THE REAL TRUTH ABOUT SERBIAN MOTHER
If you immediately thought of THAT Serbian mother, read no further and tuck away your copy of Nedeljnik magazine in a safe and dry place, at least until you clear your head.
No, this is an article about “regular” moms, about motherhood in the 21st century, about the differences between today’s mothers and their mother, and also about the battle of the sexes in Serbia in 2014. Zorica Markovic analyzed the research of McCann Truth Central, and after discussions with psychologists and “regular” moms, tried to give us a clearer picture about the average Serbian mother, her ideals, ideas, hopes and aspirations.
They say that the first 40 years of motherhood are always the toughest. You could recognize good mothers by their rumpled hair, stained dresses, furrowed brows, and in most cases, bags filled with groceries in their hands whilst running down the street with at least one of her children in-tow. Her floor is always sticky, walls scribbled, her oven overheated. But the kids are always happy. And unmanageable. Motherhood is like over-time: unpaid, with a demanding and moody boss, and without reward, at least not noticeably for the first few years. Everything is expected from mothers: to be a reservoir from which the little men sap all the energy, yet is filled to the brim whenever they ask for it again.
When you Google search what it means to be mother, it will come up with a few unintentionally sarcastic definitions: “woman in a relationship with a child or kids that she gave birth to”, or “head of a women’s religious community”, or “someone who watches over kids with care and dedication”.
“The difference between work and the role of a mother is that in the former you can switch off and you’re not doing it all the time, but the latter is your 24 hour obligation”, says one dedicated mother. Glorious Sofia Loren, even though she had all the help she needed, realized that mothers are never alone in their thoughts. She needs to think everything through twice: once for herself and the second for her child.
Whatever theories we had about mothers, recent research that McCann Truth Central Beograd did through their study “The Truths of the New Serbian Mother” demolished nine myths. We always lived in the past, thinking that we should follow the example set by our parents, but changes have been so drastic that they’ve influenced even the most emotional moms. What’s changed?
So, today’s moms don’t want to be supermoms, they are not victims, because they don’t neglect any aspect of their lives. They are not jealous of other moms, even though we know who the best mom in the world is (they are). Firstly she will ask for advice from someone close to her, but she will also search Google for answers, and in the end she will go with her instinct. Modern technology is her biggest helper, although she can ask her husband for assistance. But truthfully, the house is still a “one woman show”.
Are today’s moms really objective and are they really better than their own? One funny commercial from 60’s perhaps perfectly captured what they once had to battle with: “Don’t worry, you’re not the first mom to throw a towel on pee-stained bed and go back to sleep”. Sound familiar?
Psychologist Katarina Pribicevic, who’s the head of McCann Truth Central Belgrade, a research center which operates as part of creative agency, McCann Belgrade, and that did the study “The Truths of the New Serbian Mother”, explains the basic differences between today’s moms and those that raised us:
“Even though the average mother’s number of obligations and responsibilities hasn’t change much compared to the past, it looks like the expectations that mothers have of themselves has. She still takes care of her traditional household responsibilities, but today she accepts help from others: family, friends, institutions, but more and more from technology. Alongside the above knowledge, it appears that mothers have become more aware of their own needs. In such circumstances, she doesn’t want and can’t ignore the obligations and responsibilities that depend on her, but doesn’t want to give up on her needs either. Realizing that she can’t do everything (that is, realizing that she is not a “supermom”) and by accepting the opportunities and help which are offered to her, she realizes that she doesn’t want the title of “supermom”.
The options that moms have these days are much greater, but they are also aware of their own needs, says our interviewee, adding that the family has very different needs. For example, that both parents tend to be employed – which wasn’t the case with their parents’ generation. "What still stands is the basis of traditional roles and responsibilities that still go with them. The amount of free time moms have has decreased (even when taking into account that, once upon a time, the working day ended at 2PM, compared to 5PM today) and the need for time for yourself, or an activity that isn’t committed to fulfilling the needs of someone else, becomes a luxury. Setting aside some free time becomes another obligation, only this time, it’s an obligation to yourself. In this context, the difference between today’s moms and their moms and grandmas is not a random occurrence; it’s a consequence of rational reasons.”
