With Mother’s Day approaching, I’ve been thinking about motherhood and how the duties and responsibilities of mothering change over the course of our children’s lives. My role as a mother looks different than it did when I was twenty-five at home with a newborn. But there are some aspects of mothering that don’t change regardless the age of our children.
Scenario #1: This past weekend a student who is normally a day student, sat at our table for Sunday dinner. Right before the meal began, his mom along with younger brother in tow, walked into the dining hall. Most students were already seated at their tables and I intuitively knew that this “interruption” was not going to go over well with the student. I was right. With her post-it note in hand, mom went over some last minute instructions. The student sat stoically, wishing (I presume) his mother would leave. Sensing an awkward moment, as soon as the mom left I jumped in with a comment along the lines of, “It’s okay. Your mom is just worried about you.” He looked at me and said, “My mom is insane.” I felt like I was having an out-of-body-experience as I recalled all the times I hovered or nagged my children about something “very important” and probably embarrassed them just like this mom did with her son. I found myself telling the student to give his mom some latitude—she was just trying to make sure the week went well. I doubt it made a difference. I think the plight of all mothers is that we can’t help but worry about our children. We feel it is our duty to remind them about the same matter over and over lest they should forget. I imagine that even when my children are grown adults, living on their own, I will still feel this way. (Note to self: never follow my children into a roomful of their peers to give them last minute instructions.)
Scenario #2: The other night at 2 am I found myself changing sheets and cleaning up after Anna woke up sick. Like flipping on a light switch in a dark room, I found myself instantly awake and in “mom mode.” Of course, Anna felt awful about not making it to the bathroom, but only a mother can clean up after a sick child. Nothing is pleasant about being sick—no matter what time of day—so hearing a gentle word and falling into a clean bed makes sickness a little bit more tolerable for the one who is ill. In those moments, I want to ease my children’s discomfort when they are sick. This means I will awaken at any time of day and I will drive to the store to buy 7-Up and soda crackers. Most mothers want to care for their children in this way, and I am no exception.
In some respects you could say my job as a mother is easier these days. My children bath, feed, and dress themselves all on their own. I don’t worry about them putting small toys into their mouths or running into the street. They can stay home all by themselves. In other ways, it seems the stakes are higher. Choices that could impact their lives in permanent ways such as, drinking, drugs, and promiscuity are present. They are also at the age where they are deciding what kind of individual they want to be. Will they choose to be virtuous people? Will they make the faith of their mom and dad their own?
Maybe this is too heavy as we approach the weekend and images of smiling mothers and their children grace television and store ads, encouraging us to buy jewelry and flowers for our moms. But I think that is the point—motherhood is a both/and endeavor. It is moments of cuddling on the couch and kissing soft, sweet-smelling skin and hearing the words, “I love you, mommy” repeated over and over. It is also the sometimes painful and heart-breaking moments when we watch our children make poor—even harmful—decisions.
I will always be a mother, and for that I am grateful. I am also grateful for my own mom who modeled so beautifully what a good mother is, and for my mother-in-law’s example of raising five very different children, allowing them each to be their own person. Blessings to all mothers this Mother’s Day.