Every morning when I run, I see at least three or four moms on bikes (more now, during the pandemic) leading little ones on smaller bikes, like a mama duck does as she guides her ducklings down the canal. Once in a while, especially on an early weekend morning, I see dads instead, and the conversation that got them out there with those kids always plays out in my mind.
“I’ve had them all week,” I picture an exhausted woman saying from under the covers. “Just take them this morning. I owe you.”
This is really just my observation of what mothers carry and the power of the tie between them and their children.
But this is not about what fathers don’t do, or really even what mothers do. It’s more just about mothers and their children and the enormity of that connection and responsibility. I don’t have children of my own, but I had a powerful, loving, hard, good, fun, difficult, crazy-making, and enriching relationship with my own mother. Most of the strain of it came from her own struggles with being a person, but of course having children made that discomfort better and worse, often simultaneously. When I was in my 30s, I considered briefly having a child, but memories of how hard it was for my mother to be a whole person while encouraging the same in us were indelible, so I decided against it.
I have been a helper with a few other kids, though, and it only takes a moment in anything involving them to feel the weight the mom carries. No romantic notion of growing up and having kids paints a picture of the almost relentless, incremental situations kids find themselves in, nor how many of those the mom needs to help navigate. Again, this is not about what dads don’t have to do, because I know that modern dads do a lot. This is really just my observation of what mothers carry and the power of the tie between them and their children.
When I look at mothers I don’t know, I can only make up stories about why they had children and what they have to do in their lives to manage those children. When it comes to the women I actually do know, I can see and hear in every encounter what it means to have children. Of course it means all the wonderful things we think of when we imagine babies and helping people become whole humans, but it also means everything else. It means that, for a very, very long time, they are totally responsible for someone else’s physical and emotional growth and safety. That’s bigger and more significant than practically anything I can imagine doing in the world.
Because so many women I know now are mothers, and I have first-hand knowledge of the enormous role they play, I actually have more empathy for my own mother. Looking back, I would probably say she wasn’t exactly cut out for the job, but in those days that wasn’t something most women (or men) actually decided about themselves. You got married and had children. Because the world of work was reserved for so many years for men, women stayed home and took care of the kids. I just never really had a very clear idea of what “taking care” meant. What it means is that you have to get those people ready in every way imaginable to stand on their own in the world and be people. Nothing much at all, right?
So really, this is written in deep appreciation of the women I know (and all those I don’t) who made a conscious decision to have children. They are the same ones who, every single day of the world, get up and continue to be the mother of those children, no matter how old they are, where they live, what they do, or how they live their lives. They are the mothers who teach their tiny kids to walk and talk and be kind, and the ones who help their teenagers balance school and the world and personal hygiene. They are also the ones who worry about them still when those kids are in their 20s and 30s and may not quite be ready to launch in the way those moms might have dreamed.
This is not about what fathers do or don’t do in those families. The dads I know are awesome. This is really just an acknowledgement of those moms—way too late for Mother’s Day—but in honor of them, nonetheless.