Today’s moms have different opinions on certain phenomena; there are even new ways or raising children and nurturing relationships with them. There was a time when the “firm hand” approach was only correct way to raise your children, says Katarina, also adding that these days it’s largely forbidden… “A kid’s health was the most important thing, but today it’s happiness. Having an obedient child was the most important thing once, today it’s having a child that is prepared for life challenges…”
What this difference enables, says Katarina Pribićević, is the possibility of having and enjoying free time. "Today, it seems, social trends are increasingly accommodating to a mother’s demand to fulfill her needs. A testament to this is large online motherhood communities, social networks and the emergence of establishments such as the children's playroom, where mothers can socialize freely while the children play ...”
Researching “The Truths of the New Serbian Mother” uncovered one more interesting phenomena: it’s that all mothers consider themselves experts in at least one aspect of parenthood. This info is not very different from the info gather by global research. It’s natural. Children come from us, our labor, our work on them… It’s very hard to accept that we are not doing a great job at that task (for which mothers are experts). All mothers are little bit narcissistic, but that’s ok. They’re doing everything they can to be the best that they can be.
When you compare this research to that which is being done on a global scale, according to its Serbian coordinator, Katarina Pribicevic, it’s shown that the needs don’t differ, it’s only the opportunities that do. Serbian mothers are trying to fulfill their dream of “having it all” differently – this means being a mother, spouse and successful business woman, while looking good at the same time.
“Global moms are in a never-ending triathlon where they use all of their skills equally and devote equal attention to all of their obligations. This was made possible by new technology, which they grabbed with both hands. But we can’t forget the system which allows unconventional work methods (like working from home), either. Our mother, on the other hand, doesn’t have those kinds of possibilities and accepts technology very slowly, but surely. So instead of a triathlon, she uses skill of “School Play”: she has the same obligations, same amount of time in one day, but she organizes differently – by order of priority. First come the children, the family, and her obligations in that order, followed by her work and career, and finally her with her own needs. Furthermore, our mother is also part of the ‘have it all’ group, but she needs much more help.”
Journalist and TV host, Ivana Zaric, says that women have changed, as for the title of “Supermom” to be justified, it’s understood that mothers have to be the masters of all situations.
“It’s a fact that women are still the pillars of any family – both traditionally but also because they are more hands-on than men, but that doesn’t mean that in these modern times, with all obligations they have, they are in a position to organize life, so that in every moment everyone is fulfilled and satisfied, including themselves. For that you really need super powers”, says Ivana Zaric also adding that modern moms, however, need to juggle everything.
“It’s not matter of choice any more. The kitchen takes up just one small part of the day, but I think that fathers are starting to cook more, so there is help. Maybe that doesn’t count for the wider population, but fact is that in modern societies, tasks are increasingly equally shared – sometimes out of understanding, sometimes out of necessity. I think that it’s a much bigger frustration for modern moms that in most cases she doesn’t have the possibilities, neither financial nor organizational, to give her child everything they want. And she has very little or no time for herself. This is where modern moms understand each other the best. It’s rare for anyone to fulfill all of their desires”
Ivana doesn’t believe that we can compare to our own mothers, nor does she think that we are better. Times are different, with different demands for mothers and for kids.
“We have a totally different day, lifestyle, relations with things and people. Our moms used to work from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., they had whole afternoons and weekends for the family. Days were “longer”, we had much more time on our hands to dedicate to children and their needs. Our lives are completely chaotic, organization is increasingly out of our control, and depends more on all sorts of external variables – work, traffic… We are not better than our mothers – I just think that we are more strained and subjugate ourselves to greater stresses to satisfy our children as best we can. It’s much harder for us. I don’t believe in “best moms in the world” nor “best kids in the world”, nor am I fond of mothers that think that way. Only when kids grow up and start to take care of themselves can we start to balance and draw conclusions from what we achieved”
This article is published in Nedeljnik magazine, issue no. 115. On the 13th of March 2014.