We Are Not All Mothers
So often at church, womanhood and motherhood are seen as synonyms. There’s no concept of a woman who is not a mother. The concept of a non-mother woman is so foreign that people feel the need to find ways to reassure childless women that they’re mothers, too – because if they’re not mothers, their womanhood is called into question.
Sheri Dew even gave a general conference talk to this effect, entitled Are We Not All Mothers? I say in response, no, we are not all mothers. And that’s okay. The Apostle Paul reminds us that diversity is essential to the body of Christ. Some of us are hands, some of us are ears, some of us are eyes, and all of us are needed. (See 1 Corinthians 12.)
Plus, equating womanhood and motherhood has several problematic implications:
It devalues the hard work and sacrifice of mothers by saying it’s just part of femaleness and not really anything they did. Waking up at 3 AM for weeks on end for feedings and diaper changes? No biggie – just part of being a woman. Risking death? All part of the service.
It devalues the hard work and sacrifice of non-mothers by saying that our actual lives are meaningless so in order to give our lives meaning, we have to pretend that we’re something we’re not. It reinforces the notion that only motherhood matters, so we have to call everything motherhood so it can matter because it doesn’t matter on its own. Finished a graduate degree? Ho, hum. It’s not a baby, but we’ll give you a participation trophy anyway and call it mothering. Cured cancer? Okay, but we’ll remind you that you didn’t do what you really should have done, but here’s a plant – mother that.
And, most insidiously, it prevents women who aren’t mothers but who want to be from being allowed to grieve – because we can’t grieve the loss of motherhood because we’re being constantly told that everything is motherhood. Our baptismal covenant is to mourn with those who mourn, not to tell people who are mourning that teaching primary for an hour a week is really the same thing, so they haven’t lost anything.
Words matter. They mean things. Motherhood is motherhood, and it’s valuable. Non-motherhood is not motherhood, and it’s valuable, too. We need to start believing that and saying it over the pulpit and in our classes.