One afternoon during my junior year of high school, my mother came into my room to ask about my college applications and future plans.
“What kind of a career are you thinking about, April? What would you like to be?”
I rattled off a couple of prestigious options that involved highly technical work and long hours away from home–careers that would easily impress anyone who ever asked.
After considering my choices for a moment, my mother gently suggested, “It might be a good idea to consider a career that would work better with raising a family.”
My heart pounded heavily, my cheeks flushed red, and I fired back,
“Mom, if I become a mother, and if I raise my daughters to become mothers, none of us will ever be anything!”
She paused for a moment–this lovely, selfless woman who had always been my best friend–and then she put her head in her hands. I’m not sure if her words were actually spoken or merely felt by me, but the essence was, “What did I not teach you?”
That discussion with my mother was just a small part of a growing, worldwide conversation that brings up excellent questions about womanhood and motherhood. Why do we have children? How should we raise them if we do have them? How do we balance our financial and personal needs as women with our innate desires to nurture children who need so much of our time and energy?
Thoughtful women on blogs, in books, on talk shows, in laundromats, and alongside playground swings are participating in this conversation–women who love their children but are very familiar with heartache, frustration, and unfulfilled desires. They speak about poverty, guilt, depression, glass ceilings, birth rates, overload, and strained relationships.
Oh, it’s complicated.
But what’s happening is that in our desires to find solutions to life’s real problems, we too often turn to an attack on motherhood.
Mothering children, in many circles, is being defined as madness. It’s described as mind-numbing, menial work akin to prison or slavery. Mothers are portrayed as not having time to change the world because they’re “wasting” their time in their homes. Children are labeled as detriments to a woman’s personal growth, and the decision to become a mother is reduced to its impact on paychecks, freedom, and personal satisfaction.
Motherhood, then, becomes a decision based solely on logic.
What many women don’t understand–and what I didn’t know as a 17-year-old–is this one true principle:
Motherhood defies logic.
For example, logic can’t explain the number of cards Grace makes for me.
Or help me see why I ever went grocery shopping with three preschoolers.
Logic doesn’t begin to touch the feeling in our kitchen when we dance to our favorite music while we load the dishwasher, wipe the counters, and scoop the leftovers into plastic containers . . . together.
And can logic explain why our babies want to live in cupboards?
Or why the first day of school makes me feel like life is going too fast?
Or why I cried in the shower for weeks after each of my miscarriages?
It’s just not logical.
Last week, I sat with my ten-year-old in the corner of the orthodontist’s waiting room, our cheeks pressed together as we shared a set of earbuds and listened to her favorite song by the newest boy band. I wanted to freeze that moment.
The other night, I went into my 12-year-old daughter’s room to say goodnight, tired from a long day and anxious to get to some projects looming over my head. My daughter is at that pivotal age, navigating the gradual transition from childhood to young adulthood, and as I quickly kissed her forehead and turned to the door, she softly said, “Mom, please don’t leave me.”
Logic says, “It’s bedtime. Go to sleep.”
My heart says, “Let me hold you, and we can talk for a few more minutes.”
I’ve been touched by these words attributed to Victor Hugo:
“She broke the bread into two fragments and gave them to her children, who ate with eagerness. ‘She hath kept none for herself,’ grumbled the sergeant.
“‘Because she is not hungry,’ said a soldier.
“‘No,’ said the sergeant, ‘because she is a mother.’”
The world is full of deliberate mothers who spend years swaying side to side, waking up in the middle of the night, bandaging scrapes on knees, and kissing tears from cheeks.
It’s personal work, very personal work, and it reminds me of this interchange from the movie You’ve Got Mail, where Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) owns a large bookstore chain that is putting the small bookshop owned by Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) out of business.
Joe Fox: It wasn’t . . . personal.
Kathleen Kelly: What is that supposed to mean? . . . All that means is that it wasn’t personal to you. But it was personal to me. It’s personal to a lot of people. And what’s so wrong with being personal, anyway?
Joe Fox: Uh, nothing.
Kathleen Kelly: Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.
When the beautiful, essential role of building a home and family is reduced by societal forces to be synonymous with “drudgery,” that’s personal to me.
And more importantly, it’s personal to them:
Because how society defines motherhood often shapes how mothers define themselves. And how we, as mothers, perceive our identity affects our children and our households at the most intimate level.
The logical arguments against deliberate motherhood can be printed in multiple languages, featured on every major media outlet, and highlighted within social media all day long.
But what we feel in our hearts and know from experience, is that however well-intentioned, these blanket statements about motherhood are simply not true.
We’re not diminished by our children. We are infused with purpose because of them.
We strengthen the mothers of the world, we strengthen the world. Period.
Certainly, we want to use our minds and talents to thrive personally, to contribute to our family’s economic stability, and to serve the broader world around us–but thriving and mothering can co-exist, and our intentions for striking that balance aren’t to fill a void left by dedication to family. They are to more completely fulfill the purposes for which we are here.
