Happy Mother’s Day: On Being a Mother
Years ago, 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. As we celebrate our mothers and are thankful for the chance to be mothers, I share it again with you.
Oprah featured moms on her show. 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,
- 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).
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.
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.
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!
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.
Mom! I love you so much! This made me tear up just remembering all of our times together. You’re the best mom I could’ve ever imagined. You are the Goddess I never believed in.
Oh Liam. Thank you. (((you)))
Amen….Thank you for putting such beautiful words to my exact sentiments. I wish I could meet your kids…..and that you could meet mine. I never thought it possible that I could love so much… and be so filled up by love in return. Happy Mother’s Day, dear Julie:^
Thank you Julie, I needed to hear this today. I was feeling along the lines of Oprah’s guests today, (owing to a whiny, sick, 2 year old that cries to be held when she sees me and is quite happy when I’m not around) but I know that this too will pass and she will soon be too big to be held.
Mary Ann, I know we all have days like that for sure! And everyone deserves to whine once in awhile! ;^) Hugs to you. You’re doing brave work.
What a great write up! For the past six months I have been pondering more on the time I spend with my family-mainly we need more! This was my first year homeschooling three of my four children. It has been overwhelming-I’ve spent most of my year with what I call “blender-brain”, but so rewarding a the same time. We miss our oldest who’s in high school and are working on focusing more on family time. Motherhood is definitely under attack. Those of us who love being mothers need to stand up more and defend more that profound blessing of raising wonderful people!
AMEN! You put to words what we all truly believe…Thank you! I love being a Mommy/Mama/Mom/Mother too!
Thank you Julie for your words of wisdom. I am a mother of three sons; 29,26,and a just turned 13 year old. I love those wonderful people more than I can say. I was a good mom to all of them, but the blessing of having one later in life is that I knew how fast the time would fly, so I treasured it all the more deeply with our third son-both the joyful and the trying times.One of the things that I tell young moms is to take the time to talk and more importantly, listen to your children. When you do that it is the best “paycheck” you will ever receive because it keeps on giving for the rest of your lives in a beautiful healthy relationship.
Thank you so much, Julie, for such a beautiful sentiment! I feel much the same way and actually feel sorry for other women who take motherhood for granted. I gave up a career as a Hospital Administrator to be a SAHM mom, and was saddened at the lack of support shown for my decision from my contemporaries. I have NEVER looked back- not for a moment- and always feel that I made the right decision. I have a million shared and happy experiences with my two that would not have been possible in a more conventional setting.
Like Kathy above, I would love to be able to meet you kids one day- and wish you could meet mine as well. Thank you for your constant support.
The judgment of parents, particularly mothers, is so fierce. I appreciate your lovely experience as a mother and especially your balance of the ups and the downs and your heartfelt expression. I don’t share all of your experience and I appreciate everyone’s different experience of parenting/mothering/fathering. I’m a parent and I think of my 9-5 job (as a scientist) as a luxury and I enjoy being one of the 2 parents of my daughter. I don’t think of parenting as a job or as a privilege, my daughter and my wife are parts of my life that I love, not any more or less than the other parts of my life that give me joy. No individual experience is the ultimate experience, in my opinion, they all mix together to make a satisfying life.
Leanne, I love your response and fully agree that there are so many parts to a satisfying life. I, too, love the work I do. I’ve always found a way to continue to make an “adult contribution” outside of the family in addition to staying home with my kids.
Mostly, I like to think that those of us who enjoy mothering can say so, in much the same way marathoners tell new runners: It’s worth it and you will love it as you get good at it!
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It is a privilege that drains and gives back all in the same breath, but a privilege nonetheless. Also it is an investment that gives back to us more over time, and with all investments, we don’t necessarily reap the rewards right away (but sometimes we do!). I already miss what lies behind, but I am looking forward to what will enfold in the future. The contradictions are endless, until they are not, and we will wish for them all over again.