"Mothering Against Motherhood" with Dr. Sophie Brock


Dr. Sophie Brock, Motherhood Studies Sociologist, explains how motherhood (institution) is different than mothering (experience). Starting from a place of WHY things are like they are for mothers, our discussion moves to HOW to advocate for a more liberatory experience of being a mother. ⁠

Our conversations covers:

  • Sophie’s mothering and academic intersections
  • Her theory of “hegemonic maternality”
  • What the “good mother myth” is and how it is what we’re all swimming within
  • How motherhood is different than mothering
  • How social constructions of motherhood negatively affect mothers 
  • What is meant by the “good enough mother” and why she named her podcast this phrase
  • How cultivating our power as mothers can help us shift the social construction
  • How to approach supporting ourselves in this shift

Dr. Sophie Brock is a Motherhood Studies Sociologist and single mother to her 3 year old daughter, living in Sydney, Australia. She supports both mothers and professionals who work with mothers to understand the sociological construction of Motherhood and how this shapes individual mothers’ lives. Sophie advocates for a reimagined version of Motherhood that sees mothers supported, valued, and empowered. She offers online courses, mentoring packages, and her Motherhood Studies Practitioner Certification program. She hosts The Good Enough Mother podcast and is President of the non-profit association, Maternal Scholars Australia. 

More Information

Visit Sophie’s website https://drsophiebrock.com/

Find her @drsophiebrock on Instagram and Facebook

Listen in to her podcast The Good Enough Mother Podcast 

Email her at info@drsophiebrock.com

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Drafted by AI. Please excuse typos.

Allie  00:00

Welcome to rewild mothering. Today I’m talking with Dr. Sophie Brock. She’s a motherhood studies sociologist and a single mother to her three year old daughter living in Sydney, Australia. She supports both mothers and professionals who work with mothers to understand the sociological construction of motherhood and how this shapes our individual lives as mothers. Sophie advocates for a reimagined version of motherhood that sees mothers supported, valued and empowered she offers online courses mentoring packages and her motherhood studies practitioner certificate program. She also hosts the good enough mother podcast and as president of the nonprofit association, maternal scholars Australia. Our conversation explores just why it’s vital that mothers understand this sociological construction. How motherhood is different from mothering. And how we can mother against motherhood as an empowering form of maternal activism.

Allie  01:06

The future relies on the wellness of mothers. Welcome to rewild mothering, a podcast about holistic maternal wellness for Earth honoring mothers, to help us grow into the wild guides we envision for ourselves, our families, and our planet.


Each week,

Allie  01:26

we alchemize science and the sacred weaving together modern research, ancient wisdom and mind body spirit practices that will help us channel the transformative power of mature essence, the developmental period of motherhood. I’m your host, Dr. alley Davis, a maternal mental health eco therapist, and a mother walking this path with you. Thank you for being here. Let’s reclaim mothering, as a wild initiation with Mother Nature as our guide.

Allie  02:12

Sophie, thank you for being here today and sharing your background, your wisdom, your work with us. Thank you for being here.

Sophie  02:19

Yeah, thank you so much for inviting me, I’m really looking forward to this conversation.

Allie  02:24

I want to ask you just first off a bit about your background as a sociologist and a mother and how those have intersected for you.

Sophie  02:33

Sure, well, I, my mother would study sociologists, which basically means my PhD is in sociology. And I focused on the experiences of mothers, specifically the experiences of mothers who have children with disabilities. But I was interested in their experience in and of themselves, rather than their experience, and what that can tell us about their children, which is what so much research is kind of being framed as, and I’m really curious about the way that women experience motherhood, socially and culturally, and their sense of self and identity and their relationships. And so, I’ve had this sort of interest actually stemming back to high school, really. And I completed my PhD, right before I became a mother myself. And so it’s something that’s been a fascination of mine. And, you know, it’s interesting, your question asked the ways that they have intersected my roles, sociologists and a mother and quite literally, I received notification that I was on one of my PhD, the week before I went into labor with my daughter, who’s now three and a half. And so it’s been a really interesting intersection. And my journey through motherhood, I’m sure it’s been shaped by my sociological understandings of mothering that again, it’s kind of like this relationship between theory and practices in it and finding my own feet along the way. And situating, myself, kind of within my work. So yeah, that’s a little bit about my background, and what has sort of led me Yeah,

Allie  03:59

yeah. So in your research, you developed a concept of hegemonic matter, banality. Can you explain this and share? Maybe its roots with us?

