Don’t get me wrong. I think Mother’s Day, motherhood, and mothers are terrific. Being a mother is incredibly, even profoundly, important and difficult work. And while I feel very privileged to be a mother and extraordinarily blessed in my children, motherhood is not the sum total of who I am.
I’ve noticed a tendency around Mother’s Day for individuals (including me) to wax eloquently about the traits that we associate with mothers. Hallmark has done its job well; flowery cards abound extolling mothers for their gentleness, kindness, compassion, and lifetime support.
One of the dangers of idealizing women as mothers is that we risk reducing women’s contribution to society to the biological function of child bearing and the sociological function of child rearing. A perception arises that motherhood is the fundamental role of a woman. Motherhood, though beautiful and rewarding, is only one aspect of being a woman.
I suspect that from an early age we quite naturally think that the primary role of a woman is to be a mother. We literally begin life attached to our mother’s body, and in our immaturity, we think that our mother is an extension of our own self.
I’m not sure when I first came to the realization that my mother had her own identity. For a good portion of my life, I thought of my mother as springing into the world, fully formed, like Athena from the head of Zeus, ready for action – the action of being my mother. It just did not enter my head that my mother was once a little girl, skipping on the street; or a teenager, breaking loose from her own parents; or a young woman with dreams and aspirations for her future.
If I were to design a Mother’s Day card, it would have two pictures: a mother in a brown coat with the caption, “a generous mother”, and a mother in a navy coat with the caption, “and a talented woman”.
My mother had two such coats. I remember the brown coat clearly. At the same time that coat made its way into her closet, a white faux fur coat appeared in mine. I loved my coat, and it was a sad day when I outgrew it. I wonder if my mother felt a similar sense of sadness when she said good-bye to the brown coat. You see, while I wore my coat for one season, my mother wore her coat for years.
Perhaps my mother did feel a touch of nostalgia for the brown coat because that coat had seen a lot of mothering. But more than likely, she was ready for a new coat; it ushered in the next phase of her life, a phase that gave her the freedom to pursue some of her own dreams.
I have never asked Mom if she minded wearing the same coat season after season, but I am confident that she would reply, “No, why would I mind?” And in that reply, lies the lavishness of a mother’s love and the generosity of a woman who graces the world with her particular talents apart from motherhood.
Louise McEwan is a freelance religion writer with degrees in English and Theology. She has a background in education and faith formation. Her blog is www.faithcolouredglasses.blogspot.com. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.