Every May we make a special fuss over mothers—as we should. Despite its joys, the job of motherhood is often grueling and difficult work for the courageous women fighting the good fight. The moms I know deserve much more than flowers and a restaurant dinner every May. (Not that there’s anything wrong with flowers and dinner…)
Today I’m going to suggest that for all the modern conveniences that make Mom’s job easier, I doubt it’s ever been more difficult to be a mother. Let me explain.
Modern women have extraordinarily difficult decisions to make as they move through their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. Many women want to have children. Others don’t. But the ones who do face daunting challenges and questions. How will having a child affect my family’s finances? Will I still be able to move forward in a career? What will happen if I choose to stay at home while my children are small? How will I react emotionally to the difficulties and predictable drudgeries that come with the job? If I return to work right away, how will I feel about parking my child in day care? But if I stay out of the workforce for several years will I be able to get a job one day that offers more than thanking people for walking in the front door?
By every measurement, society’s attitudes towards childbearing and motherhood have changed drastically in just a few decades. Over the last 45 years the average age of first-time moms in the US has risen from 21 to 26 years old. Today 47 percent of US women between 15 and 44 have never had a child. As modern women consider their options in life, attitudes towards motherhood have become cautious at best.
After all, we’re not exactly making motherhood an easy choice these days. In a recent Save the Children survey of the best countries in which to be a mother, based on things like available child care, paid family leave, and infant mortality, the US—the richest country on earth—came in at #33. Our Canadian neighbors were ranked #4.
I’m old enough to remember the time when society’s expectations were clear and uncomplicated; a woman’s place was in the home. Men went out to work, and women kept the floors waxed. But time, financial need, and growing opportunities have brought women into the workplace, and only a troll would suggest a return to the days when a woman’s worth was determined solely by catching a husband, the success of her children, and whether dinner was ready when Dad came home. We’ve come a long way, baby, and society is vastly better for it.
But everything in life comes with a price, and mothers often agonize about the choices they’ve had to make to get by in the world while also caring for you—precious above everything else on Earth. Mother’s Day gives us a chance to acknowledge the remarkable debt we owe to the women who, in a world of modern choices, chose to have us.
But there’s more to it than just acknowledging what your mother has done for you. Take a few moments to ponder what she had to give up in exchange for the years of smelly diapers, the natural selfishness of childhood, and the snarky standoffishness of adolescence.
Sometimes I wonder, and so should you, what our wives and mothers might have achieved if it hadn’t been for us. If you’re not sure, and if your mother is still around, ask her. And then ask yourself why she is nevertheless willing to accept your debt to her as paid in full in exchange for an occasional simple but sincere expression of thanks and love?
Personally, I don’t know the answer to that question. I’ve never pretended to understand the depths of a mother’s love. But like all of you, I would have been lost without it. Going out of your way to point it out one day a year is a very small price to pay…even if the price of a nice card these days is absolutely ridiculous. Tough it out, big boy. She’s worth it.