Sophie  04:09

Sure. Yeah. So this really came about because I was, I mean, as I think most of us who do take safety probably experienced this at some point in our research, where we’re kind of saturated with data, and were kind of overwhelmed. And we’re in this kind of swirly swirl of trying to figure out what it all means. And I had this real tension between my methodologically. So my position as a researcher and somebody who is listening to all of these women’s experiences, my research was qualitative. So it was interviews with women. And I was at this real tracklist going, Okay, how do I make sense of this data? How do I make meaning? How do I collate all of these themes that I’ve pulled out and bring them together to make a meaningful story or narrative so to speak, which is what we need to do in order to Place this research in the context of a written thesis, you know, a piece of work, it can’t just be all of these threads that are kind of laying out everywhere, it has to be integrated in some way. And I have a lot of challenges around that. The challenges came back to being able to communicate nuance and complexity, because I could go to one part of an interview with a mother. And she may be saying one thing about her experience of motherhood, and then I could go to a different part of the interview. And she’s seemingly contradicting herself, she’s seemingly saying something completely different to what she said earlier on, or in one pot, she may talk about how it’s really terrible that we judge other mothers, and we need to be supportive of each other. And then later on, she’s kind of talking about judging the practices of other mothers. And so I felt kind of stuck almost whenever I went to come up with something to say that would apply across themes and across interviews. So I was looking for a theory or a way to be able to communicate this and to be able to hold the nuance and hold the complexity without tidying up their experiences, which I think speaks to our experience of motherhood more broadly in that I think, can inherently involve ambivalence and messiness, and complexity. And it can’t just be tied up into a neat little bow and presented in one way. And so this is a kind of long winded way of getting to your point of where the theory came from, which is actually based on someone else’s theory. raewyn. Connell is her name a really well known researcher in gender and part of Ryan connells theory of hegemonic masculinity. So, I’ve taken this, that concept and their theory, and have kind of overlaid it on to motherhood. And so in really, really simplistic terms, hegemonic masculinities is referring to the ways that men relate to masculinity in a culture and that one version of masculinity is prioritized. It’s put on a pedestal of being the way to be a man, this is what it means to be a man and boys are socialized into that from when they’re born, basically, and funneled through all sorts of different systems and ways of being in relationships and ways of being spoken to, that leads them into believing this is the right way to be a man basically. And if you fall outside of that, then you’re kind of disciplined in somewhere or another, or you’re ostracized, or you have Speak louder, or also different consequences. And so basically, I’ve taken that as a rough outline and said, Okay, well, what about hedge money for motherhood? How would this look for motherhood. And that’s where this concept of hegemonic nationality came from, to look at the ways that a certain type of motherhood is put on a pedestal, and is set to be the normative version or the kind of default the one we should strive to be, or that were expected to fit in with him. And there’s a whole system of power, and that’s where hedge money the term comes in. But it’s in really kind of simplistic terms, I actually describe it now in my work, before sending my PhD. But now in my work, I talk about it as a fish tank. And you can probably tell immediately why it wasn’t in my PhD. But it kind of colloquially I think this works well to think about around glass fish tank, and you take that as our society. And then you have the fish within there, which are the people within the society. So it’s where the fishing side is where the mothers were swimming around in a tank and we look around outside of and that tank has lots of things written on it about what it means to be a mother. And most of us don’t really know we’re in the tank, we just see that as our world that sound normal. That’s the way it is. But that tank is actually constructed. And it’s constructed through historical, cultural, social, economic, and political circumstances, and histories. And that tank looks different according to where you live, and what point in history you’re in. And so that tank structures our experience of mothering, and we can push back against that tank, we can kind of swim a different way within the tank and we can connect with others who are doing the same, but we’re still leaving within a particular context of motherhood. So I hope that sort of explains what is probably a complex topic to talk about. And that’s basically Yeah, how my theory came about. I love it.

