Dr Sophie Brock
Motherhood studies sociologist
My guest this week is Dr Sophie Brock, a Motherhood Studies Sociologist (a Social Scientist) and Mother of 1 living in Sydney, Australia. She provides analysis of Motherhood in our culture, exploring the ways individual experiences of Mothers are shaped by broader social constructs.
I first found out about Sophie's amazing work while recording a podcast with Louise Agnew in S2Ep41 and I am so glad I did, what she is doing really resonates with me and it is so valuable.
Sophie supports professionals, business owners and creatives in revolutionising what Motherhood means in our society, and how individual Mothers are supported and understood.
This has been her of research and passion for over a decade now. Her work is grounded in her PhD in Sociology from The University of Sydney, her own experiences as a Mother, and her own ongoing learning from her clients and community.
Sophie's vision is for a Motherhood liberated from patriarchal structural constraints, where Mothers have agency, support, and possibilities open to them. Creating this world requires the deconstruction of dominant models of Motherhood, including ‘the perfect mother myth’, intensive mothering ideology, and martyrdom-motherhood. She believes that through this work, we can create space to imagine, (re)claim, explore, and connect to a version of Motherhood that sees women who mother as valued, powerful and whole.
Sophie’s offerings include self-study courses for Mothers and practitioners, her podcast The Good Enough Mother, and her Motherhood Studies Practitioner Certification program.
In todays chat with Sophie we discuss the movie The Lost Daughter, which may be triggering. If so, I encourage you to seek help from those around you, or from resources on line. I have compiled a list of international resources here.
email - email@example.com
Music used with permission from Alemjo my new age and ambient music trio.
When chatting to my guests I greatly appreciate their openness and honestly in sharing their stories. If at any stage their information is found to be incorrect, the podcast bears no responsibility for guests' inaccuracies.
Podcast transcript at the bottom of the page
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Welcome to the Art of Being a mum, the podcast that's a platform for mothers who are artists and creatives to share the joys and issues they've encountered, while continuing to make art. Regular themes we explore include the day to day juggle, how mothers work is influenced by their children, mum guilt, how mums give themselves time to create within the role of mothering, and the value that mothers and others place on their artistic selves. My name's Alison Newman. I'm a singer, songwriter, and a mom of two boys from regional South Australia. You can find links to my guests and topics we discuss in the show notes. Together with music played, how to get in touch, and a link to join our lively and supportive community on Instagram. The art of being a mum acknowledges the Bondic people as the traditional owners of the land, which his podcast is recorded on.
Thank you so much for joining me. I'm delighted to welcome Dr. Sophie Brock to the podcast this week. Sophie is a motherhood studies sociologist, also known as a social scientist, and a mother herself living in Sydney Australia. Sophie provides analysis of motherhood in our culture, exploring the ways individual experiences and mothers are shaped by broader social constructs. Sophie supports professionals, business owners and creatives in revolutionising what motherhood means in our society, and how individual mothers are supported and understood. I first found out about Sophie and her incredible work through a previous guest of this podcast. Louise Agnew, a photographer from Matt Gambia, South Australia, and I'm so glad I did. Motherhood studies has been Sophie's field of research and passion for over a decade now. Her work is grounded in her PhD in sociology from the University of Sydney, her own experiences as a mother and her own ongoing learnings from her clients and community. Sophie's vision is for motherhood liberated from patriarchal structural constraints, where mothers have agency support and possibilities open to them. Creating this world requires the deconstruction of dominant models of motherhood, including the perfect mother myth, intensive mothering ideology, and martyrdom motherhood. She believes that through this work, we can create space to imagine, claim or reclaim, explore and connect to a version of motherhood that sees women who mother as valued powerful and how, and personally I could not agree more. Sophie's offerings include self study courses for mothers and practitioners, her podcast, the good enough mother, and her motherhood studies practitioner certification program. In today's chat with Sophie, we discussed the movie The lost daughter, which may be triggering to some. If so, I encourage you to seek help from those around you or from resources online. I have compiled a list of international resources on my website landing page. That is Alison newman.net/podcast. The music you'll hear in today's episode is used with permission and it's from my new age at ambient music trio called LM Joe. It's made up of myself, my sister, Emma Anderson, and her husband, John. I'm so delighted to have Sophia on an episode of my podcast. It really is an honor. And I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I enjoyed chatting with Sophie. Thanks so much for coming on today. Sophie, it's a real pleasure to meet you and to welcome you to the podcast. Oh, thank
you for having me, Alison. I'm looking forward to our conversation today.