Each woman has the right to make her own choices, and sadly, many women who desperately want to be mothers don’t always have the opportunity. But we don’t tear down the women who are doing their best to provide a beautiful upbringing for their children. We unite our voices. We build each other up. We put our heads together to creatively influence humanity for the better. And we teach our daughters and sons to develop that same fierce loyalty to family.
For those of us (mothers or not) who know the power of motherhood, it is our privilege to cherish it and to defend it.
Motherhood is hard. It’s demanding, painful, and often unappreciated. But the satisfaction I feel as a mother–even on the longest, most discouraging, exhausting days–far exceeds what I ever expected out of family life.
I don’t know what the future holds for my sweet girls, but someday we’ll be sitting together, making plans for their future. And I’m doing everything in my power to teach them what my mom knew all along: that motherhood, as illogical as it may be, is absolutely worth it.
QUESTION: Have you had an experience in motherhood that defies logic?
CHALLENGE: Realize that the work you are doing as a mother has meaning beyond what the world can see. On those long, exhausting days, remind yourself that you are shaping the future.
Originally published on March 25, 2014.
Risé B. says
I’ve had many experiences that defy logic … and I’d trade none of them for the world. Your post was wonderful and made me feel proud to be a stay-at-home mom (which I know is a privilege many mothers don’t have.) I love being at home and my two oldest are now in their teens – my youngest a pre-teen – and I love being their mom. 🙂
Simply brilliant stuff. I heard about you guys through the article that went viral on Facebook and I’m so glad I did. Thank you. We need you to the come to the UK!
Oh, this post! I needed this post this morning so much. I read it in bed, up earlier than I wanted to be, stressing out about how just plain hard it is to be a mom.
I think I’m in the trenches right now — a 3 year old and a 16m old who both need so very much of me. I am weary.
As I was reading through, I enjoyed the photo of your 3 preschoolers at the grocery. And then the next photo — WHAT even the baby is old enough for school?! And then the last — WHAT you now have 4 kids? Where did the time go?
Reading experiences and perspectives from moms who are a little further down the pike than me…it just encourages me so much and I want to thank you.
I’m clipping this post in Evernote to savor later.
I love this post! Given our economic and societal times, I consider it a great privilege to be able to stay home with my daughter. It’s wonderful to see that other mom’s do as well!
Thank you for sharing this!
Mothering at a group home defied all logic, but I LOVE my boys!
Our hearts will just never be the same…
Pamela @ Pink Hammers & Sippy Cups says
This is an absolutely beautiful article! It’s so true that motherhood is more than one ever imagines; not only do you learn and grow so much while your children learn and grow, you are also shaping the future generation and that is a bigger accomplishment than any other job can provide.
Wonderful post. There was a time in my life when I thought very much like your 17-year-old self. I’m glad we both had the opportunity to come to our senses. 😉 I’m so glad that I got to understand what others were trying to teach me all along about motherhood as a sacred calling.
You have touched my heart once again!!!! Yes, even my hardest days surpass by expectations of motherhood, too! Thank you, for reminding me of that truth today!!! I Love You!!!!
I agree with this wholeheartedly!! You’ve expressed so eloquently what I so often feel about motherhood. So many influences in today’s society try to infer that motherhood is the lowest form of work, but it’s certainly not to me and absolutely not to my children. All parts of motherhood (even the difficult ones) can be done with a sense of understanding for the happiness it will bring those we love. We can create our own version of Camelot, and just because the world doesn’t see it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Things can be very hard AND beautiful, amazing, and fabulous. Thank you for the gift of this article. You are a gifted writer and mother, keep it up!
Beautiful April! It absolutely defies logic because it’s a sacred call, not a worldly one that makes it all worth it!
I needed this today! Thank you.
Thank you for writing exactly how I feel! It’s hard living in a world where motherhood is so unappreciated. My three sons bring me so much joy, and I absolutely love being their mom. Everything I do, I do out of love for them. Thank you so much for writing how I feel much better than I ever could!! 🙂
This is completely gorgeous. I am going to need to re-read a couple of times b/c you state it all SO eloquently–thank you. The feeling of being “torn down” is so totally defeating and yes, it is indeed personal. Again, thank you.
Alisha Gale says
I’ve always thought it a strange strain of misanthropy to denigrate the work mothers (and fathers!) do. Children are the most valuable and vulnerable creatures on earth. Who or what else can compare? Thanks for the reminder that even though motherhood isn’t the only thing we do, it is the most important. I think even the most committed mothers forget sometimes.
Yes as I mom I have done things both good and bad that I have never imagined or thought possible. I have also seen my kids do the same. It truly defies logic everyday but it is so good and wonderful and yes I am helping make the world a better place.