Allie  09:35

So what are the markers are some of the characteristics of hasmonean motherhood?

Sophie  09:41

So I would ask your listeners to think about what comes to mind when they hear the term the perfect mom or a good mom? What sort of things come to mind? genuinely it depending on what context or culture you’re living within this, this will shift obviously, but in kind of white, modern patriarchal society IB status she’s wide right? Like usually, what is considered to be the perfect mom, if we look at how she’s represented in advertisements in media, in marketing, she’s presumed to be why middle class, monogamous in a heterosexual relationship, likely married, she probably has two or so children, one of each sex, she is involved in some type of paid work generally, because there’s now this expectation that we shouldn’t be reliant on others for financial support, whether that be the state, or a partner. And so she’s involved in paid work in some way. Because to be a good citizen, it means to contribute financially and economically. And mothering is not seen as contributing economically. And so she, she ticks those boxes, but she doesn’t work too much, she never puts her work before her children. So she is adding the world as an independent autonomous citizen who contributes economically productively to her community and our society. Yet, she’s also expected to be the mother, who is self sacrificing puts her needs last is the kind of emotional CEO of the household and her community and her networks, and she carries the mental load, and it’s all on her shoulders. And we can kind of extend this ad, and we could probably do a whole podcast topic on what she looks like. But um, you know, she cooks particular food, she dresses a certain way she looks after herself, because we know that’s what we have to do to look after our family. So there are lots of different ways that we could go with this. And there are certainly similarities, if we will also sort of pull out what it means to be a perfect mother. But the kicker here, the thing that catches us out with it is that she is adaptive in her constraints. So in other words, even if you fall outside the marker of what the hegemonic version of perfect motherhood would be, for example, if you’re a lesbian mother, but you don’t speak that heteronormative, like heterosexual model, then there still kind of markers for what it means then to be a good lesbian mother or to be a good single mother, you know, so it’s really captures us in quite constructive ways. And it can be incredibly overwhelming to be leaving within this model of motherhood.

Allie  12:29

Yeah, sounds impossible. And you talk so clearly and have that metaphor for the social construction of motherhood. I’m wondering if you can share how the perfect mother myth affects individual women’s health and well being?

Sophie  12:44

Yeah, so this is really important, because there’s been a lot of research on this actually, around the implications of the perfect mother myth. And it’s referred to in the literature as various things, but one is intensive mothering ideology. And so the research clearly shows the effect on women’s well being is negative, it’s probably no surprise to those who are listening who are living within this conception and expectation, higher rates of depression, anxiety, Mum, guilt is just completely intertwined or attached with intensive mothering ideology. And so research has shown that the more that we kind of resist this ideology, or the perfect mother made, the more that we push back, and we recognize the way that it’s been embedded in our individual lives, and how we are living within these kind of collectively, the less guilt the mothers will feel. And so there are consequences for also mother’s self confidence. So lacking self esteem, self worth thinking that maybe they’re not doing a good enough job as a mother, but they’re not good enough. And a real sense of shame and isolation that is attached with that as well. And also anger, I feel myself talking about in motherhood, but anger would also be a consequence of living within intensive mothering ideology, and just feeling completely overwhelmed and exhausted and overburdened with all of these pressures and expectations.

Allie  14:11

Yeah, and you have a podcast where you go into this in much more detail and have specific articles that you draw on. Can you share a little bit about that? Hi, Sally, I wanted to pause the episode for a moment to tell you about my free mother mind meditation route into who you are and who you’re becoming by reconnecting with your own true nature. downloaded at rewild mothering.com. Slash mother mind. That’s it for now. Let’s get back to our conversation.

