mother (ˈmʌðə )
1. a female who has given birth to offspring
Are you ready for Mothering Sunday? Yeah, I’m going with the British English version rather than Mother’s Day and don’t even think about getting me started on the HAPPY MOTHERS DAY! card I saw the other day – where’s the apostrophe, copywriter?
But looking at Collins’s definition of “mother” above, I think I’m happier with Mothering Sunday. After all, a mother is so much more than someone who just gives birth to you, isn’t she?
Several of my friends have never given birth but are doing an amazing job mothering their adopted children. Truly amazing, given the problems some of the youngsters have come with. They are not “nurturing or protecting AS a mother,” as Collins says; they are nurturing and protecting mothers, without the pregnancy part.
While we’re about it, nor are all the fantastic mothers I know female. I’ve watched several incredible men bring up their children alone, while if my gay friends ever have kids (I’m waiting!), they’ll be brilliant “mothers”.
Add to that the grandparents raising their grandchildren. All amazing and not the dictionary definition of a mother.
Then there are people like me. I don’t have children so instead of being taken out for Sunday lunch or bombarded with chocolates and flowers, I’ll be watching Four in a Bed with a glass of wine. (I might also have a Penguin. White wine and Penguins go well together so long as you don’t dunk.)
Being asked if I have children is a common occurrence and my answer is always followed by a pause from the other person as they try to formulate a response. I feel at times as if I should have a bell and walk around declaring: “Childless woman coming through.” Yes, even in the 21st century.
From those who don’t know me, the most common assumption, because I’ve done fairly well at work, is that I’m a “career woman” who has put climbing up the greasy pole before greasy hands climbing up for a cuddle.
Guess what? Having children hasn’t stopped Jacinda Ardern, Anna Wintour, Hillary Clinton, Sheryl Sandberg, Beyoncé, The Queen, Michelle Obama, Christine Lagarde…
It is possible to have a career and a family, yet somehow we prefer to think women have to choose one or the other. But when was the last time you looked at a successful businessman with no children and thought: “He’s sacrificed a family to get where he is”?
Nor has it been a sacrifice. Tell most people – mainly women – that you don’t have children and after the pause comes a look of pity. “Poor thing,” is written all over their faces.
Not having children was not something I chose. It happened. Why? We don’t know and don’t want to know. It is no one’s “fault” and we don’t care who is “barren” or “sterile” or any of the ugly, damning words that go with not having children.
But in between wanting and not having, I’ve had a life. Of course, parents have lives, too. Lovely, happy lives filled with ups and downs, I hope.
That’s what I’ve had, but in a different way. Have I missed out by not having children? Let me turn that around: have you missed out by not spending six months on sabbatical in Toronto? By not dancing in the moonlight on the rooftops of Bilbao? You’ve never gone skinny-dipping in Mexico or stripped off completely on a beach in Spain?
Is your life less for not having those experiences?
No, of course it’s not. Nor is mine for not having your adventures with your children. I don’t have a worse life, merely a different one.
Ahh, but perhaps that’s because my emotions aren’t as strong and I don’t feel the pain. You see, in today’s world, it’s only parents who are able to love or feel empathy. Don’t believe me, well:
- “As a mother and grandmother, it was a heartbreaking scene” – a local councillor after a child was murdered;
- “As a mother myself, there isn’t a cause on earth I would rather speak up for” – Kirsty Young, after taking on a role with Unicef children’s charity
- “As a mother, I can only imagine the difficulty and distress of making such a decision” – Cate Blanchett, after meeting a refugee who had to leave everything behind and flee with her children.
I mean, could Cate – Oscar-winning Cate, who brings real emotional depths to her roles – honestly not be able to imagine how terrifying it must be to flee for your life and the life of your loved ones if she’d never had children?
Did Kirsty truly not consider keeping vulnerable children safe to be important until she gave birth?
Would a crime scene involving a young child not be heart-breaking if you didn’t have children yourself?
Really – did none of these people care about these things before they were parents? No wonder the world’s in such a state if people are only moved by such tragedies because they have children.
“Ah,” I have been told. “You don’t understand because you’re not a mother.”
In other words, I’m incapable of feeling for others. Or I’m a hard-nosed career woman, or I’m desperately missing out on life, or…
This is what society constantly tells me and other women because we don’t have children.
Where all these arguments fail, however, is that I have mothered. On 1 September 1981, I held my nephew for the first time. I was 14 and he was less than 24 hours old and the first baby I’d ever held and it was love at first sight. I changed his nappy about a week later and even then I still loved him.
It was the same with my other nephew, who followed a few years later, and then I got two nieces when I married – all incredible young people who I adore and love and couldn’t be prouder of.
And it gets better. Now I light up at photos of my great-nephew and my twin great-nieces (I’m a grrrreat aunt).
Then there are my other children: my “hija” – the daughter of a former boss who came to stay with us in Madrid – and the incredible young men and women I’ve mentored throughout my working life who are taking great strides in their careers.
As my hero Kim Cattrall said:
(As a side note, even if I hadn’t had this experience, would that make me less of a woman? Mothering, we’re told, is the “hardest and best” job. Have you ever heard such a great phrase for keeping women in their place – bringing up the children at home while the man goes to work – with the poor barren women?
And since when has having a child a job? I don’t think my mam ever considered having children a job. She had a job. At times she had two to try and make ends meet.
I bet Theresa May would say running the country’s a pretty hard job, too – although she’d probably not say it was the best job ever at the moment…
See what I mean? It sells this idea that there is nothing better nor more worthwhile than being a mother. Bringing peace to the Middle East? Discovering what came before the Big Bang? Curing cancer? Naaah, nothing in comparison to wiping Johnny’s snotty nose.
Is being a parent easy? God, no. But I never hear men being told that being a dad is the “hardest and best” job they have. The best job, undoubtedly, but bringing home the bacon is always considered to be harder.)
So I’m raising my glass – and a Penguin – to my mam. And also to my dad. And to my Aunty Doreen and Uncle Sid. To my brother and sister. My nieces, nephews and in-laws and grand-nephew and grand-nieces. To my mentors at work, to my friends, to my cats and to my husband.
You are, or were, all my mams.
Happy Mothers Day. I should have bought that card.
Who are your mothers? Let me know in the comments below.