janine bills says
On June 12, 2012, I will be able to say I’ve been a mother for 36 years! As a young woman, planning my future, I always wanted to be a mom. I remember naming our “children to be” with my fiance. The joy of learning we were expecting was soon overshadowed by severe hyperemesis and a hospital stay. The baby was born healthy and chubby! I was a skeleton. But why would I continue to repeat that over 4 more times? Believe me, some people were not supportive. Well, all I can say is, “It’s personal.” If I was going to have a family, this is what my sacrifice would be. I’ve been blessed with 5 beautiful children and suffered 2 miscarriages. Looking back, would I change it? NO! The learning comes from the journey. I can honestly say I experience the joys and the disappointments with other women. I can mourn with those who mourn, and rejoice with those who rejoice! The love comes from the daily sacrifices and charity required to raise my family. Hard work helps me to feel needed and wanted. Who wants to go to a daily job feeling like anyone else could take your place or that you are nervous about getting let go any minute? I know that would sometimes seem like a blessing, but that’s what vacations are for. You know you have a job to come back to and no one has taken your place. They may have missed you terribly and appreciate you a little more. We each possess the motherhood resume that works the best for our own families! Enjoy the time and season you’re in. Treasure up the daily experiences and in the back of your mind, get ready for the next. Learn and prepare, but don’t wish for the promotion too soon. I raised my little ones, enjoyed them as teenagers, supported them in their life decisions, and you know what? I’m still very much needed and they still require my time and attention! I did go back to college when they were all in school. I have pursued my “outside the home” job and I’m an X-Ray Technologist. But, after all these 36 years, I’m still their mom and they still need me. It never ends and be thankful for that. One day I’ll retire from my “outside the home” job and be given a watch. I never want to retire from my Mom job, I want to continue to watch and help my children grow and thrive!
Melanie Vilburn says
“Or why I cried in the shower for weeks after each of my miscarriages?”
For me, it’s the mourning of saying goodbye to a future and plans I’d dreamed about for the child. Research has proven that a mother’s body and soul starts bonding and imprinting their traditions with each child they conceive. (It’s an amazing process!) So, regardless, whether that child, for example, comes through a later pregnancy or even an adoption, the process of bonding started and it’s something I believe we mourn for.
April Perry says
Thank you, Melanie.
As a father of four and watching my wife dedicate precious years to motherhood, I’d like to contribute a few words too.
I’ve found nothing in the world of the career as fulfilling, creative, life changing or beautiful as having even a small opportunity to be part of my children growing, learning and playing.
I know I’m not the only father who would gladly trade my working life to spend more valuable time with the kids.
And maybe just because it is probably one of the most challenging things you can do full time, is it also one of the most rewarding.
Encouraging anyone who wonders which grass is likely to be greener to embrace motherhood fully and wholeheartedly – there are very few opportunities in the world to be of greater service, have more impact on the world or be more fulfilled – and it’s all so much less fragile.
The stewardship over your own children is a gift far greater than any reward a career can bring you.
Risé B. says
AHA … so great to hear a father’s view!! I know my husband feels the very same. It reminds me of my husband’s and my dating years and when we talked about kids (18 years ago.) I told him that if I can’t stay home to raise my own kids I won’t have them – I didn’t want to have kids so someone else could raise them and then not love them the only way I will. My husband agreed – he wanted a stay-at-home mom and wife. We’ve been blessed that we could do this, for the benefit of being ‘my kids’ mom.’ I wouldn’t trade it for working outside the home for one minute – but that’s me. My boys are 16 and 11, and my daughter is almost 14 … and they love having a mom available to them ‘whenever.’
I love your articles April!! I feel like I’m reading something my sister or best friend wrote–I laugh, I cry, and I am inspired me to be a better Mom. Thank You!!
April Perry says
Thanks, Bree. I appreciate you taking the time to comment!
Absolutely. I had my first baby while my husband was deployed to Afghanistan. I had several people ask me why I didn’t wait to have our first child until after he was home. But having my sweet baby boy by myself and tending to him as a newborn without a husband…defies logic! Especially those long nights and long days! Every little bit was and is worth it 🙂 Now we await his daddy’s homecoming, but I celebrate what I have accomplished in my little 3 month old’s life 🙂
Thanks for writing this …. I became a Mom almost four years ago, my first baby is 3 years and 7 months old and my second baby is 21 months. I always dreamed on the day that I became a Mom, never really thinking of all the requirements and demands. ITS HARD!!!! Some times I just don’t feel that I can cover everything and really get overwhelmed. Being a Mom is being responsible of everything and more. I know that I should not complain because I been blessed with my two beautiful babies – but at the end I’m the one shaping their future, not saying that my husband doesn’t help with the boys, but because he has to work everything regarding the kids and the house is my main responsibility and if he has the time and energy then he will participate. Never ever imagine how hard is to be a Home stay Mom. But now when I think of going back to work and having to be away from my kids for long hours is just not something that I want….. but I do want, once in a wile, time off to be me.
Stuart R. Taylor says
Oh my … April! This is one of the best posts ever. Thank you so much for sharing. I am one of your biggest fans (and Danielle’s too, of course!). What a great work you are doing!
Love, Danielle’s Dad ?
You are so kind! Thank you for your support of mothers (and fathers!). You have done an incredible job raising Danielle. 🙂 Have a wonderful day!
This hits so many good points! Yes, society looks at motherhood as almost a “curse” and “restrictive”, but we as mothers know that that is far from the truth! There’s so much joy and blessings that come from it, and I hope I can pass that down to my 3 girls as well.
Just the fact that you are here at Power of Moms shows you care–and I’m sure your girls will feel that from you! Thank you so much!