Yeah, so I've been following you on Instagram for a little while I came across you. I can't remember how but I'm really glad I did. Because what you're doing is really of interest to me, and I think will be of interest to a lot of people that listen to the podcast as well. Can you explain to us what you do? And the sort of thing that you're really interested in with your area of work?
Yeah, sure. So I have a pretty unusual job title, which is a motherhood studies sociologist. And what that actually means is I'm a social scientist, and I focus on the experiences of mothers and motherhood in our society and culture and how that shaped and what that means. And so sometimes I describe it, if you imagine, like a scientist with their white lab coat walking into a lab and looking at a specimen under their microscope to examine and ask questions and post hypotheses and think about well, what can I learn and what can I find out from studying and observing this phenomenon? I do the same thing but in our social world. So we step out and we look at how mothers experience their daily lives and what the cultural messages are around what it means to be a mother in Our society and culture. And so that's what I'm really interested in.
How did you get into this area? What was sort of the trigger that that drew you into it?
Yeah, I did my Bachelor of Arts degree and I majored in sociology. And through the course of one of my essay topics, I stumbled across motherhood studies as a term. And I was really surprised that we hadn't learned about motherhood studies formally in the course of my degree. And so I kind of went down the rabbit hole of lots of reading. And I discovered a whole network of incredible maternal scholars at the time, mostly based in North America. But there was an organization here in Australia, two that was focused on maternal researchers scholarship, and that led me down the path of them pursuing a PhD focused on that area of study. And it's kind of just sort of blossomed since then I've just been really passionate about the topic. And this was long before I became a mum myself. So yeah, it's been an interest for mine ever since.
Yeah, it's interesting you say about not many people, I guess, in Australia, I don't know about now. But I've noticed that there it is a really strong sort of topic in North America. And there's people in England doing the same sort of thing. But I haven't come across many other people sort of diving in, in Australia. So it's a nice to have that perspective over here. Because I think, you know, culturally, you know, we are so different to other countries, and different sort of setups that our government has, like with health care, and childcare and things like that. So it is a unique sort of, I guess, every country is unique. So yeah, it's nice to have that that perspective.
There's actually a fair a fair few people now in Australia, which is wonderful. And there's an organization maternal scholars, Australia, and but the, I suppose the challenges too, it's like, how, where are you placed in order to be able to do this work? And so are you working at a university? Do you have funding, like, all of those sorts of questions come into play with how much focus were sort of able to facilitate on this topic? But yeah, absolutely. There's a really strong pool throughout, throughout, you know, the UK and North America and Australia for this interest.
So can you explain to us, and I'll probably stuff this up. So take this way, you need to the sort of the way you describe the difference between motherhood, mothering, like the actual act of mothering within you describe it, like the fishbowl? Can you? Can you talk about that? Explain?
Yeah, no, you didn't start that up at all? Naughty that I use. And it's really about making some distinctions in language to make it easier for us to describe accurately what we're experiencing and what we're talking about in motherhood. So there are three distinctions to help us do that. And one is, the word mother can be referring to our individual selves, so the individual mother, or a social role, so the role of the mother, and then there's mothering, which is an act, it's a practice, it's like the doing work of mothering and their caregiving, the actual acting out of what it means to engage in mothering work. And then there's the motherhood. And so the Motherhood is the social and cultural context, that way, the mother's mother with him. So I used the fish tank analogy to describe that to think about around glass bowl, which is like the fish tank, and that represents our society and culture. And this can be applied to lots of different areas, not just motherhood, but we're talking about the hood here. And so that represents all of the stuff that we actually find really hard to see. Because it's easy for someone to point at something and say, Oh, here's a rulebook and look at all of those rules contained within it. That's the law, but the social customs and the social rules and the social norms that we all live within, we know them because we've been socialized into them, but they're invisible. It happens through a process of socialization. So this analogy is really there to help us make a little bit more tangible, what we're kind of talking about here. But we're living within a society and culture that has certain ideas around what it means to be a mother. And that impacts not only how we see ourselves, but that impacts how we carry out our mother in how we actually care for our children. And it also impacts how the world sees us. So that's the kind of analogy that I use to help open up that conversation.
Yeah, that's, that's really good. I think that that's a really relatable description, like and I think it's Yeah, because people see things in so many different ways and learning different ways. So, you know, being able to visualize that, you know, vessel that we're within, as this as the social constructs.