Sophie  14:51

So yeah, well, my podcast is called the good enough mother. And the reason they called the podcasts that name as was to on To push back against intensive mothering ideology, and the perfect mother made. And that concept comes from Donald Winnicott who is a pediatrician, psychoanalyst. And he came up with this term to basically describe the relationships and interactions between a mother and a child and a recognition that it’s not just that good enough is settling, I think some people can interpret that the phase in that way that oh, well, we can’t be perfect, we’ll find them, we’ll just be good enough. But what the theory actually says is that good enough is what our children need is not the striving for perfection. And that actually, setting that on a pedestal as being the ideal or optimal way to raise your child can do more harm than we would anticipate and that it’s really important for our children to experience the wide range of experiences that come with being a human being. And I think it’s important to say as well that the perfect mother may suffer. She’s amazing. She’s not, she’s not real, it’s not something that any of us can ever fully reach. So regardless of how we may relate to the concept of the good enough mother, or not all of us are human beings. We can’t escape that. Unfortunately, maybe sometimes. And so the good enough mother podcast is really a way for me to talk about alternatives, and ways of making visible these structures that we live with them when it comes to motherhood, and looking at ways to live within them in a way that feels empowering, and a way that highlights our agency in what can often be a really disempowering system.

Allie  16:33

Yeah. I often say that motherhood is the domesticated or tamed version of mothering. And I get a lot of pushback on that. But I know that you really are skilled at educating people about the differences in between mothering versus motherhood. So can you kind of explain that for us? What’s the distinction there?

Sophie  16:55

Sure. So if we go back to this fish tank analogy, and you think about the tank itself, that’s motherhood. So that’s the structure. That’s the thing that we live within. That’s the stuff that is created by culture, it’s created by intergenerational patterns and histories and ideologies. That’s what we weave within and where the mothers within that are women who have error, how can we identify, and were doing our mothering inside that tank, so the actual swimming around the actual looking after our children, their maternal thinking, so the thinking work of mothering, the actual practice of mothering is distinct from the structure of motherhood. And that’s a distinction that was made by Adrian rich in her book of women born in the late 1970s. And it’s one that’s really, really important, I think, because it allows us to focus on actually our agency and our autonomy as individuals, in doing our mothering work within the system of motherhood. Does that make sense?

Allie  18:01

It makes so much sense. And I think you expand that by saying, I’ve seen you say, we need to mother against motherhood. So that is a big concept. Talk about that empowerment, and then agency and our ability to create change within this perfect mother myth of motherhood.

Sophie  18:21

So well, that phrase is kind of mothering against motherhood, comes originally from Professor Andrea Riley. And she’s the founder of motherhood studies. And it’s something which I think is so so powerful to think about, right? Because if we can cultivate our power as mothers, we can actually shift motherhood as a structure and, and it needs the solution. And maybe not in our lifetime. I don’t know this debate about this, but that the strength that we live within, is constructed, which means that it’s fluid, it’s changeable. It’s something that can and will change over time, history and context. And so as mothers were actually in a key position of power, in being able to provoke such change, because were mothering were raising the next generation of human beings that go on to be the world leaders and the culture creators and makers. And so we have a really powerful role in being able to, firstly actually do this work and ourselves to recognize whereby internalize the perfect mother needs, what Stan into my holding myself to how am I touching others? How am I judging myself with guilt for me, all of that kind of work, which is co lumping that into one category. And then we can go Okay, well, in my mothering of my child and in my relationships, and in my community, how can I start to model a different way of living? How can I start to create more spaces, and to see the possibilities in what it can mean to be a mother and to engage in mothering work and to raise our children with a certain understanding of this as well, that can look different and so that some Are we against motherhood is a way of basically saying, Let’s draw on the power that we have individually and collectively, as mothers who are doing the majority of the care work here. How can we draw on that to emphasize that power in order to push back against the fishtank against the motherhood?

Allie  20:21

Yeah, so that’s actually one of the repetitive questions I get is, how do I do that? How do I feel confident in my own maternal practice, when it’s not celebrated? It’s countercultural, it’s not celebrated or supported by the fish tank, you know, this institution and in our relationships and our cultural systems and more?

