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Mothers of the world, unite!

Elaine Hodgson By Elaine Hodgson Published on April 24, 2016

Mother’s Day is approaching in Brazil, and not only in Brazil where, just like in the US, it is celebrated on the second Sunday of May. Many think that Mother’s Day is only a commercial date tailored by marketing professionals so as to boost sales, like other commemorative dates such as Valentine’s Day, Father’s Day, Children’s Day and many others, some of which may sound odd to more traditional ears, for instance, Mistress Day. However, the celebration of Mother’s Day can be traced back to ancient Greeks and Romans, who held festivals for the goddesses Rhea and Cybele, associated with motherhood. In the early years of Christianity, Mother’s Day was dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Celebrations more similar to what we have today began in the 17th century, on Mothering Sunday, when children would give presents to their mothers. As years and centuries went by, Mother’s Day began to be celebrated in different countries, by different cultures, in varied ways. Despite its increasing commercialization, it’s still a date remembered as a special day to celebrate motherhood and it’s said that more phone calls are made on Mother’s Day than on any other day of the year. But then, what’s so special about motherhood? Does the fact of being a mother make you automatically deserve a holiday and special celebrations

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                                                              The Greek goddess Cybele

Good and bad mothers?

Goodness is usually associated with motherhood as if being a mother did automatically turn you into a flawless person. In fact, literature and cinema, theatre and paintings, music and all forms of arts are filled with examples of mothers who are no less than models of perfection. Maybe there are a couple of real mothers out there who can fulfil this perfection paradigm, but most mothers will simply be considered either good or bad. What these adjectives entail exactly is hard to define. There are classic examples of bad mothers which vary from the absent-minded Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby and awfully ambitious Lady Macbeth, to fundamentalist Margaret White in Carrie and the cruel and revengeful Medea, but there surely are many more examples of good and loving mothers, such as the one in the judgement of Solomon and the African American maids who serve as substitute mothers in The Help while the actual mothers do not seem to care much about their own children. Apparently, being good (at least to your own children) is considered inherent to being a mother, and that’s not only true in western cultures.

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The judgement of Solomon by Raphael, 1518-1519.

What does it take to be a mother?

There are quite a few lists with very interesting tips available on the Internet, things such as ‘don’t be too hard on yourself’, don’t push your children too much’ ‘laugh with your children’ and so on and so forth. But as a mother of three, I have my favourite: ‘be patient’. And we mothers do have to be patient. Patient to educate, patient to listen, patient to wait, but above all we have to be patient with ourselves. We are not perfect human beings and we can’t be or expect to be so. The search for perfection in human relationships – and in motherhood it won’t be different – is utopic, stressful and unnecessary. In fact, I dare say that imperfection is what keeps us moving. A few days ago I read something about motherhood I really liked, which said ‘You are not morally superior because you have reproduced.’ It’s true, you’re not superior in any way and realistic women will soon understand motherhood may be a shortcut for us to find and face all our imperfections. So, besides being patient, I’d add ‘ask for help’. You’ll probably find out there are lots of people who are willing to give support and who will be happy to be beside you in good and not-so-good times.

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My family - Photo by Mary Walker

Mothers and women

We are not just talking about femininity. We are talking about the many different roles that a woman can have. In the past, maybe, the ultimate goal for a woman was to get married and become a mother, be it a goal women set for themselves or a goal imposed by families and society. It can still be like that in more conservative and male-dominated cultures. A few brave women have, throughout the centuries, fought against these pre-established patterns and many still do. There’s nothing wrong with being a mother, a wife or a housewife. In fact, it’s not even a matter of being right or wrong, but a matter of choosing who you want to be and what you want to do. As women become more independent, they become better able to help and support one another in different personal and professional initiatives. Social medias have boosted these efforts and initiatives enormously, but there is still so much to be done. Motherhood should not anul or diminish our roles as a woman, quite the opposite. It’s simply one more important role someone can play. So, instead of criticising other mums for what they do (or do not do), let’s unite and enjoy the trials and triumphs that motherhood can bring to so many of us.

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Mother and son from the Brazilian Caiapó tribe by Antônio Carlos Ferreira Banavita

When, on one occasion, I was looked down on at work by my female co-workers for being pregnant with my third child, a more supportive friend said that criticising pregnant women was more typical of women who either had grown up offspring or women who did not have any children. Becoming and being a mother is not easy, but those who walk this path will also experiment unconditional, unselfish love. There is no substitute for the smiles, the songs rehearsed and presented at school shows or the totally loving and innocent comments, such as the one my son made the other day: You’re getting old, but you’re still beautiful!

A Brazilian teacher and ELT materials writer, interested in education, literature, history and culture.