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Unexpected Mothering

by Cynthia Good Mojab, MS, IBCLC, RLC

Human development is a life-long process. Maturation is relative and multidimensional. There is no such thing as a final outcome of "full maturity." Parenting itself is a developmental task-and perhaps the hardest one that human beings face. In the best of environments, every mother knows less when she begins mothering than she will know two months, two years, two children, or two decades later. This relative lack of knowledge, skill, and maturity is a reflection of our humanity. Yet countless women, with their relative, human and unintentional lack of knowledge, skill and maturity, struggle to accomplish the developmental tasks of mothering with little or no meaningful, trustworthy, and systematic support, guidance, and respect from their social systems. This fact indicates a tragic failure of social systems-not a tragic failure of individual women.

Women who grow up in profoundly age-segregated societies (such as the United States), where babies and mothers are commonly isolated in nuclear homes, simply have not had the chance to see what human babies and young children are really like. Women who grow up with little or no exposure to breastfeeding simply have not had the chance to see what breastfeeding and breastfed children are really like. What they see instead are media and marketing myths of babies and children-myths that create false expectations that eventually conflict with reality. Babies are supposed to sleep contentedly alone through the night, but they don't; babies are supposed to feed on schedule, but they don't; babies are supposed to play happily alone for hours in a play pen, but they don't…. According to the marketing, such conflicts between expectations and reality can only be solved with the purchase of a product: a tape of a mother's heart beat that plays any time baby stirs from sleep, artificial substitutes for human milk, more and more toys…. Such products are grossly inferior substitutes for what babies and young children really need: engaged, active, present mothers backed up by the ongoing support of extended families and societies that truly respect mothers and the priceless work of mothering.

In my mind, it is no wonder that so many women are downright shocked and dismayed to find that mothering takes far more of their energy, time, and commitment than they ever imagined. When mothers express to us the frustration inherent in such shock, we are given the opportunity to acknowledge it, respect it, validate it, and help a mother begin to grieve the fact that she has been systematically lied to throughout her life time. When we find the compassion and patience and skill to do this (even when we are understandably so very frustrated ourselves), we provide a safe space in which a mother may be able to recognize-and then consider accepting-the unexpected invitation for personal growth and development that mothering has brought her. If she cannot recognize this invitation now, much less accept it, our compassion, patience and skill may still be critical to her ability to do so later in her mothering. 

© Cynthia Good Mojab, 2002. All rights reserved. This essay may be printed once for individual use.

Citation: Good Mojab, C. Unexpected mothering. Ammawell website 2002. Url:

This text was first posted on June 4, 2002 to LACTNET, a netlist for professionals working in the field of breastfeeding and human lactation.

Cynthia Good Mojab, MS clinical psychology, is a private researcher, author, educator, and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). She writes and speaks about issues related to psychology, culture and the family-particularly as they relate to breastfeeding. Ms. Good Mojab is Research Associate in the Publications Department of La Leche League International, was a member of the LLLI Editorial Review Team for The Breastfeeding Answer Book (3rd edition), and has been a La Leche League Leader since 1998. She is a member of the Ask the Experts panel on Mothering magazine's website, answering questions about breastfeeding, and is an Affiliate of the Alliance for Transforming the Lives of Children. Ms. Good Mojab has taught and guest lectured for undergraduate psychology and statistics courses, and has spoken about breastfeeding, parenting, culture and psychology to groups, organizations, and the media. She is an award-winning researcher whose work was recognized in 1995 by the American Psychological Foundation. Her website, Ammawell (, offers breastfeeding and parenting information and support.

Cynthia Good Mojab, PO Box 5803, Aloha, OR 97006 USA; (website)

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