather than educate them that their mother is in charge of their happiness. This false reality doesn’t help them learn emotional regulation or navigate the world with the inner skills they require themselves."

3. Mothers Must Be Selfless. While mothers are encouraged to 'have it all,' the contradiction that they should put their children above themselves no matter what is always there keeping us in check. In reality, Malina-Derben highlights that self-care is incredibly important for mothers - though some mums are reportedly doing self-care wrong

"We have to pursue the things we need for ourselves as whole human beings," she says. "If not, we leave our children with a terrible burden, that we failed to live our lives because we gave it all up for them. And perhaps worse, we leave our daughters with the legacy they should do the same."

4. Mothers Must Feel Guilty. There's loads of things for mums to feel guilty about, isn't there? Pull that thread, is there really anything to feel bad over? "There are tips everywhere on coping with maternal guilt, but the assumption this guilt exists as an accepted part of motherhood continues to go uncontested – and that’s how we bust it," the expert says. "Many mothers find our guilt is wrapped up in narratives that simply don’t belong to us."

5. Mothers Ambition Shrinks. "It’s inaccurate to suggest that ambition shrinks for mothers; the link between reducing ambition and motherhood isn’t proven," the expert says simply. "Women’s ambition levels vary, but this is unrelated to motherhood and links to unsupportive company cultures, expensive childcare and insufficient support." It's not mums who don't feel ambition, it's others who don't want them to. So go for what you want. 

6. Mothers Must Be Sexy and Sexless. It's true that a lot can change for a mother after having a baby when it comes to their self-esteem, how they feel about their body, and how they feel about sex. But a lot of this is caused by, according to the expert, 'a patriarchal society.' She explains, "The bottom line is mothers aren’t supposed to be sexual, at least, some mothers aren’t, while others are expected to occupy a ‘sexy mother’ identity.

"Busting this myth in a hyper-sexualised and sexist society is a must to reclaim our right to an assertion of our life force." 

If you're struggling with mum-guilt for whatever reason, you're not alone. There are a whole load of reasons mums are made to feel guilty with recent research highlighting how 75% of mums feel guilty buying things if they earn less than their partners. It doesn't help that parental burnout is impacting more and more mothers, with the signs of parental burnout being difficult to spot. But explaining the mental load to your partner can do wonders in relieving some of that stress. 

News writer

Charlie Elizabeth Culverhouse is a news writer for Goodtoknow, specialising in family content. She began her freelance journalism career after graduating from Nottingham Trent University with an MA in Magazine Journalism, receiving an NCTJ diploma, and earning a First Class BA (Hons) in Journalism at the British and Irish Modern Music Institute. She has also worked with BBC Good Food and The Independent.