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Um, Yeah, You’re Not a Mother

What is the deal with all of these people—usually women, as I’ve encountered them—who claim that they are “like a mother” to such-and-such—a cousin, a friend’s daughter, whomever—but when it all comes down to it, they’ve never worried about said child every moment of every day, prepared said child’s meals more than a couple of times, sat up with said sick child through the wee hours of the morning and the next day and the next, or done anything else remotely parentive (yes, that’s a word I’m making up right now) other than maybe play with the kid and bring him or her a birthday present every year?

That’s a lengthy question to ask, I understand, but honestly I am getting a little tired of these so-called mothers. They’re almost as bad as these people who call their dogs and cats their “babies” and treat them as such, and lament about their behavior as if they are truly children. It’s nice that they care about them so much—I have three cats and a dog, I get it—but it’s nowhere even near the same.

It’s funny; when you give these so-called mothers—who often spend less than five hours with a child a week—a chance to really be mothers (say, with a babysitting overnight), they get a taste of reality and they really can’t deal with it. They are exhausted, complain about not sleeping well or being woken up or not being able to get the child to eat or sleep or settle down or… Yeah, the list goes on, and other parents know what I’m going to say next: “Welcome to my world!”

This is parenting. It’s a nonstop process; it will never end, not even when your child is sixty and you are eighty-two and trying to help them choose the best retirement options or listening to their adventures with breathing tubes in your nose. It’s hard, and it can be painful and exhausting and sometimes even boring (but those of us who do it know it’s pretty much worth it when all is said and done)—but it’s not some once a week endeavor that makes you think you’re “like a mom” to a kid because you shared a moment at the zoo or you both happen to like blue raspberry snow cones.

You know, even when I took care of my sisters growing up—which was almost a full-time job for me when my parents worked, particularly during the summer months—sometimes they called me mom. I signed them up for classes at school with my mom’s signature. I took care of them, fed them, bathed them, beat up the bullies that threatened them (okay, hopefully a mom wouldn’t do this one; I was twelve, for goodness sake!), taught them to read and write and draw and dozens of other things, and much of what I did was parentive. But I never called myself their mother; even at that age, I knew better.

My mom worried; I was too young for that (though it didn’t take much longer before I started to develop the habit, too). My mom knew what it was like to spend nights in the emergency room, or huddled over an inhaler, or fixing a torn piece of flesh with popsicle sticks and medical tape. She knew what it was like to be up at the crack of dawn, before the rest of us, killing all of the piles of spiders or slugs or roaches (all dependent on which home we were living in at the time) before we got up and stepped on them. She knew what it was like to have doctors tell you your preemie (yours truly) was going to be retarded and worrying over that. She knew what it was like to have to balance a budget, to keep the electricity on, to be creative to find enough food for her three children. My mom was a mom; I wasn’t—of course, until now, since I have my own daughter to worry about.