Sunday, May 13, 2007

If everyone is special, then no one is

On this special day, I'm thinking of all the mothers in my life. And by mothers I mean not just my mother and the mother of my children, but all women who are mothers or who have ever been mothers or who ever will be mothers or who, by virtue of having two X chromosomes, are mothers in the Sheri Dew sense of the word. Because, as my friend Melyngoch frequently points out, all women are mothers, whether they have children of their own or not. And why stop at women? Aren't all men mothers, whether or not we have children of our own or even the biological apparatus to bear them? So this post is dedicated to the mother found within each and every member of the entire human race.


In case my sarcasm is not made apparent by the title of my post, by my reference to Melyngoch, or by my hyperbole, I think the claim that all women are mothers by default is preposterous. To claim that one's gender magically gives one special nurturing powers above and beyond those available to a member of the other gender is offensive to both sexes and to women who are mothers as well as to those who aren't. In my experience, mothers are not born; they are made, or rather, they make themselves.

My mother dropped out of college after a semester, got married, and had two kids. A few years later, she realized it was in hers and her children's best interest for her to leave her husband, so she did. A couple years later she remarried and proceeded to have five more kids. When her oldest was nineteen and her youngest was four, circumstances called for her to be a single mother again. At first she did what she could to work at home--running a small sewing business, for example--but eventually she realized that would not support her large family. Once her youngest was in school, she found a job at a bank, but eventually she decided that the flexible hours and good pay (including tips) of a job as a waitress would be more beneficial for her family. A decade later (give or take a few years), when her youngest was in high school and all her other children were in or graduated from college, she enrolled in classes herself and worked her way up to a bachelor's degree, then later to a master's degree. Now, all seven of her children have bachelor's degrees and two have master's.

Throughout all this, despite her crazy work (and later, school) schedule, my mother made sure that the family traditions she considered important--regular healthy meals, weekly family home evening, daily family prayer and scripture study, and the constant maintenance of a clean home--continued. For the last five years I was at home it was just me and her, and still we kept the same family routines. It has surprised me in recent years to hear her say more than once that she does not consider herself a good cook--that she doesn't particularly like cooking. Growing up I had no idea that this was the case because I always enjoyed the meals she made, and she made them consistently; extremely rare was the evening we had a premade meal from a can or freezer. To me what makes this remarkable is not that she cooked--I'm sure many great mothers do not--but that she did so even though she didn't think she was good at it, because regular home-cooked meals were important to her personal value system (and, lest we ignore the whole picture here, to her budget). She did not maintain the standards she wanted for her family through the natural abilities God gave to all bearers of the double-X chromosome; she did so through hard work and dedication.

S-Boogie and Little Dude's mother, similarly, is not a great mother because she has two breasts that produce milk on demand; she is a great mother because she conscientiously sets out to raise her children as she believes they should be raised. My sister recently pointed out that while the nurturing aspects of parenting tend to come more naturally to me, FoxyJ seems to be more naturally inclined toward the nitty gritty details of parenting--what time and what foods children need to eat, how they should be disciplined, what kinds of educational opportunities are best for the developmental stage they're at, etc. While this may be true--and if it is, it's because Foxy has read countless books on these nitty gritty details in order to make herself into the best mother she can be--it is no slight to Foxy's ability, natural or otherwise, to nurture her children. When asked what her mother does for her, S-Boogie's very first response is "She gives me hugs and kisses." This is not because Foxy is a physically affectionate person by nature--I don't think she'd say she is if you asked her--but because she loves her children immensely and she will consciously express that love however they need to feel it.

Now, despite my criticism of Ms. Dew's claim that all women are mothers, I don't want to entirely throw out her point, which is that you don't have to be a biological mother to be a mother. One of my sisters, for example, did not have any children until she was nearly 40. This did not stop her, though, from being the most motherly of all my siblings. When I came to Utah as a seventeen-year-old college freshman, it was Lika who helped me buy all the things I'd need to live, who let me use her car whenever I needed it, who invited me over for dinner on a regular basis. It is Lika who is always concerned for everyone, who does all our worrying for us. When another sister found herself widowed and raising a one-year-old alone, Lika stepped up to be our niece's second mother--it was not uncommon, in fact, when our niece was learning to speak, to call Lika "Mom."

Along with Ms. Dew I applaud women (and men) like Lika, who do take on a motherly role to the children in their lives. At the same time, I applaud women (and men) like Melyngoch, who are honestly terrified of children, or otherwise have no interest in raising them, but have other equally admirable qualities. Not everyone has to be a mother.

By the same token, not every mother is a great mother. Here's to all the great mothers in my life.


Lisa said...

Wow, that was very nice and brought tears to my eyes. Thanks.

Katria said...

Hooray for Mothers.

playasinmar said...

Hooray for Syndrome.

EvadingOdd said...

My niece called me "Mom" the other day...but I think she was confused.

But the point is: that was a lovely tribute.