I’ve only been married 3 short years, and I’ve been a mother for even less, but yesterday I realised on reflection that in that short time I’ve had a range of different experiences as a mother. I’ve had both an emergency Cesarean and a normal birth, single pregnancies and twin pregnancy, experienced miscarriage, had a baby born with a disability, been both a stay at home mum and a working mum, had a healthy baby and a very sick baby, lived in NICU, have both exclusively breastfed and then exclusively pumped, I’m raising a boy and raising a girl. I’ve checked off quite a few different boxes on the motherhood experience spectrum!
Through all of this variation there is one thing in my mind that stands constant, and that is that there is no more important and valuable a job for me – in my life – than raising my children to be safe, happy, healthy, and most importantly, good people.
My husband Charlie wrote me a beautiful card yesterday, and I couldn’t help but notice that he probably unknowingly drew a distinction between why he thinks I’m a good mother to Raphael and why he thinks I’m a good mother to Cecilia, and why both are very different reasons. It highlights that the value of a mother is so multifaceted that even if we tried, we couldn’t even understand the many beautiful things mothers bring to their children’s lives.
Motherhood is something that is, in my opinion, very misunderstood and underappreciated in our society. Most people understand that there is *something* beautiful about mothers, but do people reflect on how incredibly crucial to a child, and to society, a mother is? Does society really understand the value that mothers bring? I certainly don’t think so.
Firstly, nobody in this world can grow a baby in their womb and deliver it, except a mother. From the very first moment of your life it was a mother that was the one making sacrifices for you to enter it. Even if that mother could not be around to see the rest of her child’s days, without her, that child would have no life. Pregnancy followed by birth is a long, incredible sacrifice of pain and emotion and, along with breastfeeding, are things that are unique to mothers alone. All mothers sacrifice a great deal to raise their children, sacrifices which take a large physical, mental and emotional toll. Yet despite the cost, mothers all make these sacrifices without a moment’s hesitation for the good of their children.
A very close friend once told me of a Latin phrase from scripture that describes the moment Mary was next to the cross when Jesus was crucified. It says she was “Stabat Mater” which means, “Standing Mother”. This signifies Our Lady’s strength, that even watching her Son being put to death, she wasn’t defeated on the ground sobbing, she was standing next to him destroyed with grief but still a pillar of strength. What a beautiful depiction of how mothers express love for their children through strength in sacrifice. I think most mothers I know strive to be like this – I know this is the kind of trait that I too would like to be remembered for one day.
There is a classic poem written by William Ross Wallace, he said that the hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world. Mothers (not always, but most of the time) have the greatest influence on a child’s behaviour, beliefs and moral compass. Mothers are the ones who teach fundamental truths. Most of the life lessons I have carried with me from childhood were taught to me by my own mother. Mothers serve as mentors and examples for life (which is not to say that fathers don’t have their own unique role to play, but that’s for another article).
Mothers find an incredible balance between formation and compassion, representing both a place of tender refuge and setting a tough standard. They are somehow masters at helping children reach the full range of human needs, providing physical nourishment and safety, love and affection, through to supporting emotional and spiritual growth – and usually they learnt how from no better place but from their own mother. Even as an adult a mother is usually the first person one turns to for support and understanding. Mothers who strive to nurture, teach and raise good people are making the world a better place.
In light of all the above, it logically follows that mothers have the greatest influence on society. We raise the next generation. From growing to nurturing and instructing young children, to developing older kids and teenagers. Behind every successful person, there is a mother who brought them into the world and fostered her child to reach their potential. The love that a mother showers on the children she raises is a law unto itself. Unlike other forms of love, it does not need to be earned and it cannot be lost. A mother loves her child from the moment she learns that it is living in her womb for that reason alone, no further action is needed from that child in order to be loved and no action from then on can forfeit that love.
Through my experience raising a child with a disability I also understand the saying “advocate like a mother”. I know there is no person in the world who could take my place as an advocate for my child. Putting in countless hours of research and worrying enough about Raph’s future to fight tough fights in the present that other people would simply not think to be important. No-one else in my son’s life could fill that role but me.
Yet for all these positive and absolutely crucial roles a mother plays, I can tell you the role is not held in the esteem that it should be. I cannot tell you the amount of times I’ve been asked when (not if) I will be returning to work. Now don’t get me wrong, I love work and my job and when it suits I both work as a professional and as a mother. But our society says that’s the only way to be valued. Only when you are a successful business woman are you given the opportunity to speak and engage in debates as an equal. Mother’s stress or fatigue is not legitimised because staying at home is pretty much seen as doing less. There is almost no (public) recognition for the 24/7 job mothers do looking after little ones, or the late nights agonising over a parenting decision for a teenager, or the physical and mental exhaustion it brings.
Mothers used to return from birth as though they were warriors coming out of battle. They were given a place of honour like no other. Where is this honour today? Forgotten and unnoticed in the early hours of the morning. Totally disregarded in the push for women to ‘get back to the world’ almost as if they had not just undergone an enormous physical ordeal or to say that the crucial role they are about to play in raising the future of humanity doesn’t really count.
To share in creation is an amazing gift and an incredible struggle. Being a mother is not a right, nor a check box for life accomplishments. It is both a gift and an immense responsibility. Mothers grow, encourage, guide, direct, and foster a child so that ultimately their soul is full of all the right things.
There are lots of significant people in the life of a child, and the significance of each influencer varies from person to person, but Mothers’ Day is important. It is a day which makes people remember the essential and significant place of mothers in their life and it should be observed as a day to give special emphasis, thanks and recognition to the undeniably vital and sacrificial role of mothers around the world.
In conclusion I want to share with you this beautiful piece of writing that a friend gave me when Raphael was born:
The Most Important Person on Earth is a Mother.
She cannot claim the honour of having built Notre Dame Cathedral. She need not. She has built something more magnificent than any cathedral—a dwelling for an immortal soul, the tiny perfection of her baby’s body.
The angels have not been blessed with such a grace. They cannot share in God’s creative miracle to bring new saints to Heaven. Only a human mother can.
Mothers are closer to God the Creator than any other creature; God joins forces with mothers in performing this act of creation.
What on God’s good earth is more glorious than this: to be a mother?
—Joseph Cardinal Mindszenty
To read our introduction and background story of our son and life with Down Syndrome, click here
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