Friday, May 07, 2010

What Cards Never Say on Mother's Day

Some food for thought on your Mother's day weekend...

Happy Mother's Day.


From the Wall Street Journal
May 7, 2010
All these years later, women who choose to raise children are still struggling for respect.

Mother. This time of year, traditional images of her come to the fore: Giver of life. Homework helper. Life saver. Hem adjuster. Maker of peanut-butter sandwiches. All true, all real, all important. Even so, I was surprised—and even fearful— when my 16-year-old, college-bound daughter, Emily, told me that what she really wants in life is to (eventually) marry and have a bunch of kids.
I'm afraid for her because, four decades into feminism's push for a woman's rights, our culture's view of motherhood (which arguably is the quintessential act of femininity) has yet to budge from once-a-year Hallmark sentiment to anything resembling real respect. We wave our banners for "choice," which may give a woman who works outside the home an element of admiration, but what if my daughter doesn't want to? God help her if she, in exercising that choice, decides to stay at home with her children.
I say this because women I've talked to as this Mother's Day approaches sound like broken records from previous eras. The ones who are at home raising children say they are regularly asked if they are bored, what they do all day, and why they don't "work." One mother admits she's considered pretending to be her daughter's nanny in hope this would earn her some respect on the playground. Another remembers telling people that she has five children, only to hear a woman respond: "Oh, horror!"
Working outside the home gives only partial immunity to such treatment. Moms who do complain of punitive treatment for staying home to tend to their sick children. They get condemning looks when they leave work to attend their child's talent show. Apparently, several decades into the Mommy Wars, we're still battling for respect even amongst ourselves.
Author and theologian G.K. Chesterton saw the trouble coming as far back as 1929, when he asked how society got the idea "that bringing forth and rearing and ruling the living beings of the future is a servile task suited to a silly person." Escape from judgment isn't easy. We've morphed from being the kind of devoted mothers to whom men like Abraham Lincoln and George Washington attributed their every success, to pouring our hearts out on (bad) mommy blogs, anonymously "confessing" our maternal "sins" of bending or even breaking under the pressure of being bread baker, bread winner or both. The question being: Is this progress, or regress?
Technology may now let us monitor our child's movements to the end of the globe, but in other ways we remain in the dark ages of the modern era. Many of us haven't figured out how to mother and be fulfilled "as a person," or how to mother and survive financially without losing our minds.
So, if mothering while working outside the home is a guilt-producing juggling act, and working inside it is a job for the nonambitious half-wit, why would any of us want our daughters to have children? We may have come a long way, baby. But just ask a mom who is caught in the fray— we aren't there yet.
Even so, the illusion that motherhood and fulfillment are mutually exclusive does not negate the fact that mothering is at core good work. Where would J.R.R. Tolkien have been without a mother who pointed out that one should say "a great green dragon" rather than "a green great dragon?"
Would Mother Theresa have become "God's pencil," writing His love on the hearts of thousands of sick and dying people, if her mother had not daily demonstrated what giving to the poor looked like, or had been less devoted to her daughter's spiritual training? Would Martin Luther King Jr., if his mother had not taught him to stand up and recite scripture to her, have developed the courage and charisma to orate, "I have a dream?"
I doubt it. So while I hope that my daughter has every choice in life, I also hope that she has the chance to be a mother. And perhaps my task now is to make sure that when she is, no one can make her feel ashamed or diminished by making that choice. I hope to teach her that baking Barbie cakes and reading "Harold and the Purple Crayon" and sitting on her child's bed listening to stories about his day even though her back feels like someone went at her with a two-by-four—are, inconsequential as they seem at first blush, the very warp and woof of a mother's life.
But, how exactly do I convey to her that whether or not a mother's seemingly inconsequential, menial tasks 'fulfill' her, nurturing children is innately good and just might surprise her fulfill-o-meter? How can I help her resist the need for affirmation from a culture that will probably never give it to her—and to embrace motherhood not as a second-class citizen, but with the kind of femininity that is paradoxically as strong as nails, as soft as a kiss?
I'm not sure. But someday, when the thumbscrews of mothering start to tighten on her, one thing I will do is remind her that despite her momentary exhaustion or discouragement, mothering remains a profoundly worthwhile undertaking, one that Chesterton calls nothing less extraordinary than "the mystery of the making of men."
Ms. Henry blogs about faith and mothering at