What Makes a Mother?

Mothers give birth…and sometimes they don’t. I know this because I am currently a mother to two girls I did give birth to–and more recently, to two babies I did not give birth to. There are birth mothers, foster mothers, adoptive mothers, grandmothers, and step-mothers…and they are all important in the life of a child.

Mothers make elaborate, organic, fulfilling meals—and they also microwave leftover pizza. I know this because last night my children exclaimed, “Oh no. Pizza again!?”

Mothers wear high heels and lipstick and fancy dresses—and they also wear sweatpants and spit up and weary smiles. I know this because last Sunday after I finished getting ready for church, my four year old told me no less than 27 times that I was “so pretty”. (Despite the fact that I was only wearing jeans and a shirt. I think she was just overcome by the fact that I was not in pajamas.)

Mothers smell like perfume and sunshine—and they also smell like laundry-that-was-left-too-long-in-the-washing-machine-because-no-one-remembered-to-move-it –to-the-dryer-and-now-it’s-sprouted-mold-spores-and-smells-like-a-boys’-locker-room. (It doesn’t help that my washer and dryer are the dingy basement and I have to carry the girls’ loads down three flights of stairs, okay!?)

Mothers snuggle and color and play Barbies and Legos—and they also shut their bedroom doors for an hour to secretly catch up on The Good Wife. I do not know this from personal experience, but I can imagine there are mothers out there who would do this. (wink)

Mothers have one child—or they may have twelve children. It is not the number of children you have that gauges your worth as a parent. As my own mother recently reminded me, “You can be a great mom to one child or a terrible mom to one child. You can be a great mom to twenty children or a terrible mom to twenty children. It is not the number of children you have that makes you a good mother.”

Mothers laugh and tell stories and whisper words of encouragement—and they also scream and rant and complain. If you haven’t ever yelled at your kids…just. go. away.

Mothers worry about germs and goodbyes—and they also worry about boyfriends and driving privileges. It doesn’t matter what age our children are, we will surely be worried about something.

It’s not what you do that makes you a mother. It’s not how you cook, how you discipline or how you survive. It’s not the number of children you have, nor is it their stages, ages, talents or abilities. It’s not whether you have a clean house, an organized pantry or a scrapbook full of memorable trips. You are a mother because a child needs and loves you.

You are a mother because you need and love that child, too.

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The Lonliest Mothers

This picture has recently been floating around facebook:
soap mom

Mothers have always felt pressure to look and play the part of the perfect mother, but today’s mothers feel that strain more than any preceding generation.

Maybe this is partially attributed to facebook and the interminable need to post amazing pictures of your family (whether it’s your kid’s first day of school or the first time he uses the toilet), or to think up witty comments (that can’t offend, but should be slightly edgy and give the appearance of a genuine thought), or to illicit praise because of some great accomplishment (whether that be your son scoring the willing soccer goal or the first time your daughter tries a green bean).

Or maybe this tension goes deeper than twitter.

I have a friend who grew up in the Philippines. Whenever her mother comes to visit, she comments about how American mothers seem to hold it all together–working, cooking, cleaning, shopping, etc. In the Philippines, as in some other non-western cultures, many mothers have “help.” They have servants. And while it might sound taboo to our democratic ears, it’s not taboo to them–it’s just a matter of life and death. The poorest of the poor rely on their employers to care for them in return for their service. So “the help” cooks and cleans and the Filipino families feed, clothe and shelter them in exchange.

Okay, I am not advocating for a culture where servants are necessary due to extreme poverty. But there must be other means for help!

Take the Amish, for example. They are some of the most hard-working, disciplined people on the planet. And while they don’t have servants, they do have help. Because everything in the Amish community is done together. For instance, many mothers will gather together on a “work day” to make applesauce, can peaches, or plant a garden. They help one another accomplish life’s menial tasks. And they do it within the context of community.

Contrast that with today’s mothers. When is the last time you had another family over for dinner, let alone helped a girlfriend churn butter?! Instead of slowing down to enjoy an honest day’s work within authentic community, we hurry and bustle about, making sure our house looks “just so” and our children behave like little angels, and our meals are prepared with wholesome, organic, gluten and preservative-free ingredients. And all the while feeling…well…lonely.

Gone are the days when households bustled with half a dozen children, neighbors stopped by for a cup of coffee, and family members gathered for Sunday lunch after church. Instead, our families are divided all over the country, our neighbors are strangers, and Sundays are just one more day to squeeze in our kid’s football practice. And we’re the loneliest mothers.

Gone are the days when families sat around the fire in the evenings chatting, reading and playing checkers. Instead, we are on our own separate ipads in our own separate rooms. And we’re the loneliest mothers.

Gone are the days when mothers regularly gathered for tea or Bridge or picking strawberries. Instead, we gulp down coffee down on the way to work, spend 90% of our energy there, and hope that last 10% will get us through the rest of the evening. And we’re the loneliest mothers.

So instead of looking forward to the daily tasks of cooking and cleaning with a sister or mother or aunt or friend, we rush to get it all done ourselves so that we can look like Supermom. And we’re the loneliest mothers.

But hey, at least we have facebook right?

I’m not sure how to fix this. It’s a broken culture. A culture saturated with self and bought into business. But maybe if we could figure out a way to slow down–even just a little bit–then maybe we could alleviate some of this pressure. Because I certainly don’t want to be the loneliest grandmother.