Dreaming about the future eased some of the pain of a rocky childhood. Instead of worrying if my family would have food, if we’d be able to keep warm, or if my dad would be in a good mood when we saw him, I thought of all the things I would someday become: astronaut, doctor, lawyer, fireman, U.S. president. My present was rocky, but my future would be glorious!
There was just one job I knew I didn’t want: motherhood. All the other jobs in the entire world represented freedom and autonomy. Also importantly, they paid money. Lots of money. Not only was mothering’s pay abysmal, there was no autonomy whatsoever. A mother’s life was dictated by others’ needs, needs that weren’t often pretty, or–picture a screaming toddler, if you will–well communicated.
. . . just not as a nurturer!
I wasn’t remotely interested in shopping, cooking or cleaning. Nurturing was not my strong suit. The mere thought of constantly arguing with others–family, teachers and pastors, for example–for the benefit of unappreciative rugrats made me twitchy.
Mothers were overworked, underpaid, and underappreciated. I recognized this in the abstract but didn’t really appreciate my mom’s sacrifices. It took becoming a mother myself to appreciate just how crucial one woman’s lifelong support had been to my confidence and successes. By then, sadly, my mom’s mental and physical illness made communication difficult. I could thank my mom, but I couldn’t be sure she understood me.
There was only one moment I felt sure she did understand. In the deep darkness of early morning, I made my way down her hallway to the room where she lay dying of cancer. “Mom,” I complained, “I’m just miserable. I’m having a hard time focusing on work. Being away from home is hard. It’s freezing. I’m exhausted caring for my son and I have to–”
I caught myself before I uttered the words, “mother you as you die.” I tried choking back a sob, failing completely as my mom scooted her head over and rested it on my lap. Even on her deathbed, even unable to speak, she was still trying to comfort me. “Thank you,” I told her as I stroked her short, wispy hair. “For everything.”
That moment epitomizes the work of motherhood for me. It might not pay anything, and it might lack the perceived prestige of other professions, but its impacts are as incomparable as they are enduring. When I thought motherhood was a job for other women, the powerlessness I perceived blinded me to the enormous power of shaping whole lives with love and fortitude.
Motherhood is no profession for the faint of heart.
What does motherhood mean to you?
What do you hope your children remember you for?
Get Dr. Greene's Wellness Recommendations
Sign up now for a delightful weekly email with insights for the whole family.