The time-honored tradition of celebrating Mother’s Day has a long and surprisingly varied history. While the observance of a special day for mothers can be traced back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, the American version had its origins in the mid-1800s. The early proponents of Mother’s Day were not interested in being honored by their children with candy, cards, and flowers. That practice arose in the early 1900s and resulted in the commercialization of the holiday by companies capitalizing on a popularized variation of the original idea.
Mother’s Day was initially intended as a call to action for mothers to unite in promoting optimal child care and preventing the loss of sons and daughters to the carnage of war. Theirs was a vision of an international dedication to peace so that families, worldwide, might raise their children to their fullest in safety. Their motivation was not to bring attention to themselves, but to assert the primacy of the responsibility for nurturing and rearing the next generation.
With Mother’s Day upon us, I really wanted to say something profound to commemorate this occasion. I have started and deleted this column so many times, I’ve nearly made a hole in my screen. You see, the feeling that keeps creeping back is that of disappointment. Yes, I admit it. I am disappointed with the lot of us mothers. I am disheartened by the number of women I hear respond to the question, “What do you do?” with, “Oh well, I don’t work. I’m just a mom.” And I am equally discouraged by the number of women employed outside the home, who, when responding to the same question, never mention the fact that they are mothers, as if to do so would be admitting a weakness or flaw in their makeup.
What has happened? What have we done? Somehow we have diminished the value inherent in the realm of responsibilities historically assigned to women – the domain of child rearing.
Somewhere along the way we got equality confused with sameness. We bought into the notion that the only way to be equal, to be valuable in society, was to start doing whatever it was that men happened to be doing. We accepted the misguided belief that our worth is determined by whether or not we get a paycheck and how big it is. We’ve been so anxious to achieve equality that we’ve thrown the baby out with the bath water.
In our struggle to liberate ourselves from the stifling belief that anatomy is destiny, we liberated ourselves from the most important job we will ever do as humans – rearing children, the next generation of human beings, the ones to whom we will one day be handing over this world.
The irony is that at the same time women are trying to dissociate themselves from the mommy label, men by the thousands are discovering that the role with the greatest potential for providing them with the sense of meaning and significance they seek is their role as fathers. They are beginning to realize that the way to make the most profound and definitive impact on the future is by the job they do as parents!
As far as I know, Thomas Lickona’s conclusion is still accurate. “A child is the only substance from which a responsible adult can be made.” Actually, it is the only substance from which any kind of adult can be made. The uniquely complex, comprehensive, dynamic nature of the parent-child relationship is unparalleled. It is the foundation for every other relationship a child establishes. Everything a child comes to believe about him or herself, about the world, about how to relate to others, originates in the parent-child relationship.
Before proceeding, let me clarify my position. I am not suggesting that a woman has to have a child to be complete, fulfilled, or make a meaningful contribution to the future. Neither am I suggesting that rearing children is the only job women are capable of doing or should be allowed to do. Nor am I proposing that the responsibility for rearing children should be limited to women. What I am suggesting is that those of us who are mothers, in addition to carrying out this role to the best of our ability, have an obligation to ourselves and to our children to make sure that the magnitude of the responsibility of parenting is not minimized! In short, I am asserting that somehow the job of rearing children has been devalued, that we women have contributed to this process, and that it is high time we did something about it!
So how do we go about addressing this dilemma? Where do we begin? Here are a few suggestions:
Remember that every mother is a working woman. Our foremothers made incredible sacrifices to insure that we would have the right to pursue our dreams, whatever those might be. We are not doing anybody, especially our children, any good by dividing ourselves into camps – the working versus the non-working. When I continue to hear that mothers, whether they are working at home or working outside the home, feel guilty for the choice they have made, I can’t help but think that with all that guilt there can’t be much effective parenting going on. The more comfortable we feel with the choices we have made, the less threatened we are likely to feel by the choices of others. The greater confidence we have, the more effectively we will carry out the responsibilities of our multiple roles.
Seek excellence, not perfection. There is no such thing as a perfect mother. We all make mistakes. We say and do things that we regret. Obsessing over mistakes is rarely productive. The worst mistake is one from which nothing is learned. We can acknowledge our mistakes, offer a sincere apology including our intentions for correcting the situation, learn how to avoid repeating the mistake, seek to identify and adopt more effective methods, and move on. After all, isn’t that what we expect our children to do? An encouraging voice is much more motivating than a critical one, including the one we use on ourself.
Don’t depend on the maternal instinct. Just because we are females does not mean we automatically know everything there is to know about children, especially in the challenging times in which we live. Parenting is learned, so we mustn’t hesitate to learn more about it. We are no less of a mother because we happen to find ourself in a situation we don’t know how to handle. It is wise, not weak, to seek advice, suggestions, information that can help us with this awesome responsibility.
Never allow gender to be a limitation. Just as gender should not limit the choices of our daughters, it should not limit the choices of our sons. Our children will be more complete, effective human beings if they have ample opportunities to learn and master a broad array of skills. We may not all need to know how to do calculus, but we do all need to know how to nurture and care for another human being, whether we are going to be parents or not.
Never allow gender to be an excuse. The next time I hear, “Boys will be boys,” or “That’s just the way girls are,” I am going to scream! Gender is not, has never been, and will never be an acceptable excuse for being irresponsible, disrespectful, lazy, cruel, violent, or any other undesirable behavior that has been attributed to it. Unacceptable behavior has nothing to do with gender. It has everything to do with not having been taught how to behave appropriately.
Emphasize the commonalities rather than the differences. We have adopted the habit of separating ourselves into factions based on some singular characteristic – working mothers, stay-at-home mothers, inner-city mothers, urban mothers, rural mothers, African-American mothers, Hispanic mothers, Christian mothers, Muslim mothers, Jewish mothers, children with special needs mothers, conservative mothers, liberal mothers. The list is endless, but the word they all have in common is mothers. When we focus on the prefixes rather than the suffix, the limited differences blind us to the multiple commonalities. And consequently, we are doing ourselves and our children a tremendous disservice. That which we have in common should bind us together and unite us in our shared objective.
We are all engaged in the monumental task of preparing the next generation of human beings.
In addition to assisting them in making the most of the best of themselves, it is imperative to remember that when we improve conditions for other children, we improve them for our own in the long run. Someday your child may be my child’s teacher or student, plumber or electrician, emergency room doctor, co-worker, friend, or spouse and vice versa. Someday our children will be making decisions about our future, just as we are making decisions about theirs now. Nothing we do guarantees that we will leave a mark on the future like the job we do as mothers.
As you celebrate this Mother’s Day, take time to reflect on what this role means to you, your children, your family, the future. The next time someone asks, “What do you do?”, I challenge you to proudly announce, “I’m in futures. I’m a mom!”
To learn more about the history of Mother’s Day visit: http://www.history.com/topics/holidays/mothers-day
To read the original Mother’s Day Proclamation (1870) written by Julia Ward Howe visit: https://www.facebook.com/notes/international-day-of-peace/original-mothers-day-proclamation-1870-stood-for-peace/395781423533