If you’ve come looking for a gushing tribute to mothers, you won’t find it here today – not exactly anyway. It isn’t that I don’t have a wonderful mother (for I certainly do) nor that I haven’t loved being a mother (because I have). Perhaps I’m a bit Scrooge-ish in terms of this holiday, because I’ve been thinking about the message it sends to women who aren’t mothers or who don’t have good relationships with their mothers or whose mothers are no longer with them either by choice or by reason of death. Also, by making all this hoopla about motherhood in general and our own individual mothers in particular, are we saying that women who don’t bear children are somehow less worthy of celebrating than those who do?
I don’t believe that for a minute, and I suspect most other American’s don’t either. Certainly there are thousands of women who would give their eye teeth to have children, and cannot do so for a myriad of reasons. There are likely just as many women who have a houseful of children running around their feet and would rather never to have set eyes upon any them. For every Hallmark family with smiling mother and perfectly dressed children bearing gifts today, there is a family mired in dysfunction, or one bereaved, or one with empty arms and womb crying out to be filled.
Motherhood is not like anything else you do in life, and it calls on skills that no one can really teach you. Most of it is learned on the fly, by doing and by having successes and failures of varying proportions. Some people have a natural gift for it, others have to work harder at it, some of us succeed in spite of ourselves, others fail after valiant effort. There isn’t and cannot be an archetypal mother, mostly because every child is different and therefore requires unique responses and upbringing. Having one day per year to recognize the awesome responsibility that goes along with this job title seems like too little too late.
Truthfully, all the adulation and expectation associated with this holiday makes me a little bit uncomfortable. Trying to be a good mother isn’t something I did (or do) with reward in mind – the real reward isn’t in candy or flowers, but in having helped another human being live a healthy, satisfying, and productive life. If you’ve done that, at least a little bit, and you have some sense that your children understand and are appreciative of your efforts, that’s about all the recognition I would need on any day of the week. (Incidentally, that’s exactly the kind of gift I got today, and I couldn’t be more pleased.)
Given a choice, I’d like to make celebrating mother (or father) more of a private affair, one that’s not so in the face of every other person on the planet. Perhaps one’s birthday is a great day to offer mother some remembrance and recognition, a way of saying “thank you for having me.” Since we’re so often concerned with being “politically correct” in regard to issues of race, gender, religious affiliation and sexual preference, perhaps we should extend a similar courtesy to family connection.