By Janet Scaglione, Ph. D.
May 13, 2012
I write this from the other side of carpools and travelling soccer teams, and more than 10 years past PTA, science fair projects, and girl scouts. I am well beyond the perils of being up way past “bedtime” because the book bag with the homework assignment is locked in the car and no one can find the keys, and the dread of the impending “morning after” that not enough sleep brings to both child and parent. It has been over 20 years since I let a child covered with dirt sleep through the night simply for fear that waking her would give her a second wind and I would find it necessary to resort to an old family recipe of Benadryl and Vodka (Benadryl for her, vodka for myself) to simply make it through the night.
At one point in my life I was the youngest mother in PTA and at the other end of my childrearing –the oldest. I own the fact that I mothered five children who managed to arrive to me and/or through me not because I was a good Catholic;, but, rather a contraceptive failure who never had the guts to consider my own choices in the matter—though once beyond the initial shock of a missed period, honored the fact that each child is a cherished gift. Yes, even the one that came by way of another woman’s body that my too-young-to-be-a-father- high-school- sweetheart brought to our marriage.
And yes, I recognize the vanity in the never-ending struggle to return to pre-pregnancy weight, and the mourning of firm breasts that have been donated to suckling infants. I accept that my female vanity is a curse that Madison Avenue uses to their advantage in spite of the fact that we all know photos are airbrushed.
I, like most women who work IN and OUT of the home, juggled my way through my 20’s and 30s attempting to impress people I did not even know by becoming MIGHTY MOM—faster than a speeding blender; more powerful than ammonia; able to leap three laundry baskets in a single bound. Though from the other side of “active duty”, I am painfully aware of how the stress of being MIGHTY MOM left a more lasting impression on my children who memorized every sigh, each wrinkle of the brow, and under-the-breath wish for more or less or whatever it was I found so overwhelming in the moment.
Truth be told, I feel as if I was part time in all aspects of my life and full time for no one—especially myself; which brings me to the point of this rambling. When you recall your relationship with your own mother (if or when you have the guts to do so) or if you sit long enough with the impact of your time spent mothering, as I have reluctantly done; you may arrive at the same conclusion. All any child ever wants or needs is a Happy Mother.
Yet Happy Mothers are completely undervalued as a natural resource. In fact, one might extrapolate that Mom’s happiness may be the single greatest contribution to the stability of the family, the health of a neighborhood, the growth of the economy, and the prosperity of our nation. If more of us could find ourselves HAPPY, we might see a renaissance of the American Dream, or for that matter world peace.
Everything is better when MOTHER is happy. But what makes a mother happy.
How might we institutionalize such a valued commodity?
Perhaps recognition of worth could be fostered through some sort of tax incentive that values the countless hours of volunteer servitude we put forth as a workforce. The call to honor us for a day in May contributes to consumer spending on goods and services, and we really do appreciate the thought (especially when given reprieve from the kitchen); but we might feel more valued with a funded 401 k or some semblance of payback in the form of social security taken from the future taxpayers –-yes the very an ones we are rearing. For there is no question that as mothers we ARE responsible for producing the future human capital of this and any great nation. The very human capital that economists proclaim is the most important resource. Yet, In spite of studies that suggest a mother’s unpaid economic value to her household is well into six figures, there is no compensation for the job. It is not recognized in the GDP, not reflected in your paycheck, not evidenced in any monetary or for that matter societal benefit.
If happiness is predicated on a sense of worth then, where does mom find it? Since Eve, mother has labored—with little or no realized incentive. Of course any mother can recall the lasting negative impact to worth that is delivered in noticeable scowls and glares from strangers, when a child acts out in public which has prompted more than one frustrated mom to bribe, threaten, and learn how to speak through clenched smiles “If you don’t straighten up right now I’m taking away your Ipod.” Of course even more insidious is the fact that AS moms, we tend to notice the behaviors of OTHER moms as if the only way to demonstrate my own worth is to denigrate her. I shudder at the times I have secretly boosted my own Ego, with such behavior. And secretly I know that the only thing stopping you from remembering what YOUR mother did wrong, is that you know, for a fact, that you have done worse—and more recently.
We struggle to prove our worth in the strangest ways. We exaggerate birth stories as if the more we labor the better we are. We deny ourselves help, because help is a sign of weakness. We learn to write like a child so the teacher does not know about the nightly struggles with worksheets because before you know what hit you a child’s grades become a tangible sign of your worth. Then grades, athletic ability, special talents and before you know it the SAT score, the college, the career path, how much money they make and who’s son or daughter they will spend the rest of their life with. And then I am recognized as someone’s MOM rather than me, so naturally I am secretly pumped up if MY child went to University and HER child went to Vo-tech.
Stop! Wait! Every time I compare—I am seeking worth. If or when I devalue another mother—don’t I devalue myself? Holy Mary, mother of God . . . how did I get here? What am I doing and more importantly . . . why?
Worth is illusive.
I can’t look to Uncle Sam for validation, and it’s not likely that the general public is honoring us with a parade any time soon. And while words of gratitude offer temporary respite, I often devalue them with trite responses. I do remain appreciative of the efforts of the overworked and underpaid preschool teacher who, more than likely, was mothering her own brood whilst trying to mold tiny hands into memorabilia that says “love you mom” because I understand that she secretly desires to receive the same type of thoughtful recognition.
From the moment of birth, your life is changed forever. Even beyond the active work of mothering—your senses remain heighten as a siren blares in the distance and you mentally check where each adult that used to be your child might be. You will never sleep through the night, rest completely, or understand where lost socks go. You will attempt to hide the shame that rises up if or when someone considers your child average—because the message that your worth is connected to theirs—has been confirmed. But this is a lie.
Your heart will break at the any sign of any child’s disappointment, especially your own, and you will, with good intention, ultimately hinder your child when you do too much, give too much because you want so desperately for him or her to be happy. And therein, is the conundrum.
My children, our children, your children simply want to know that WE are happy.
They want to know that your joy comes from some place deep within; and though it may be inspired by something they do or say—they do NOT now, or will they ever want to think that THEY are responsible for it.
They are NOT. They cannot BE responsible for your joy. And anything and everything that occurs to create any sense of illusion that they are, will simply be passed forward to future generations before they even know what has happened.
A happy mother . . . leads to a happy child.
A mother who values her worth teaches self worth.
To our children, on behalf of all of the Mighty Mom’s who, with honorable intentions missed this empowering lesson —I apologize. If or when you ever believed that I/ we would be happier if you were better, smarter, faster, richer, more successful . . . I relieve you now. You are not responsible.
What if each of us Mothers, with no recognition, little or no pay, no more than ONE day a year set aside for observance of the value we add to our homes, communities and economy, simply declare it. If mothers are perpetually “pursuing happiness,” as the founding fathers declared; my fear is we will miss it.
In honor of every mother, here and now, I declare: I am worth it! I am Happy!
I am a Happy Mother!
Share this with every mother and child who deserves the same!