Happy Mother’s Day: On Being a Mother
In April of 2009, Oprah featured an episode on mothering that ran so counter to my personal experience, I felt the need to write about how I understood mothering. Today, as we celebrate our mothers and are thankful for the chance to be mothers, I share it again with you. (The original posting of this blog entry yielded over 70 comments! Clearly the most popular blog entry in our history, so far.)
From April 27, 2009
Oprah featured moms on her show a couple weeks ago. The two “experts” who “wrote the book” were bubbly, sharp, blond business-type women who wore chic outfits that had never seen spit up or spaghetti sauce stains. They rallied the audience into a frenzy of confessions about motherhood which variously decried the hardships of this “first order of creation” occupations.
“I hate the fluids of babies: pee, spit up, spilt milk, snot.”
“I cried the day I drove to the car dealership to buy a mini-van.”
“There were days I wanted to ’send them back to the hell from whence they came’.”
On and on the tales of woe pored from the mouths of devoted parents. Video clips of small kids on bikes, disastrous laundry rooms, “stuffed to the gills” cars with seats and sippy cups floated by, making one wonder why anyone would sign up for the task of mothering, let alone sustain it for decades. Moms confessed things, too, like the one who said she didn’t want to wake the sleeping baby by stopping the car for a potty break, but she needed to pee so badly, she took a Pampers diaper, stuck it between her legs and let it “go” as she drove. Yeah, I thought that was way more information than I needed to know about her, too.
There was a surprising lack of joy represented in the discussion of mothering. Mostly being a mom was held up as the hardest job on earth, the most demanding, the most self-sacrificing, the most misunderstood and overlooked work on the planet. A kind of shared martyrdom, underdog status united everyone and Oprah, never having mothered anyone, had to declare that indeed, they were right. Mothering equalled sainthood (which we all know implies burning at the stake and smiling through it!).
With my kids in the room, listening to the pain of childbirth and engorged breasts, the relentlessness of little voices, the demandingness of the small child’s need for food, sleep and comfort, the annihilation of a woman’s identity and sense of self, I couldn’t take it any more. After all, far from being the hardest job in the world, mothering has been the happiest, most satisfying, life-giving, joyful, rewarding, fulfilling and (dare I admit it?) easiest job I’ve ever had. Oh sure, the hours suck, there are anguishes deeper than the ocean, there are seasons (years!) of such utter exhaustion you can’t imagine ever being rested again… but all those discomforts are easily and unequivocally overturned by my children, themselves.
I punched pause on the DVR to set the record straight:
“Being your mother has been the single greatest joy and privilege of my life: not a burden, not a perennial unrelenting source of emotional and physical agony, not the ‘hardest job in the world’, not the knee-capping blow to my ‘adult individuality’ nor has it been the thankless, under-appreciated, most overlooked profession these mothers would have you believe. In fact, my sense of personhood, identity and self-knowledge has grown more through mothering than any business I’ve started, any degree I’ve earned, any relationship I’ve pursued. I thank YOU for being the best people to ever happen to me.”
Then I spewed in bullet style the privileges and unique joys that came with mothering them (all five of them, each one popping into my life like a fresh daisy, every two years for 10 years).
Cuddling: Being your mom means I got to have someone to cuddle non-stop for 12 years while sleeping with at least one of you at a time, nursing you, carrying you, holding you, helping you in and out of car seats, and backpacking you.
Sleeping: There is nothing more divine than a baby who falls asleep on your chest while you fall asleep and the whole world stops while mother and tiny child become fused as one content, quiet, shared being. No meditation, yoga, prayer circle, private retreat has ever come close to providing me with the depth of peace, pleasure and abiding hope that sleeping with a baby has given me.
Playing: Board games and hopscotch, dress-ups, face paint, finger paint, walks in the woods, trips to the zoo, picking up bugs, rolling down hills, blowing bubbles, eating too many cookies, watching Arthur on PBS, rewatching Disney movies, cards, chasing a dog in the backyard, trampoline jumping, creek splashing, snowman building, skiing, middle of the night slumber parties, bike rides, soccer in the backyard, soccer on the official fields, ultimate frisbee… What adult gets to do any of this on his or her 9-5 job? Talk about luxury!
Conversing: Oh it starts off good – Why do bubbles float? How did I get red hair? Why doesn’t Santa Claus visit Moroccans, too? But boy does it keep getting better!? I’ve learned about human rights, veganism, Role Playing Games, Shakespeare, Klingon, fashion, exercise, lacrosse, birds, fantasy novels, conspiracy theories, atheism, feminism, linguistics, alternative monetary systems for world peace (seriously!) and more by talking to my kids.
Mothering is the job that means taking the dog and kids for a walk in the woods is on task. It’s the one where teatimes and picnics are considered achievements worth trumpeting to friends and family. It’s the job where even on bad days, someone tells you “Hey, I love you Mom” and then hugs you so tightly, you believe it.
There is no comparison to the jobs I’ve had in business and writing. Sure, affirmation and personal achievement are nice… but they are nothing like the bond that comes from the devotion of loving people who live every day looking for you to see them for who they are. I’ve found that the easiest thing in the world is to love my kids. All it takes is entering into their lives on their terms and giving all I’ve got. I get it all back and more.
Yes, there have been nights where I cried myself to sleep over a non-stop crying toddler or a teenager’s emotional pain. There are times when I feel out of control and invisible and fearful for my child’s future or welfare. But the rewards of mothering so far outweigh any of its challenges, I can’t relate to the repeated refrains of “how hard I have it” simply because I chose to have five kids. Instead, I just feel perennially lucky that my lifestyle has included such richness, tenderness and connection to immortality through my children.
I think it’s time we blew the whistle.
Mothering isn’t a job. It’s a privilege.