When I checked Imams on this podcast, a lot of them bring up the topic. Well, I bring up the topic and it's a big one for people about the identity shift that happens when you become a mother. And what actually happens to yourself the sense that you might lose your own identity, you'd become somebody's mum. And you'd lose that. Everything you've ever had, in the eyes of society is diminished, because you you exist to keep this little person alive. That I noticed on your your stories and your your Instagram, that it seems that something that's important that you talk about is maintaining that identity as the person that you are within the role of mothering. Can you talk a little bit more about that?
Sure, yeah, identity is such a complex topic, and we all relate to it, probably understandably, so in different ways. So it is a really common theme to come out when we're talking about who we are as mothers, for mothers to say they feel they've lost themselves as mothers or they've lost themselves in motherhood, or that they may have a really strong sense of their self and identity. But to everyone else, now they've shifted and changed. And as you say, you're, you know, you're Jessica's mum, you're you don't have your even your name anymore. And I think that often coincides with a shift in Korea, because so often, there's such a cemented sense of identity with what we do. So what work we carry out, if there are shifts that go on there in terms of shifting the the amount that we are engaged in paid work, or shifting career, that can also really accentuate a sense of loss of self, because we don't have that to identify with as strongly anymore. Although it can also be the other way, for a lot of women who become mothers, as well, some describe, finding themselves in motherhood or, I know focuses around creativity and saying, actually, this experience that I've had, through becoming a mother can also be a portal and a catalyst for incredible self transformation and coming to know myself in a new way. And, and and what I try and talk about is highlighting the nuance and saying, We don't actually have to have a simple story here. And it can be a bit of both. And it'll change according to who you're speaking with. But I suppose what can be helpful for us is making the distinction between who the world sees us as who the world expects us to be, and who it is that we are. And so I find that useful to come back to to say that we're more than our labels, and our roles, and that it's really important for us, as women, as individuals, as mothers to be able to find a sense of grounding and anchoring into who we are, that feels true for us and feels connected for us rather than who were perceived as being by everyone else.
Yeah, that's a big one isn't it is this. And I think the social media makes it even more challenging, because there's so many ways you can experience other people's views. Now, it's not like, you could just hear the neighbors saying something or, you know, a friend made a comment. It's like, it's all around us all the time. So it can become really challenging to sort of find yourself amongst everybody else's opinions of who you should be. Is that something that you you sort of noticed as well?
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, you can't find yourself when you're swimming through everyone else's opinions of who you should be, um, anything that you try on won't be your own, it'll be someone else's, and social media is makes that particularly challenging, because it's really easy to curate an identity on there. And so talking about topics like this, you know, and we're having this dialogue about identity, and we have the capacity to add in the complexity and the nuance. But that's really hard to do on an Instagram post or in a 32nd Instagram reel. And you know, you have the filters and you have your your light ring, and you set yourself up and you know, you can really portray a certain version of who you are. And that's not to say that that's all constructed and false. And, you know, everyone on there, it's just performing, not at all, I mean, we're all performing to some degree wherever we are, whether it's on social media or not. It's just a shade. It's a shade, and it's a part of who we are. But I think where we can become lost is when, as individuals, we identify with that shade or that version or that facade, and we take that on as meaning. That is everything of who I am. And why that can be risky and challenging for us is that when we anchor him to a version of ourselves that exists outside of us, so when we curate an identity as I'm the mother or whatever, right I'm, I'm the the worried over protective mom. That's just how I'll always be all out, you know, and we really identify with that label. We can get kind of at first we can find meaning from it, but then we can get stuck and trapped within it and it can place these bigger expectations on ourselves and that goes for any identity that we try on. And we need we need some flexibility to to change our minds. And I don't think that were kind of allowed that enough in motherhood were kind of put into these boxes quite early on when we first become mothers and then it can feel really hard to find any movement within there.
Hmm. Yeah, it's it's such a big thing is in it. It's like the the way that society wants us to be.
Have you noticed throughout your period of time, I didn't ask you how long you've been doing this for But have you noticed shifts generally in the, in the cultural norms of what society is expecting of mothers?
