There are motherless villages in Indonesia where so many women have entered domestic service overseas that their whole communities of children grow up unmothered. Living with relatives, or old enough to take care of their own siblings, these children receive remittances from distant mothers. The women are hired as domestic help and, in doing the work for other families, they can’t afford to personally take care of their own.
Mothers who work for wealthy families in countries far from their own are an international underclass of women without whom the world’s upper-class women who strive to have it all could not even attempt it. The only way wealthy mothers can unburden themselves of motherhood and pursue their economic value in the workforce is if there is an underclass of women who do the work of mothering, for which their families pay a high price.
While leftist women in the West push for less family structure and more centralized child support, they disrupt not only their own families but also families around the world.
International Disruption of Families
The story on motherless villages, reported by Haryo Bangun Wirawan for the BBC, is captivating due to its contrast with the policies and practices of wealthy motherhood. Wirawan documents the kids and families left behind when mothers leave for work, and the painful reunions when mothers come home and their children barely recognize them.
These mothers feel they have no choice but to set off for foreign work, and Indonesia is not the only country where this happens consistently. In China, women leave their children with their parents in rural areas and go to work in cities, sending money home and rarely returning. Mothers from Central and South America routinely venture north without their children to find work and send money home, in hopes of eventually sending for their children.
I’ve seen the effects of this firsthand. A young man I once knew was new to the area. He and his younger brother had only joined his mother and father in the United States within the past two years. His English was spotty, but he was smart, and a strong learner. He longed for his grandmother in South America, who had raised him since he was five.
When I spent time with him and his mother, it was so clear how much his mother loved him, adored him, and wanted to be close to him, yet how difficult it was to bridge the gulf between them. She reached out, her smile full and welcoming, but he was wary. He wanted to be close to her, but he was afraid to trust. She had not wanted to break up the family for the sake of wages, but she’d done what was best for them given the selection of bad options.
It is understandable that these mothers sacrifice so much for their children, even their relationships with them, to provide for them. Mothers will do whatever it takes, even to their own personal detriment. That is what it is to mother. If going into domestic service overseas were the best chance for our children, it would be hard to look at them every day knowing there was something you could do to better their lives.
Those Who Outsource Mothering Are Complicit
But what about the women and families these international domestic workers serve? The women and families that take on these workers facilitate motherless villages. Mothers and families who also aspire for even more could not reach out for that high-hanging fruit without a steady influx of cheap labor.
The stigma against working mothers that was prevalent in the 20th century has switched over to a prejudice against the moms who mother full-time. Many people think that full-time mothers are not fulfilling their economic potential. They are depicted as wine-swilling MILFs who resent their responsibilities and neglect housework.
Social media posts from full-time mom friends often belabor the real work they do in service to home and family, just as they speak about how much they’d like to get out and take some classes or worry about their prospects of obtaining work after their children are grown. The prevalence of divorce, its uncertainty within the marriage promise, helps to fuel the insecurity of a woman’s role in the home. If a woman can’t trust that her work within the home will be valued in the marketplace into which she may again find herself, it becomes that much harder to dedicate herself fully to family and home.
Lately, there has been a push for government-subsidized child care options in the United States. While women advocate for others to pay for their child care so they can attend to their economic potential, other mothers fill the gaps, leaving their own children in the care of still someone else. As a working mom myself, and the child of a mom who worked, I am in favor of women pursuing their potential, but it’s not acceptable to do so on the backs of mothers who can’t make any other choice.
Liberation Can’t Mean Oppressing Others
This effort to liberate women to pursue their economic value is in the name of equality. But women don’t end up liberated; they end up more like international oppressors. One group of women is liberated at the expense of another.
African-American women have spoken out about this trend for decades, since they have historically taken on the role of mothering for many American families, and the evidence of their accuracy is splashed all over American film, television, fiction, and of course, backed up in history. Now, those same jobs are being outsourced internationally.
These women are not only taking care of children as nannies, but they’re also being employed as surrogates. With western women being liberated from motherhood from the womb through high school graduation, one wonders why they’d even want to engage in the practice at all. And many of them don’t. Birth rates are down, abortion is shouted as a social good, and women have fully embraced their role as hard-working cogs in the capitalist machine.
American women protest in costumes from “The Handmaid’s Tale” because abortion rights are being curtailed by voters, but the real handmaids are those in the developing world bearing and then raising the children Western women won’t. In the advocacy for more freedom for women to enter the workforce without worry for their children, the trend of women not raising their own children trickles down globally.
If American women want equality, it must be global equality. We can’t gain our freedom by exploiting those who are willing to trade it for their children’s future. A better answer than increasing outsourced child care is to make it more possible for women to mother their own children. Women should stop demanding liberation from motherhood, and everyone should acknowledge motherhood’s importance to society.