A Tribute to Mothers

We were ordinary mothers on an ordinary block in West Philadelphia, taking advantage of the leisurely sociability of a block party to talk about--what else?--our children. We had ordinary problems--how to decide about schools, how to work and still have time for the children, how to help our teenagers make choices and live with consequences.

Yet there was something about that conversation that touched me, that has stayed with me all these weeks. I think it was the love and the strength that I saw. And it was a glimpse of how very much we have in common.

Regardless of our age, our background, our color, our beliefs, we are all doing the very best we can for our children. We are all struggling in less-than-ideal circumstances (at least everyone I know), making compromises in our lives for their sakes. We are calling on resources of love and strength that we may never have known we had in order to do this job. We all deserve so much more recognition than we get. This has been one of the great gifts of motherhood to me. I feel part of a continuous thread stretching beyond my neighborhood, to neighborhoods all over the world. And the thread stretches in time as well, back through the years to other mothers, doing just the same work, hoping just the same hopes, calling on just the same unimagined resources.

I treasure this glimpse of belonging to such a strong, loving group. And I wonder why it comes only in glimpses. I'm pretty sure that I'm not the only one who often feels like I'm doing this alone. Even with a husband, even with relatives, even with a neighborhood, school or church community, it's easy to feel alone in the day-to-day work of being a mother.

Patty Wipfler, a parent leader for whom I have the greatest respect once said something about this isolation that has stuck in my mind. She said that our experience of isolation as parents may stem from the fact that we don't speak of our deep love for our children, our delight in them. Thus we are not communicating fully who we are and what is important to us.

We're hungry for a chance to talk about our children--and there's lots to say. The complaints, the dilemmas, the near disasters come first. They're what's on top and we need to talk about them. But the hard times are not the whole story, and, somehow, it's harder to tell of our love. We're embarrassed, we're ambivalent, we're protective, we're shy. But our love for our children is so good, so deep, so central to our hopes for a better world. The more of it that can be made visible, the better off all of us will be.

(Nota bene: I know that mothers have no monopoly on love, strength, isolation, or the need to talk about their children. I'm a great fan of fathers as well--but more on that another time.)