What Makes Motherhood Worthwhile
Originally posted on the Institute for Family Studies website.
I’m excited about this Mother’s Day—giddy actually—even though I won’t spend it with my sons who live many states away. Despite the distance, we’ll be close in our hearts, as we have been for nearly three decades since their births. I’ll don a hot pink dress and pearls, apply makeup more meticulously than usual, and walk with a springier gait. I won’t need a rose in my lapel, or a dozen of them displayed on the center island, to feel special. I will feel special just because I’m a mother. I’ll join millions of women, like myself, who will be honored this second Sunday in May for the same reason: just because we’re mothers.
It’s a special role for which I’ve given thanks for roughly 10,682 days. Not all these days were peachy-keen, I’ll admit, but most of them were. And I find that most mothers agree: their recollections—whether recent or in the distant past—describe motherhood with unabashed enthusiasm.
Since 1989, I have interviewed a host of women to learn the challenges they faced in their marriage during the early parenting years. What they shared, coupled with scholarly research, culminated in my book After the Baby: Making Sense of Marriage After Childbirth. Now, years later, I circled back to ask the same women and a few additional mothers I’ve encountered along the way: “Is having children worth the hard work, the ups and downs in your life and marriage, and the sacrifices made as a mother? What makes it all worthwhile? Is it all worthwhile?”
I heard a resounding, “Yes!” accompanied by a chorus of beautiful reflections about the journey through motherhood. Any ups and downs, they assured me, were more than balanced by joy and “inestimable love” that their children brought into their lives. The positives, undoubtedly, outweighed the negatives.
One mother described the powerful emotion of maternal love:
“Love for our children is so great that we forget ways they may hurt us or the rocky roads we oft travel as parents; it’s a powerful force that erases the bad and allows only the good to be remembered.”
My interviews revealed mothers eager to define sacrifices made as “opportunities,” chances to give and learn and grow, while shaping the life of another. “Raising children is a privilege,” they asserted.
While some described caring for a family as “hard work” and making decisions affecting family well-being as “difficult,” most of the mothers acknowledged they were thankful they’d had the chance to do so, and would do so again “in a heartbeat.”
When asked about the high cost of raising a family—real and psychological—one mother chuckled. “The cost?” she responded. “Why, it’s incalculable, just as the love for your children is measureless. And the value of a child? Priceless.”
Some women today believe motherhood blights the potential for human growth and development—especially concerning a woman’s relationships and her choice of work. The women I spoke with, however, maintain that being a mother provides exactly the channel for growth and development, made possible only through motherhood. Being a mother fosters the nurturing side, long dormant. Few roles outside motherhood, they felt, present the potential to engage a person so fully—physically and emotionally—stirring sentiments both stimulating and pleasing that enable one to feel good about oneself and how one treats others.
In retrospect, most women that I have interviewed over the years admit an inability to predict or adequately convey the depth of love or emotions they felt as mothers—emotions, assuredly lost on kids until they become parents themselves. Indeed, it is tough to capture the essence of motherhood for those that haven’t traveled there. It’s like expounding details of an amazing trip down the Amazon, and finding only blank stares in response to your wild enthusiasm. You’re left to say, “You just have to go there to understand.”
So, it might be with motherhood. Few words do justice to explain the growth one experiences as an individual, the powerful connection that unites all mothers, and the mysterious oneness you share with your own flesh and blood. As a mother, you feel for your children, think for them, and live for them, yet you know they must think, feel, and live for themselves. So you let them, though reluctantly at first, and it hurts. You know they will experience growing pains and question themselves and the world around them, as we all do. You worry if they’ll find joy and success and every good thing you want for them so badly. Motherhood entails great uncertainties, but I guess most of us are willing to accept the unknown risks along with the equally unknown rewards.
Motherhood isn’t for everyone. Some women resent the severe disciplines and responsibilities it imposes. And a miniscule segment admits that being a mother had not been worth it, citing heartache or disappointment, recalling children that brought only angst or grief.
While motherhood proves elusive or daunting to some, to most women, its rewards go to the core of what it means to be real and alive, to be human, and to experience life in abundance. Personally, I experienced everything three-fold: through my own eyes and through the eyes of my two children. Along with them, I delighted in simple things. As a young mother, I remember lying on the beach with my sons on a steamy afternoon, looking full-faced into a turquoise sky, imagining that the clouds above us were the same “cotton balls” I’d imagined them to be decades before when I’d looked into that same vast expanse from atop an old blanket in my parents’ backyard. Another time, I watched our sons race into the icy-cold water, splashing and shivering against an early summer breeze, giddy with laughter. These memories steal my breath away. They remind me, “This is what motherhood is—this is what life is all about.”
Not every day, of course, was a beach-day. I had a few rainy ones too on my motherhood journey – days when I held my breath or my heart broke. Yet the stress was temporary and bearable, and now long forgotten. Perhaps those moments simply add to the depth and breadth of the adventure.
So, while I may not spend Mother’s Day with my sons this year, I’ll still feel their presence. Close at heart, tethered by 10,680 days (and maybe two bad days) of great memories. Nothing can separate this mother’s love from her sons.
Rhonda Kruse Nordin is a senior fellow at Center of the American Experiment.