Yeah, I have. And I suppose my observations wouldn't be as clear as others who have worked in the field for decades and decades, I've been doing this for about 10 years. But it also impacts your perspective as to whether you're in the cultural soup or not. So whether you are a mother or not. So my perceptions of the cultural construction of motherhood also change according to my experience of motherhood as well. But in a broader sense, in terms of the literature and research around motherhood, there's definitely been a shift more recently in the context of the pandemic, and the kind of off shifts, that has been picked up by by mothers and mothers as another version of frontline workers who are kind of holding down the fort and taking on and engaging in more emotional labor as well as more physical labor in order to care for families and other members of their community. And so absolutely, I think there have been shifts that have been precipitated most strongly through the pandemic. But on top of that, as well, though, there certainly has been an intensification of the expectations on Mother's Day. And I think that's a mix of kind of social media pressures and the online world and a mix of social and cultural factors as well when it comes to even economics and costs of living and different kinds of economic shifts that can happen that then impact how we live our everyday lives. And what that can look like culture to culture as well. Yeah, it makes a difference where we're located and where you're listening to this podcast from will probably change how motherhood looks for you in your society.
Yeah, absolutely yeah. You're listening to the art of being a mum was my mum, Alison
Newman. Something that really fascinates me is this idea that not only mothers work, the unpaid work that is so essential to make society work. But also the, with the people I chat to that are artists and creators, that the work that we do, maybe we aren't renumerated for in a monetary sense, it makes society has this thing that will our society in us in Australia capitalist Western society that unless you're paid for what you do, there is this diminished worth placed on it? And I can see you nodding, so can you share me share with me your your opinions on that?
Yeah, sure. I mean, it's something that I think anybody who is engaged in any form of unpaid labor that they find valuable, meaningful, purposeful, and important, we'll be able to intuitively have a sense of what we're talking about here, right? And you're asked, well, what is it that you do and oh, that or, Oh, you're just a mother? Or oh, that's in some sort of patronizing way? Oh, that's a nice little hobby you have or what are your plans for afterwards? Or what are you how are you going to support your family? Or what contribution Are you making? Like there are veiled ways that we're asked questions that remind us how little value our culture places on what we do? And so I think the first and foremost, for us individually, regardless of whether you're an artist or creator, a mother who is engaged primarily in work, raising her child, rather than paid work outside of the home, is valuing what we do for ourselves. Because even though I would like to say that we need a cultural revolution, so that everyone else sees the value in what we do, so that we can feel better about ourselves, that's probably not going to happen, at least until we individually value what we do so almost forever on this I mean, like, remove the word just from your vocabulary. So when you describe yourself, it's not just anything, it's this is what I do and feeling into the discomfort sometimes that comes with first stating that but knowing truth, every time you do, opens up a pathway for others to be able to do the same. But as you mentioned, we live within a capitalist society where value literally equals dollar. And, and so it can make it really difficult for mothers, when so much of mothering is not only devalued socially, but you're not paid for it. So it's not seen as being economically contributing, although we know that it is, you know, your if you want to look at it, in economic terms, you're raising human capital, you're raising taxpayers. So I mean, you know, we can talk about it from all sorts of different angles. But in order to start to create shifts, I think that we need to start valuing what we do and, and sit with the discomfort that others won't, you know, we can ultimately make them either. So where, yeah, where it's countercultural, some of this of what we're doing in holding on to the meaning of what we do.
Finally, I want to talk to you about the movie, the lost daughter, which I absolutely loved. I loved it so much. And I related to it so much. And I don't want that to say I'm bad that I really loved it because it's a heavy, it's a heavy movie with a lot of heavy, heavy topics. And you had a wonderful podcast that you released recently with Julianne, where you talked about in sort of unpacked it. can briefly, can you sort of outline a little bit of that, for people that haven't watched it? This will make no sense whatsoever? So I apologize. But if you have watched it, hopefully this, you'll enjoy this next little bit of the chat.
