mother (ˈmʌðə )
- a female who has given birth to offspring
Well, first of all – Happy Mothering Sunday! Yeah, I’m going with the British English version rather than Mother’s Day. And don’t get me started on the HAPPY MOTHERS DAY! card I saw the other day – where’s the bloody apostrophe, copywriter?
But looking at Collins’ definition of “mother” above, I think I’m happier with Mothering Sunday. After all, a mother is so much more than someone who just gives birth to you, isn’t she? Several of my friends have never given birth but are also doing an amazing job mothering their adopted children. Truly amazing, given the problems some of the children have come with. They are not “nurturing or protecting as a mother”; they are nurturing and protecting mothers, without the pregnancy part.
While we’re about it, nor are all the fantastic mothers I know female. I’ve watched several incredible men bring up their children alone while if my gay friends every have kids (I’m waiting!), they’ll be brilliant “mothers”. Add to that the grandparents raising their grandchildren. All amazing and not the dictionary definition of a mother.
And then there are people like me. I don’t have children so instead of being take out for Sunday lunch or bombarded with chocolates and flowers today, I’m watching Four in a Bed with a glass of wine and writing this. (I might have a Penguin in a minute, though. White wine and Penguins go well together so long as you don’t dunk.)
Being asked if I have children is a common occurrence and my answer is always followed by a pause from the other person as they try to formulate a response. I feel at times as if I should have a bell and walk around declaring: “Childless woman coming through. Unclean. Unclean.” Yes, even in the 21st century.
The most common assumption, because I’ve done fairly well at work, is that I’m a “career woman” who has put climbing up the greasy pole before greasy hands climbing up for a cuddle. Guess what – having children hasn’t stopped Anna Wintour, Hillary Clinton, Sheryl Sandberg, Beyoncé, The Queen, Michelle Obama, Christine Lagarde… It is possible to have a career and a family yet somehow we prefer to think women have to choose one or the other. When was the last time you looked at a successful businessman with no children and thought: “He’s sacrificed a family to get where he is”?
Nor has it been a sacrifice. Tell most people – mainly women – that you don’t have children and after the pause comes a look of pity. “Poor thing,” is written all over their faces. Not having children was not something I chose. It happened. Why, we don’t know and don’t want to know. It is no one’s “fault” and we don’t care who is “barren” or “sterile – such lovely phrases that go with not having children.
But in between “wanting” and “not having”, I’ve had a life. Of course, parents have lives, too. Lovely, happy lives filled with ups and downs, I hope. That’s what I’ve had, but in a different way. Have I missed out by not having children? Let me turn that around – have you missed out by not spending six months on sabbatical in Toronto? By not dancing in the moonlight on the rooftops of Bilbao? You’ve never gone skinny dipping in Mexico? Is your life less for not having those experiences? No, of course it’s not. Nor is mine for not having your adventures with your children. I don’t have a worse life, merely a different one.
Ahh, but perhaps that’s because my emotions aren’t as strong and I don’t feel the pain. You see, in today’s world, it’s only parents who are able to love or care. Don’t believe me, well, a recent piece in the Daily Telegraph declared: “From the moment I became a mother to Violet, now six, and Bertie, three, I stopped being able to tune out the sound of other kids crying in public places.” Kirsty Young said: “As a mother, I can think of nothing more important than keeping vulnerable children safe and healthy” when she was appointed president of Unicef UK, while Cate Blanchett, helping UNHCR, met a refugee who had to leave everything behind and flee with her children and said: “As a mother I can only imagine the difficulty and distress of making such a decision.”
Would Cate – Oscar-winner Cate who brings real emotional depths to her roles – really not imagine how terrifying it must be to flee for your life if she’d never had children? Did Crimewatch’s Kirsty not consider keeping vulnerable children safe to be important until she gave birth? Not one of these people cared before they were parents – because I bloody well do? No wonder the world’s in such a state if people are only moved by such tragedies because they have children.
So, I’m a hard-nosed career woman, or I’m desperately missing out on life, or I’m incapable of feeling for others. This is what society constantly tells me and other women because we don’t have children.
Where this all goes tits up, however, is that I have mothered. On 1 September 1981, I held my nephew for the first time. I was 14 and he was less than 24 hours old and the first baby I’d ever held and it was love at first sight. I changed his nappy about a week later and I still loved him.
It was the same with my other nephew, who followed a few years later, and then I got two nieces when I got married – all incredible young people who I adore and to whom I’m close. I now light up at the sight of my great-nephew and my twin great-nieces (I’m a grrrreat aunt, not a great-aunt).
Then there are my other children: my “hija”, who I looked after in Madrid – the daughter of my old boss, who came to stay with us – and the incredible young people I’ve mentored throughout my working life who are taking great strides in their careers.
But even if I hadn’t had this experience, would that make me less of a woman? Mothering, we’re told, is the “hardest and best” job. Have you ever heard such a great phrase for keeping women in their place – bringing up the children while the man goes to work with the poor barren women? And since when has having a child a job? I don’t think my mam ever considered having children a job. She had a job. At times she had two to try and make ends meet. I bet running the country’s a hard job, too, but who wants to do that when you can have the reward of being a mother?
See what I mean? It sells this idea that there is nothing better nor more worthwhile than being a mother. Bringing peace to the Middle East? Discovering what came before the Big Bang? Curing cancer? Naaah, nothing in comparison to wiping Johnny’s snotty nose.
So I’m raising my glass – and half-eaten Penguin – to my mam. And dad. And to my Aunty Doreen and Uncle Sid. To my brother and sister. My nieces, nephews and in-laws. To my mentors at work, to my friends, to my cats and to my husband. You are all my mams in some way.
Happy Mothers Day. I should have bought that card.
Who are your mothers? Let me know below.