Motherhood for the childless

May 17, 2015

click for link What does it mean to be a mother? Motherhood is a bit of an elusive concept. Motherhood, mothering, to be a mother it’s not something we contemplate too often. Of course we love our mothers for “all they do for us”. But with the increasing notion of genderless marriage and the idea that all you need are two loving parents it worries me that motherhood is being put on a back burner.

Motherhood is something notably special, the prophet, peace to him, famously said “your mother, your mother, your mother and then your father” when someone asked him who we own our highest (or affection -I’m paraphrasing). He also informed us that paradise is at the feet over our mother’s and Umar famously told a man who carried his mother on his back around the kaaba that he had not even equalled one pang of childbirth (again, paraphrasing). In the prophet’s life his mother died as a child but even before that most of his life was spent in the desert with his milk mother (the woman who nursed him as was tradition in the culture) yet when he came to her grave he wept for her and praised her. The prophet, peace to him, praised his wife Khadeejah long after her death for many things one of which was being the mother of his children. Though we can assume that both his mother and the mother of his children were exceptional I don’t think that’s the point. The prophet, peace to him, never added “good”, “thoughtful”, “caring” or “loving” to his honoring of the mother he simply honored the mother.

The mother in the Freudian view -and any classic psychoanalytical account was of excruciating importance. Some felt this led to “mother blaming” of all psychological issues, which is of course true but it also elevated the status of motherhood, only the mother had the power to elevate your potential or ruin you. Now with more un-gendered language we tend to talk about “parenting” more than mothering. “Loving parents” is all you need. The prophet, peace to him, was himself an orphan cared for by his grandfather then his uncle and spent a great deal of time with his milk mother,  so the idea that a child can do well is a variety of circumstances is certainly not arguable but all things being equal something is exceptional about being cared for and loved by the people who brought you in to the world.

I don’t think we honor women enough for the simple miracle that is childbearing. I don’t think we understand not only the pain and  discomfort she goes through the immense love, care and connection that is created in those nine months where mother and child are one. Being a mother is the most difficult of tasks, it is to cultivate something that will one day leave you. To look in the face of a human being that once lived inside you. To clothe and feed and bathe and teach and watch a human being go out in to the world. To worry if you’ve done enough and constantly feel you haven’t. I took a course of motherhood in graduate school. What does is mean to mother? To be a mother? For the first time I thought about it in some depth. Her changing body and brain, the preparation of giving one’s all to a human being, of having a connection to someone in a way you could never have a connection to anyone else. Motherhood is of such significance (so is fatherhood but that’s for another post) and not simply the caregiving act. You can’t replace her with a grandmother, a man, a daycare, school, etc., she’s not substitutable, there’s a spiritual unspoken essence that we can’t quite tap in to or really put in to words but we shouldn’t merely look the woman who bore us and the women bearing the next generation and think, “meh, no big deal”.


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