In Praise of Those Who Mother

Mother's Day isn't exclusively to mothers, but to those who are proactive in the responsibility of "mothering".


- Posted on May 12, 2017

A young mother reading a bedtime story to her daughter.

Maybe a proclamation would be the thing. Although that was done already. Maybe just some commonsense suasion could fix it. It’s about a little problem I have with that day carved out of the calendar, held up as Mother’s Day. Far as I can tell, there’s a missing syllable.

I would like to make the day not plain old Mother’s Day, a noun. Which by my take is exclusive, too exclusive. I would like to add an –ing. And make it Mothering Day, beckoning the verb. A day for all who mother.

Not just those who know what it is to have pushed the burning bulge as if your life depended on it. And not just those who’ve signed their name on someone’s dotted line. Or stepped in without official papers. All of that is fine. But there is more—there are so, so many more.

Yes, every last someone who has stroked a brow, wiped a tear, dabbed chocolate off a little cheek, fluffed a pillow, tucked in the covers, whispered bedtime prayers, set an extra place at the table, stretched a meat loaf, picked the peas out of the pasta salad, kissed a bloody knee, kept a retching tot from falling into the toilet bowl.

Yes, every pair of arms that’s lifted a dead-weight child in the pool, played red rover until the cows came over, pushed a kid on training wheels around and around the block, turned the pages of Goodnight Moon so many times you find yourself chanting goodnight to mittens when no one’s in the room.

You get the point.

I have for years squirmed and wriggled when it comes to setting aside a certain Sunday, stockpiling loaves and loaves of toast that will be cut into triangles, smeared with jam and honey and cinnamon sugar, and delivered, teetering, on trays that stand a mighty chance of toppling off bedsheet-shrouded knees.

Not that I have anything against newspapers in bed or violets clutched in sweaty little fists. It’s just, gosh darn it, my world, for one, is highly populated with extraordinary motherers who have neither birthed nor adopted, children of their own. And plenty who simply could not deliver, ever.

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I am all for honoring the art of mothering. And I would make a motion to amend the noun and bow down before the brand-new ending. The –ing, I argue, is where the emphasis should be. It’s a verb—active, pulsing, life-propelling verb.

Long ago, when Julia Ward Howe composed her original Mother’s Day proclamation it was all about women rising up and demanding an end to war. That I could get in a froth about.

Especially the way she put it: “Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We, women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country, to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

So wrote Julia in 1870.

But somewhere, the Hallmarks of the world got in the way. The second Sunday in May became less about the women of the world exerting their mother-ness on the global family, and more about fluffy slippers, hand-crayoned cards, and leaving whole chunks of the population to ache because, by accident of biology, they’ve not been able to get egg plus sperm to equal zygote, their unborn children never got to take a single breath, they’ve buried a child born from their own womb, laid a lifeless little body to rest—far, far too soon.

Aches, all, that never go away. All aches the second Sunday in May only serves to jab and pierce so stingingly I know women who barely make it through the day.

Or, perhaps, they’re women who decided early on—or agonizingly—not to bring another soul into this blessed, broken world. Or men whose tender, caring touch goes uncelebrated, lost in all the hubbub of the third Sunday of June when to be a grill meister seems the height of all that matters.

They all mother, if not define themselves as mothers per se. If not their own children, then other people’s children. Or the child who dwells in every single someone. Have you not been deeply mothered by a friend? You needn’t be with child, nor even be a woman, to mother, is my point. I don’t mean to be a grouch. And I hate to throw cold water on all the blessed moments the day will surely bring.

I just feel intent on proclaiming one not-so-little matter: may it be mothering, the art of tender caring, coaxing life, leaving mercy in your wake, the art that knows no gender bounds, no census-taker’s definition, the art the world needs in mighty thronging masses, may it be mother, and not just mothers, for which we stand and shout, “God bless you, each and every motherer.”

Excerpted from Motherprayer: Lessons in Loving by Barbara Mahany. Copyright © 2017 by Barbara Mahany. Used by permission of Abingdon Press.

Excerpted from Motherprayer: Lessons in Loving by Barbara Mahany. Copyright © 2017 by Barbara Mahany. Used by permission of Abingdon Press.

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