Yeah, yeah. So I had a conversation with Julian bridge lamp from Parenthood in mind about the lost daughter film, it's out on Netflix. And the film is one that explores lots of different aspects of motherhood in a really, as you say, kind of confronting and deep and for some quite dark way. And some people love the film, others hated it. Others found that resonant but difficult to watch, and so had to watch it in different sections. But the film, as Julian and I discussed, it explores maternal transgressions. So a sense of when you kind of break those rules of what it means to be a good mother. But in a way that is really kind of complex and fraught, we look at the kind of bad mother archetype. So ultimately, in the film, not as a spoiler alert for those who may not have watched it, but the main character leader, she leaves her children, when they are young. And she we sort of get flashbacks throughout the film of her now in her later life with adult children, and then flashing back to when she had her children when she was younger. And there's all sorts of different storylines in there around her career, her aspirations with her work, I think she has a sort of an affair, and you look at the complex relationship with her partner and the father of her children. And we've kind of have an example of the trope of the selfish woman, you know, the selfish mother, the mother, who is self interested, and who focuses on on her needs and wants and desires and who fails in many ways to live up to this idealized image of who the perfect mother is. And why I think it can be confronting for a lot of mothers to watch is because you can recognize parts of yourself within her character. And it may not be that you are her completely and that you have left your children or decided to, or thought about it, although I would argue probably most mothers have had that thought at one stage or another. But it's that actually, she she crosses those boundaries. But she you can see she also holds love and tenderness for her children. And there are times that which, you know, we've all been there when we have young children where we're, there's a scene where she's trying to I think she's trying to study or focus on something and her daughter is just at her and athearn at her and asking her questions, then I think her daughter kind of hits her. And she's sort of shocked. And it's like, don't hit me and she's trying to contain her anger. And then it kind of unravels. And we identify with that sense of being pushed to our limits as mothers and the power that we have, and that we hold the responsibility that we hold for our children's care and love and nurturance and their safety, but the ways in which we're so often left to do that on our own and we have we then have such harsh critique and self judgment when we can't live up to the idealized image of who the perfect mother is because none of us can and importantly in the film, she's mothering alone. Ultimately, she's not surrounded by community she's she doesn't have people who come in and share the load with her mentally and physically In adequate way, and so it's it's complex, but I think we can recognize parts of ourselves within a character or notice within us. What are the things that we're most repulsed by? and exploring that? And being curious about what that means about what we've internalized about motherhood?
Hmm. Yeah, just a massive movie. I'm so glad that, that it's out there. And for people to be challenged by that to actually, to see somebody, like you say, crossed the line. Like, we've all probably thought about it, but we don't actually do it. And to see someone do it is massive. And it's, it's a fantastic. Like, it's like a breakthrough sort of movie. You know, like, it's probably the first time that we've seen this stuff on film. Yeah, it's fascinating. And that was thing I was really, really interested, I was thinking about how later would have survived how our experience would have been different, like you say, with the support of others, living in a different time, or different culture where she had support or, you know, mother's home to say, we're allowed to, but, you know, could do other things apart from being somebody's mother, you know, I just, I felt really felt sorry for her, I felt really like, yeah,
film presented in a complex way, it's not a simple narrative. And what I really hope to try and do in my work, and for us to do as a culture is to break open this dichotomy of, you're either a mother, and you love your children, and you have this connected relationship and you've lost yourself, or you need to actually break away and step away from the mother. In order to be the self, there's these two polar opposites set up and it's like, actually know that there's a third way here, there's a way for us to flexibly move between our roles and to integrate our sense of self with our mothering and how much of a gift that is for our children. Right that we we don't need to break away pieces of, of who we are and of our own authenticity, in order to somehow hold up a mirage of them of who we are like that doesn't actually serve them so. So kind of breaking is open it and which is what the film has helped us doing in conversation is to see the complexity of the mothering role, I think that actually can offer a gifts to our children and can pave the way for deeper connection with our children true, particularly in adulthood. And it's interesting that we didn't really see later and her adult children, but we had some interactions with them on the phone that we missed. But yeah, it certainly opens a lot of different threads for discussion, doesn't it?
Oh, yeah. It's wonderful, so good. Thank you so much for being a part of this. And I urge anybody who's interested in this topic at all to follow Sophie, on your socials, I'll put all the links to that in the show notes. And keep up the good work. Because honestly, you're what you're doing is amazing. And it's it's so important. And thank you,
thank you, thank you for having me and for the work that you're doing as well and, and opening them holding these types of conversations to really give us space to talk about a name our experiences and for mothers to reflect on what they do and who they are and to have openings for that rather than closed little containers that you know, ultimately gives us more freedom to be able to do so. So thank you for having me on. I've really enjoyed this.
Thanks for your company today. If you've enjoyed this episode, I'd love you to consider leaving us a review, following or subscribing to the podcast, or even sharing it with a friend who you think might be interested. If you or someone you know would like to be a guest on the podcast. Please get in touch with us via the link in the show notes. I'll catch you again next week for another chat with an artistic mom doo doo doo ah doo doo doo doo