Sophie  20:43

Yeah, it’s a really hard question. And I really hear that sense of isolation. This is something I have a membership. And we’re actually talking about these two nights ago, this sense of frustration of like, Where is my village? Where is my support? Where are the people who gets it? Why is no one else seemingly talking about this, and it can feel really, really hard. And I think sometimes the first step is just acknowledging that and really offering ourselves compassion and recognizing that this is really challenging. And then it’s okay to say, so we don’t have to always be emphasizing and focusing on the things we can do to change and how can we make shifts? And how can we do things differently? Sometimes, and in certain seasons, that can’t be our focus, our focus is putting one foot in front of the other and getting by right, so I suppose just really acknowledging that first off as well, I would then say that, if we want others to value what we do, we have to value it ourselves first. And so if we want to change the way that our culture sees mothers, and if we want to change the way that others see the work that we do in our mothering and in our lives, then we first need to make sure that we’re really clear ourselves on the value of the work that we’re doing. And so I’m really conscious of language that we use and really flagging anytime we’re describing our sense of self and identity, and using temperatures and just a man, or I don’t work, I’m a mom, I don’t work. I try to and I’m sure I will get this wrong myself at certain points. But I do try to make a distinction between work and paid work. So when I’m talking about work that we receive financial compensation for all volunteer work, even we could say, work outside the home or paid work or employment, to just sometimes make little tweaks in others perspectives that actually mothering East work that even though we may say, work in the home or at home mothering I mean, it we’re not just confined to the home either, are we, we do our mothering everywhere. And so sometimes I just like to find that to be conscious of the language using to describe ourselves and our work. But the main thing in response to your question, Allie is to find people you can connect with who have the same values, who are doing this same thinking work, who value themselves and mothering who are able to talk about things as well outside of motherhood, who recognize that we are whole human beings, and that there are many shapes and dimensions of us and our identity, and about our experience of mothering. And we need to be able to talk about that we need to be able to highlight the nuance, and the complete complexity and to be able to hold space for each other. And whether that means connection in person with a friend. I mean, we’re lucky if we get that I think most people probably don’t have great in person communities. But certainly that’s one way of going about it and forging your own sense of community, or your own group or some sort of meetup based around a similar interest where you may find other mothers who connect with the way that you think about your role as a mother, or of course, you know, online spaces and listening to podcasts like yours and creating pockets of intentional connection for yourself, where you go towards and move towards the people and the places that do share similar values and that do value the work that you’re doing.



Allie  24:16

I love how you highlight that revolutionary act is the shift in how we hold ourselves and our work and how we move from that the work is inner and outer. Well, thank you so much for being here and sharing your expertise. And is there anything you’d like to leave us with on this topic?

Sophie  24:34

Yeah, I guess I would like to say that access social change that with the individual. And I think that that’s my belief. And I think that sometimes it can feel really overwhelming when we see problems socially, and we experience challenges individually, you know, as mothers within that fish tank and we’re looking outside of us and we’re thinking about the world that we’re bringing our children into, and it can feel really overwhelmed. I mean, and sometimes it can feel like there’s just not enough that we can do that I always like to just come back to ourselves as individuals and recognize that we are doing the work, you know, purely by just existing and raising our children that can be the most revolutionary act that there is. And that part of change socially and individually. And part of our role as mothers in doing our mothering is also about taking time for us to rest when we can, and I think about rest is patriarchal resistance. I think that sometimes they’re reclaiming, that we may be called to do or that we’re feeling passionate about can sometimes first the first step can be taken through just giving ourselves if we can, little pockets for us, and to respond to our needs and our desires. Where possible, cuz I know it isn’t always possible, but if we have any opportunities for that, to really to be able to take them without guilt and knowing that that’s part of that mothering.

Allie  26:06

Thank you for listening. The reweld mothering podcast brings together a community of Earth honoring mothers to tell the stories that mendon 10, the web of mothering support. I’d love to hear your reactions to today’s episode. Let’s connect on Instagram at rewild mothering and be sure to subscribe where you listen to get next week’s episode as soon as it’s live. Until next time, may we remember our place as a part of the natural world. May we reclaim mothering as a revolutionary act, and may we rewild the ways of caring for our human family and our living planet.

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