Reflections on the Mothering Experience

05/04/2016

May is quite a busy month. It contains within it the end of school, the winding down of extracurricular activities, preparation for summer and, of course, Mother’s Day. Every year it comes around is another year that I dread it. I have written elsewhere about how our modern day culture has really twisted the original intent of the holiday, but my disgust is about more than that. Not only are we ignoring the foundation of social justice from which the original Mother’s Day sprang but, with the commercialization of the holiday, we’ve turned mothering into a commodity instead of an experience.

Think about it for a minute. What do most families do on Mother’s Day? They buy (or make) nice cards, give their mothers gifts (chocolate and flowers are stereotypical but there are also the ‘free chores’ type of gifts from the kids) and maybe take her out to eat. Retailers rake in the bucks on this Special Day because it’s all about giving mom a break. And that is what bothers me. The focus is all on the service mothers provide, the work that some of us so willingly give, and not about who we are as people or how mothering has shaped us. Our ‘Day’ is severely shortchanging us!

If I were not a mother myself, I might be tempted to view mothers solely through the lens of ‘labor’ because it’s fairly easy to do. After all, the ‘product’ of our work is everywhere. You can see mothers doing all of the stereotypical tasks that Hallmark cards so love to describe: driving kids to and from school and activities, cooking dinner, cleaning house, arranging schedules and organizing family events. Yet those are just a tip of the iceberg of what true mothering is all about.

Perhaps that is why we only talk about mothers every four years or why, when we do talk about them, we do so in the most generic of terms (e.g., soccer moms, security moms). It’s because mothering can be such an all-encompassing experience that it is hard to grasp. It is hard to imagine any other role that sucks up your time, your money, your thoughts, your actions, your love and even your very personality, yet can be among the most enriching, fulfilling and frustrating aspects of your life.

For those of us who choose to make it so (because being a mother is nothing if not a personalized experience), mothering experience brings about a fundamental shift in your character and in how you perceive yourself. The person I was before I had my son is not the person I am after having had him. I am no longer just me; I am now something more. I am a protector, a nurturer, a teacher, and someone who loves in a completely different way than I’ve ever done before. Even my name is different. I’m no longer just Misty or Dr. Hook (parts of me), now I am Mom or simply Ian’s mom (parts of him). So who I am now is a combination of both myself and my son.

Learning how to be a mother, how to merge the interests of both Ian and me, has been a constant challenge and has helped me grow as a person. I have to think about his development and mine and then decide when to encourage independence and when to protect. I have made great strides in learning how to not lose my temper while helping him figure out how to do the same. I’ve had to really consider what my beliefs and values are, and then think about how to explain them in a way he can understand. I’ve had to find previously untapped reservoirs of patience and draw upon them without mercy.

But the biggest hurdle I’ve had to jump has been discovering how to mother without losing myself in the process. I didn’t stop being a person once I became a mother. Yes, I did take on additional duties but I never stopped changing, developing and wanting to have fun. And much of this personal expansion and joy has come as a direct result of my mothering experience. We’ve grown together, my son and I, and I can honestly say that I am a better person because of him. Yet that is not what Mother’s Day in its current incarnation celebrates.

It applauds the tasks, the work, the drudgery of mothering instead of the very real experiences that being a mother brings. It renders invisible the person behind the Mom title, choosing to focus instead on the commodity of Motherhood. Because, let’s face it, all the chores that the commercials, cards and national conversation emphasize could be done by someone else, someone who is paid (poorly) to do them.

Only someone who has taken on the mother role can experience the love, frustration, personal growth and absolute terror that having your heart walk around outside your body can bring. And that is what Mother’s Day should be truly about: the fundamental change mothering can make in a woman. Julia Ward Howe, the originator of Mother’s Day, understood what this day should be. Her intent was to have a day set aside to observe our evolution as human beings, and help us continue to mature by making an even bigger difference in the world than we already have. When we can get back to doing that, then I might look forward to Mother’s Day again.

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