While compiling the list of quotes, poems and verses regarding motherhood found on Page 13 of this issue, I noticed something remarkable. Most of the quotes I was finding were written or said by men.
William Shakespeare referred to motherhood as “The pleasing punishment that women bear.” Assuming the bard was referring to childbirth, and not to motherhood in toto, how the heck would he know? Had he experienced childbirth? I would far rather trust the opinion of Carol Burnett, who, when asked by a man to describe the sensation of childbirth said, “Take your lower lip – now stretch it over your forehead.”
Maybe that’s the part that pleased Shakespeare. He didn’t have to experience that particular sensation. And there were no epidurals in the heyday of the Globe Theatre.
Now, I’m not a published embryologist or an oft-sought-out geneticist, but I’m pretty sure that if you check, you’d find none of the men who said the nice things you’ll find on Page 13 had a single bit of first-hand experience regarding the topic at hand. Wordsworth and Coleridge may have been fine wordsmiths, but they had as much chance of becoming mothers as Floyd Mayweather has of becoming the next Queen of England (fun though that thought may be).
The great historical quotes on motherhood are almost all attributed to men because the great historical quotes on everything are almost all attributed to men. That’s because until the last half century or so, the vast majority of people with the bully pulpit to get quoted were men, and the historians doing the quoting were men to boot.
I don’t want to go off on a tangent about “The Patriarchy” while attempting to make a relevant point about mothers and motherhood, but facts are facts. History is the domain of (mostly white European or European-descended) men.
But while some lament that the life-lessons of their native culture or race have been trivialized, minimized, and even written entirely out of history, I don’t believe this is the case when it comes to the lessons mothers carry to their children.
True, the impact of women’s opinions on the “weighty matters” of the day generally came to naught before the last century or so. But whereas the lessons of a culture’s history are often lost on those outside the culture, the lessons of a mother have a built-in eternal audience.
The lessons of mothers throughout history have been passed down with relatively little reliance on textbooks and recorded speeches. They have instead passed from generation to generation in the form of real wisdom – advice and care given on a one-to-one basis from mother to child, and moreso, the example of actions more than the direction of words.
Well, that’s the way it was in my house, anyway.
My father is a published embryologist, by chance, and he is marvelous at lecturing. He can turn a phrase, can quote you facts until your brain numbs, and can successfully argue both sides of virtually any issue put in front of him.
My mother has passed wisdom along in a quieter way, and I wonder in how many homes this is the case.
My mother is a strategic thinker. She listens intently not only to what people say, but to how they say it, often gleaning understanding beyond merely what the speaker means to convey. When she does speak, it is rarely without specific intent.
I have listened to my father. But I have observed my mother.
I am tempted to believe this is the case in many households. Certainly history’s vast record of the words of men compared to the relative paucity of the historical record of women’s wisdom suggests it is.
So, mothers, my question for you is this:
While we fathers prattle on and on about weighty issues, of which we often know precious little from our own first-hand experience (things like motherhood, our daughters’ deepest hopes and dreams, and the appeal of movies in which nothing blows up while the protagonist walks away in slow motion – or are sequels to other movies in which other things blew up), what are your children observing about you?
If you’re like most mothers, they see someone who works both in and outside the home. They see someone who takes an inordinate amount of responsibility for keeping the chores assigned, the meals prepared and the psychological needs of everyone else met before her own. And they see someone who deserves far more than just one day a year to be recognized for all she does.