These days, it is difficult to forget Mother’s Day as there are plenty of reminders on TV, radio, newspapers, billboards, and now even the internet. Although the holiday (it even seems disrespectful to call it that) has been a boon to florists, candy companies, and greeting card businesses, it also generates a type of sentiment not found in other celebrations. According to Mr. Google, there have been times set aside to venerate mothers and motherhood since ancient times, but our modern version is said to have its origins in Grafton, West Virginia in 1908, when Anna Jarvis promoted the idea of a day to honor mothers. She was soon to be disappointed when the day which was sacred to her became commercialized. Anna spent the rest of her life attempting to correct the image which she felt dishonored her Mother, and died penniless in an institution.
DON’T MESS WITH MOM
We are all aware that motherhood is necessary for the propagation of the species, but the relationship between a mother and her offspring is like no other. Mothers will fight to the death and endure any amount of hardship to protect and nurture their offspring. This is true for most of the animal kingdom, but especially for humans. Most animals who have live births nurture their young until the kids are able to make it on their own, but human moms never stop mothering. You might think since they are around for a couple of decades it might be that they simply become like an old pair of shoes which you don’t like to get rid of, but there seems to be much more to it than that.
Back in the old days, when country doctors did pretty much everything except major surgery, I delivered a lot of babies. Many times I would hear my patients in labor crying out that they would never go through this pain again, but when that baby was delivered into her arms the room would brighten with her smile. The ordeal of birthing would soon be forgotten and often at the six weeks checkup there would be talks of having another child. The mother of my children describes her feelings of holding our babies as a feeling of joy which she could not find words to describe.
Kids do grow up and leave the nest, but they carry a piece of Mom with them for the rest of their lives. No one or no other relationship will have such a profound effect on their lives. Without nurture, it has been shown that children will grow up with significant deficits similar to those seen in Harlow’s monkeys when they were deprived of maternal contact. With that in mind, it seems clear that mothers’ roles involve much more than merely giving birth and providing sustenance.
When children are born, they have no sense of who or what they are. One can see an infant at times appearing to discover his toes and other body parts. Likewise, in their early years, they will need help to develop an identity, and to do so, they will depend upon those with whom they spend the most time. However, perhaps the most important issue they learn concerns their lovability. In my practice, those who felt as if they were unlovable were among the most unhappy. They found it virtually impossible to establish meaningful relationships. They lacked self-esteem, often to the point of self-loathing; consequently, they were vulnerable to exploitation of all kinds. They were often used and abused, which they felt they deserved. This opinion of self, which appears to have its origins in childhood, resists change and seems to persist throughout life even when told their picture of themselves is inaccurate.
ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE
Obviously, the only way one can know they are lovable is to be loved, which brings us back to the subject of mothers. Traditionally, they are the ones in charge of loving. Their love is constant, unremitting and lifelong. They continue to love even when their children are total jerks or perpetrate the most dastardly of deeds. It has been said that a father’s love is conditional. I have always resented that characterization, for I felt I loved the kids as much as did Barb, yet I must admit that her capacity for forgiveness and tolerance exceeds mine. After all, I was only an observer and not a participant in their entry to this world.
If you think mothers are lovers, take a look at grandmothers. With the responsibilities of teaching kids manners, discipline and societal survival skills gone, there comes an avalanche of unimpeded love. For me, grandparenthood has been an opportunity to enjoy the kids without feeling any responsibility. I have concluded that grandparenthood is God’s reward for enduring the vicissitudes of parenthood.
It is true that in the past mothers have received a bad rap from we psychiatrists. Mothers have been accused by us of causing everything from autism to homosexuality. This fad began with Freud, who attempted to unravel some of the mysteries of early childhood. Although his work provided an impetus to learn more about the effects of childhood experiences on later life, many of his conclusions have been discredited.
IT DOESN’T GET EASIER
In the past, motherhood was a full time job. Although mothers would engage in activities outside the home (my grandmother helped with the milking), their primary function was to care for their families. Today’s mothers amaze me in that a majority of them also have full time jobs outside the home. That puts an exclamation point after the time honored phrase “woman’s work is never done.” Granted, fathers are now more involved in domestic activities than in the past, but I seem to remember reading something about a study that indicated the duties of the woman of house have changed little over the years. Without our so-called modern household conveniences, it would probably be impossible for the hardiest of souls to accomplish what these warrior mothers do.
However, the most amazing mothers, to me, are the single moms who take on the total responsibility for feeding, clothing, teaching, disciplining and loving their children. The fact that many single mothers accomplish this without any outside help is inspiring, especially when one considers the number of kids who grow up to be good people. Unfortunately, these mothers are often derided rather than praised.
THEY AREN’T ALL MUSHY
You should not be surprised to learn that I too had a mother. She loved me for no good reason that I could fathom, and I loved her too (although I would never admit it when I was growing up). Mom was not a hugger. She was a patter—i.e. when she was glad to see me, or pleased with something I had done, she would wrinkle her nose and pat me on the arm or shoulder a couple of times. I suspect this was a result of her childhood, for her family was not demonstrably affectionate and never wanted to be “showy.” She was a great cook and enjoyed feeding us. In later years, a visit would see her “throw together some leftovers” with little obvious effort, and they would always be delicious. I was a child of the Depression and barely recall my parents on occasion telling my brother and I they wanted us to eat first. It would be years later before l realized why they did that.
It has been my good fortune to meet and marry someone who was born to nurture, and I have watched her in action for quite a few years. When we were married, she announced that she wanted to have four children. I thought two would be plenty, so we reached a Barb-type compromise and had four. Since they were all exceptional from the very get go, I agreed to keep them all. It was a good decision.
As with most mothers, Barb continues to exude love from a reservoir that never runs dry. Every now and then, she will reminisce about those days when she had them all fed, bathed and tucked in, and how she felt “so rich.” When we see a baby in the grocery, she tells me how she would like to hold it. If there is a young one in a restaurant, she will approach the mother ask its age and tell her how beautiful is her baby (she seems to have never seen an ugly one). Those tear jerking ads on TV featuring small kids do a number on her. She insists were she a little younger she would adopt some of those starving African kids.
As for the grandchildren, don’t ask unless you have some time to spare. It takes a while to tell you how wonderful they all are, but you will be able to see those tired brown eyes come to life. Like it or not, you will probably also hear the complete package which includes their parents who are also “above average.”
SHE WILL JUST SAY YOU SHOULD SAVE YOUR MONEY
Meanwhile, it is nice to send your mother flowers and stuff, but all she really wants from you is love. She deserves all you have to give.