The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 11, 2001


Reflections on Mothers Day

Mothers Day is not a holiday I look forward to. I’m a mother and a godmother, and, obviously, I also have a mother. And two grandmothers, and a godmother, and a stepmother. My sister is a mother. My husband has a mother, and she’s my mother-in-law, so she counts twice. I have three daughters and I imagine someday they’ll be mothers too, which means I’ll be the mother of mothers. It’s as if practically all of the women in my family and almost all of the women I know had their birthdays on the same day as me. It just doesn’t make it very easy to plan!

And besides, motherhood is not much of an achievement. Anyone who can get pregnant can do it. You don’t need special training or loads of money. It’s a lot easier to become a mother than it is to become a dental hygienist or a plumber or a real estate broker. More enjoyable, too. The daily responsibilities of motherhood aren’t very challenging either. Driving to swim team practice and ballet lessons. Sewing the patches on the Brownies vest. Knowing which day is Phys Ed and making sure they wear their sneakers. Boiling water for macaroni and cheese. Separating the lights from the darks. Remembering to buy shoelaces and make dental appointments. Taking care of your own small children is a time-consuming and stress-filled job, but so is being a meter-maid. It’s not difficult. Really. Anyone can do it.

Idealizing small chores, like making school lunch instead of sending them off to the cafeteria or organizing the Legos and Barbie clothes into color-coordinated groups that are neatly stored in boxes in the playroom, contributes to a false myth of motherhood. Believing that our kids will someday thank us for sitting in the stands at every soccer practice or for organizing play dates the way a dating service schedules lunch dates is not wise. Of course they’ll be grateful that we made sure they played sports and that we helped them be good friends. Will they care that we always kept a stock of appropriate stationery on hand to make writing thank you notes easier? No way. Not because they’re ungrateful, but because keeping a well-stocked stationery drawer is not an achievement worthy of gratitude. The importance of teaching children to be gracious, polite, and socially confident, however, is almost impossible to overstate. It’s easy, especially for mothers who stay at home, to equate the chores with the true challenges. Yes, the small things need to be done, but they shouldn’t be treated like big things. Expecting or believing that meaningless things are meaningful is what leads stay at home mothers to depression and disappointment (My life is meaningless!) and career mothers to guilt and frustration (I’m a bad mother!).

“To mother” means to care for and protect something, to help it grow. Raising a child to be intelligent and confident (but not arrogant!), gracious and kind (but not meek!), curious and brave (but not reckless!) requires at least as much, probably more, skill and Lawyer Day because being a good lawyer or CEO doesn’t matter as much as being a good mother. If you accept the true challenge of motherhood, not the false myth of chores and errands, you will find that it’s not sentimental to believe that being a good mother is the most daunting thing you’ll ever try to do.

When our children grow up they will discard and disdain many of the things that we believed were important. Most of what they don’t reject they’ll ignore. We should pay more attention now to the things they will remember and rely on later: perspective and instinct, intelligence and love, energy and creativity, humor and courage. These are what they’ll thank us for. The busywork of driving and shopping, tidying and planning will fade away, unremembered, as it should be. No one ever grew up to say, “You know, I had the best mother in the world. She always made sure we had our teeth cleaned twice a year and she had a deep understanding of the contents of my sock drawer.” If you read the dedications of novels, you’ll probably never find, “To my Mother, who always believed in green vegetables.” Or , “Mom, you taught me that neatness really does count.” But, often, you will find, “To my Mother, who believed I was an artist long before I did.” Or, “Mom, you taught me the name of each thing and then taught me the meaning.”

So, have brunch. Visit the botanical gardens. Sleep late. But if, at the end of the day, you feel like the holiday doesn’t really reflect the meaning and importance of “mother,” you’re right. Because, really, nothing ever can.

+YEAR+ The Carlisle Mosquito