A global pandemic was never part of the job description in my Mothers Handbook, circa 1971, but so be it. This is our time.
A small distinction: A man fathers a child, and the work he does after that is called “parenting.” A woman gives birth to a child, and the work she does after that is often called “mothering.” That word implies the unique devotion needed to shepherd children safely through their early years. The dictionary says the word embraces “kindness” and “protection.”
No one says, “Joe is so good at fathering.” But we often hear praise for someone’s mothering. I don’t think it’s sexist; I see the word as gender neutral. Joe may be good at mothering as well.
Mothering requires tending, nurturing, cherishing and teaching children. The term connotes warmth and support and advocacy.
Although, traditionally, mothering has been linked to the mother-child bond, there are millions of men and people who identify in nontraditional ways, who mother their children selflessly and lovingly. Friends also can mother one another, even when children aren’t involved.
As we approach Mother’s Day, I honor all the people, from older teens to adults to grandparents, who find themselves in the role of raising children, and find within themselves the resources to “mother” them.
Parenting seems more like a job description to me. Mothering is a mission and a half. In the age of Covid-19, in the wake of lockdowns and isolation, mothering has been a gift to our kids and grandkids. Parents pressed for time and money, parents nearly paralyzed by anxiety by the pandemic, somehow rallied and did their best for their little ones.
In my world, I observed nieces and nephews (who might now feel embarrassed by the notion) display true courage in finding a path for their babies and toddlers. Their daily creativity and devotion kept the kiddies safe, while allowing them to learn and grow in a time of restrictions and fear and social isolation. Those were long years to be alone in your home with a 2-year-old.
I know of one young dad, working from home, who mothered his restless little ones by creating a thrilling world out of the commonplace routines of keeping the household going. The mail delivery, the Instacart groceries and the laundry all became big events, threaded with anticipation and excitement. The trash pickup was a showstopper. As in the movie “A Beautiful Life,” in which a father reinvents life in a concentration camp for his young son, the dad I know interpreted everyday activities as theater. He didn’t want his children to miss the world.
If you’re a parent trying to mother a teenager in 2023, good luck and God bless. My grandkids are 20, 18, 16 and 14, and this has been a challenging road through the pandemic. The headlines speak to the truth about unprecedented emotional fallout from the Covid-19 years. Teenagers have suffered from the social isolation and anxiety.
Everyone — teens, parents and grandparents — did our best to keep home life safe and sane. When schools were closed for months, the pressure was extraordinary to keep the teenagers engaged and off social media (ha!) and diligent about schoolwork. The big lessons had nothing to do with the closed-down classrooms and a year’s curricula out the window, and everything to do with how to face danger, and how to be brave in the midst of a spreading pandemic, and how to think about death and hope for life and recovery. Our teens missed a lot of Happy Days, and many of the traditional paths forward to college and work life were altered.
All of you parents of teenagers who mothered your way through the past three years, the singular reward for your efforts will be children who, with support and luck, will grow into responsible adults.
I tried to mother my own kids during the pandemic as they helped their children through this time. Mixed success, at best. I tried to manage my own anxiety for them and for us without making that contagious as well. Mixed success, at best.
Mothering is unbound by time and place. My mother has been gone five years, but, hand to heart, I felt her at my side many times during the worst of the pandemic.
This Mother’s Day, I invite all of us to co-opt the M-word. It would be a happier and healthier world if we all mothered one another.
Copyright 2023 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.