The conversation might begin with concerns about whether motherhood and feminism are incompatible (I mean if the newspaper of record positions motherhood and feminism on opposite ends of a spectrum, where does that leave all the mothers who happen to think women are full human beings). Maybe it turns to a question about what the “Mommy Wars” actually entail. We’re all busy, is it that we missed the latest reality show? Are there actual weapons involved? Other than the condescension and self-righteousness we’re told we wield like daggers, of course. There may even be some mutterings about whether it's healthy for motherhood to be elevated to such an exalted status. After all, not everyone dragged into the conversation is in fact a mother and no one wants to be left out of a debate that makes the cover of Time. The problem is this is a fictional debate that serves no one well. When parenting is a battlefield, it’s difficult to use each other as resources and learn from one another’s stories. When we’re told to be on the lookout for other mothers who are judging us, it’s easy to miss all the people who are supporting us in our endeavors to strengthen our families and our communities. And when mothers are put into a special box, we lose the other parts of our identity that make us complete and well-rounded individuals.
It’s not a matter of mothers versus other mothers (this Babble piece rocks that point). We’re all doing our best with the resources and opportunities at our disposal. And it’s also not a matter of mothers versus non-mothers. In a thoughtful essay on why she hates mother’s day, Anne Lamott takes issue with the idea that mothers are somehow superior beings. Mothering isn’t an individual experience; it isn’t even a purely female experience.
The mothering that helps my children thrive on a daily basis comes from their father, their aunt who lives next door, a phenomenal nanny, a family friend who is practically a part of our family, my dear friend and business partner, and numerous grandparents, not to mention the various teachers, doctors, etc who play significant roles in my children’s health and development. That list would grow exponentially if my husband and I added all the individuals who mothered us throughout a lifetime of experiences.
On this coming Mother’s Day, I’m going to spend less time thinking about mothers and more time thinking about mothering. I’ll still write thoughtful notes to my mom, my stepmom, my mother-in-law, and my grandmas, but I’ll also do my best to thank the other mothers in my life—the best friends, the family members, and the mentors—who mothered me into the person I am today.
There’s no war here; there are enough thank yous, kind words, and lessons to spread around.