Sharing your Mother with the internet

Over on tumblr everyone is sharing stories about their mom.  Most of them are affectionate and grateful.

Some are justifiable not.

It brings to mind the fact that being a mother is not a sanctifying event.  Any one with the working organs and a sperm donor can be one.  Indeed, anyone who adopts or fosters can be one.  For millennia it has been a role given by default rather than intent as though parenting isn’t one of the most important roles a human can have.

One of the more inane defenses of Huckabee Sanders is “She’s a mother.”  As though that has ANYTHING AT ALL to do with criticism aimed at her.  As though being a mother is get of out a mess free card.

But of course it’s not.  Nor are women naturally predisposed to be great mothers.  Motherhood is a daunting, exhausting, psychologically and emotionally scarring role and there is little preparation given to the VAST MAJORITY of women who become mothers.  The fact that so many of them do it well enough to continue the species and for that species to have achieved what it has to date, is the greatest achievement of women as a whole.  But it is NOT the only thing any individual woman is.

It’s daunting to be handed the responsibility for another life when your own feels out of control.  And many face motherhood on those terms.

It’s daunting to raise a contributing member of society when no one did the same for you and you struggle merely to make it through a day.  There is no escape from motherhood except in death.  You mostly can’t quit unless you do it up front.

I’m not a mother.  I was raised by one who faced the daunting task under the burden of alcoholism.  It did not always go well.  But she managed it.   And she taught me a great many things that I still hold inside me as foundations of who I am.  And in the end, she managed to dry out and I met my mother at age 21, someone different than I had lived with in childhood.   The person who overcame addiction and redirected her life was not just a mother.  She was a woman.  Who had children and did her best with them.

I worry when we reduce women to motherhood.  To some unattainable sainthood that has little depth and no soul.  A woman, can also be a mother.  But motherhood is only part of who she is.  She is a complexity of things and sometimes those things make motherhood a mess. Sometimes they make it wonderful.

Some of us aren’t mothers.  But we are assumed to be.  I got wished Happy Mothers Day 3 times today.  I’m a middle aged woman.  It is assumed that I must be a mother.

People assume this because we have reduced women to a monostate that doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of her.   We have raised motherhood to a state of sanctity that no woman could achieve and quite a number dismally fail.  We would be better off as a civilization if we treated motherhood as a hard role, that requires training and support.  Instead we pretend they are born with the knowledge. No one can see the souls and hearts and the dreams of the women raising our species because the reflection off the shiny MOTHER ideal dazzles us.



Did you know Mothers Day is NOT supposed to be a Hallmark Moment?

Listen to the memory palace podcast for the best version of this story but to summarize Mother‘s Day was supposed to be Mothers’ Day.  A Day to fight for and recognize the work that women do in a home as equal in worth to work outside the home.

It was an idea created by Anna Jarvis when she wanted to pursue the work done by her mother.  Her mother was also Anna Jarvis and in the mid 19th century she was an activist for women’s rights.  She spend her life teaching women about healthcare and their workplace rights.

After she died, her daughter wanted to continue that legacy by bringing her campaign for women’s work into proper respect and she thought that if we had a Holiday it would raise awareness and respect for the work women do inside a home. A day that would bring women together to fight for their rights in their unpaid work.  So as a legacy to her mother she focused herself on that task and won.  Congress declared Mother’s Day.

And almost immediately it became a commercialized day about saying I love you to your Mom.  Which upset Anna Jarvis A LOT.  Because it was supposed to be about the bigger issue.  It wasn’t supposed to be a Hallmark Holiday that exploits your love for you mother into a money making venture.

So instead of being able to rest on her laurels, she spent the rest of her life fighting the commercialization of a Holiday she created to change the perceived role of women in our culture.  She died alone in a nursing home surrounded by Hallmark cards and candy that her oblivious fans continued to send her.  She was never a mother.

Now, of course, no one knows the real reason Mother’s Day was brought into existence.  And it’s hard to call the celebration of our affection for our particular parent a bad thing, because of course it’s not.

But it’s also true that we still have the problem of getting respect for the unpaid labor of Moms.  That terrible term Mothers Who Don’t Work continues to plague us.  We have started to head more into the direction of shared parenting, but it remains a cultural norm that women are the responsible party for all child rearing and house care and men are just helping.  Clearly a holiday isn’t the route to take on improving that though.