Mother’s Day is a time-honored tradition with a long and varied history. The observance of a special day recognizing mothers can be traced back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. Surprisingly, the early proponents of an American Mother’s Day, in the mid-1800s, were not interested in being showered with gifts. Mother’s Day was actually 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.
The author of the proclamation, Julia Ward Howe, and her cohorts envisioned an international dedication to peace so that families, worldwide, could raise their children to their fullest in safety. Their motivation was not to bring attention to themselves, but to assert the primacy of the parental responsibility for nurturing and rearing the next generation. The commercialization of the holiday by candy, card, and flower companies, anxious to capitalize on a popularized version of the original idea, arose in the early 1900s.
With Mother’s Day rapidly approaching, I hoped to say something profound to commemorate this occasion. I have started and deleted this post so many times, I’ve nearly worn a hole in the screen. Conflicting feelings keep creeping in…feelings of frustration, discouragement, even disappointment. The number of women I still hear respond to the question, “What do you do?” with, “Oh well, I don’t work. I’m just a mom,” is disheartening. Equally discouraging is the number of women employed outside the home who, when asked the same question, avoid mentioning that they are mothers…as if doing so is admitting a flaw or weakness in their character.
What has happened? What have we done? We have diminished the value of responsibilities historically assigned to women, most notably, child rearing. We’ve been so focused on achieving equality that ‘we’ve thrown the baby out with the bath water.’
Somewhere along the way we got equality confused with sameness. We bought into the belief that the way to be equal, to be valued in our patriarchal society, is to start doing whatever it is that men happen to be doing. We accepted the misguided notion that our worth is determined by whether or not we get a paycheck and how big it is.
In our struggle to liberate ourselves from the stifling assumption that anatomy is destiny, we have very nearly liberated ourselves from the most important job we will ever do as humans – rearing children, the next generation of human beings, the ones from whom we are borrowing this planet. The ones who will one day be taking care of us.
The irony is that at the same time women are trying to dissociate themselves from the mommy label, men are discovering that their role as fathers offers the greatest potential for providing a sense of meaning and significance. They are beginning to realize that the way to make a profound and definitive impact on the future is by the job they do as parents!
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 our children come to believe about themselves, 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. In fact, never in history has it been more acceptable or more feasible to choose not to have children. 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.
I am asserting that the job of rearing children has been devalued, that we women have contributed to this predicament, and that it is high time we did something about it. I am suggesting that those of us who have chosen to become mothers have an obligation to ourselves, our partners, and our children to make sure that the magnitude of the responsibility of parenting is not minimized. Here’s what I intend to do.
Acknowledge every mother as 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 anyone, especially our children, any favors by dividing ourselves into camps – the working versus the non-working. I continue to hear that mothers, whether working at home or working outside the home, feel guilty for the choice they have made. I can’t help but suspect that all that guilt gets in the way of constructive parenting. The more comfortable we feel with the choices we’ve made, the less threatened we feel by the choices of others. The greater confidence we possess, the more effectively we will carry out the responsibilities of our multiple roles.
Seek excellence, not perfection. There is no such thing as perfect. We all make mistakes. We say and do things we regret. Obsessing over mistakes is rarely productive. We can acknowledge our mistakes, offer a sincere apology, state our intentions for correcting the situation, avoid repeating the mistake, identify and adopt more effective methods, and move on. After all, isn’t that what we expect our children to do? The worst mistake is one from which nothing is learned. An encouraging voice is much more motivating than a critical one, including the one with which we speak to ourselves.
Relinquish reliance on a maternal instinct. If there were a maternal instinct, I would not be writing this essay. Just because we are females does not mean we automatically know everything there is to know about rearing children. We are no less of a mother because we find ourselves in situations we don’t know how to handle. Parenting is learned. We can only do what we know. The more we know, the more we can do. Thank goodness there are abundant resources from which to learn more about how to do it. Seeking advice, information, and recommendations to assist us with this awesome responsibility demonstrates wisdom, not weakness.
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 human beings if they are allowed to experience and learn to manage the full range of human emotions. Our children will be more 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 or not we are going to be parents.
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 similarities rather than differences. We’ve adopted the habit of separating ourselves into factions based on some singular characteristic – working mother, stay-at-home mother, inner-city mother, urban mother, rural mother, African-American mother, Hispanic mother, Christian mother, Muslim mother, Jewish mother, children-with-special-needs mother, conservative mother, liberal mother. The list is endless, but the word they all have in common is mother. When we focus on the prefix rather than the suffix, the few differences blind us to the countless similarities. 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. 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 parents.
As we celebrate Mother’s Day, let’s reflect on what this role means to us, to our children, our family, the future. The next time someone asks, “What do you do?”, proudly proclaim, “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