What will you be doing for Mother’s Day? I confess it’s never been a big deal in my family, either with my mom or as a mom. Somehow, we just never got on the breakfast in bed, flowers, greeting card bandwagon. I don’t know why. It’s not that I don’t think mothers deserve to be honored. Let’s face it. Mothering is the hardest job in the world. I do not mean that metaphorically, or hyperbolically. It’s the hardest job. Every other job has days off, or at least hours off. Every other job has a limited field of expertise, and doesn’t require that you be simultaneously teacher, doctor, housemaid, entertainer, counselor and a whole host of jobs like construction worker that you might never have anticipated. Every other job, if you get mad at the boss, you can complain to your friends without having to feel like you’re a horrible person and that it’s all your fault. Every other job, if the boss hits you or calls you names you can sue. Every other job, if it gets stressful or tedious or overwhelming enough, you can up and quit.
OK, fathering could conceivably be as difficult as mothering, but it usually isn’t. Dad, if you’re the one who cleans up the barf and checks the homework and calls the teacher when things aren’t going well and strategizes how to deal with mean and gossipy friends and holds the croupy baby in the shower and drives to doctor appointments and reads The Runaway Bunny over and over and over again after washing the dishes and seeing that teeth are brushed and jammies on and explaining why it is that it gets dark at night then let’s face it, you’re a mom. I’m talking about you too.
You, whoever you are, deserve all the kudos that you may or may not get. Not just the dads who are moms, but also the grandparents, aunts, uncles, foster moms, step moms, all of you. You know who you are. However you got there, whether you struggled for years to conceive or adopt, or whether kids got dumped in your lap by circumstances you chose or didn’t choose, whoever you are, if you’re doing the job for life, with no chance of parole, I honor you.
I honor the amazing, creative moms who are helping their children to flower into artists who are moment by moment creating their lives. I honor the patient, calm moms who somehow manage to keep their tempers through the onslaughts of unruly toddlers and sarcastic teens. I honor the moms who exude love from every pore, whose kids learn that some behaviors are unacceptable, but that they themselves are cherished in every moment for the unique and precious beings that they are.
But more than that, I honor the moms who are just getting by. Who entered motherhood not as a divine calling, but as something that have taken responsibility for and will never give up on, no matter how brutal it may feel. The moms who mean well, but get sucked into screaming matches even when they know there’s no point. The moms who sit their toddlers in front of the television for a precious break from the clinging and the running and the mind-numbing repetitiveness of toddler games. The moms who drop their kids off for a play date with a sigh of relief, and who pick them up with utterly untrue assurances that they were missed.
I get it. It’s really that hard. OK, maybe being president is harder, but there’s an eight year limit on that gig. At year eight moms are just getting started. And while presidents may feel the weight of the free world on their shoulders, moms don’t ever get to set down the burden of wondering if their children will be all right, whether they will be happy, whether they will ever learn to put new toilet paper on the roll or wash their own dishes, whether they will turn out to be drug dealers, whether they will have children they are not prepared to raise that could, unthinkably, turn up just at the point when you thought the mothering job was done.
So for all of you moms, of whatever gender and biological relation to your children, here’s a bouquet of virtual roses. I hope that sometime between now and Mother’s Day you get a quiet moment to remember the real gifts that you’ve gotten throughout the year: not only the hugs and the smiles and the sweet snuggling at bedtime, but also the moments when your child has trusted you enough to cry on your shoulder, the times when you genuinely laughed at your child’s joke or they laughed at yours, the flash of insight when you were able to see the world through their eyes. Truly, motherhood is the toughest job you’ll ever love. On a good day.