The question arises at nearly every cocktail party. Folks hovering over the onion dip and meeting someone for the first time will inquire, “What do you do for a living?”
The answer “I’m a psychiatrist” has a tendency to make the questioners nervous, since they fear the doctor will try to detect their neuroses on the spot. And English teachers often get the reaction, “Oh, I’ll be careful with my grammar around you!”
But the mention of one profession often leads to a stunned silence.
“Just a mother,” some lady will reply. This elicits a polite smile from the questioner, who suddenly remembers he must refresh his drink.
Problem is, mothering lacks wages, benefits and promotions, so many people think it is a worthless undertaking. As for me, I think motherhood is one of the greatest professions ever, and I deeply admire women who pursue it full-time. But I wish they’d come up with a new job description.
Saying “I’m just a mother” is like saying I’m just a saint or just a hero. It’s like saying I’m just a Nobel Prize winner or just the inventor of the wheel. When the first baby is cooing in the crib, a mother’s tasks seem endless and unvaried, and it might be tempting to disparage them. The baby eats and grows hungry again, almost instantly. The baby has to be changed, countless times. The baby cries and has to be comforted.
Even with these basic tasks, though, something wondrous is happening. The baby is “just” learning that someone loves him and someone will take care of him.
Before long, there may be another baby in the house, and the job responsibilities of motherhood increase exponentially. At the same time she is giving round-the-clock care to the new infant, she must explain to a toddler why the sky is blue and what makes a cow say moo.
As the children grow, the questions become more difficult. And Mom “just” has to know ethics, geography, history and science. She must teach children how to be a true friend, how to control their tempers – and how to protect their peanut butter sandwiches from the mouth of the family dog.
The woman who is “just” a mother must ensure the children get enough sleep, get to church on time and get their homework done.
True, much of mothering involves scrubbing, dusting, cooking and laundry, and many people look down their noses at these down-to-earth tasks. But really, what is more soul-nourishing than a clean home, fresh clothing and a hot meal on the table?
“There’s no place like home” was Dorothy’s mantra in “The Wizard of Oz,” and the truth of that statement has never dimmed. Anyone in the salaried world can attest to the lovely mental image of home that soothes the heart during the most stressful moments on the job.
Many are able to endure the terribly long commute because they are sustained by the image of opening the door, inhaling the scent of pot roast and calling out “Honey, I’m home!”—and then being mobbed by little children running to hug their knees.
Home truly is where the heart is. And the mothers who reign there keep the rest of the world spinning for the entire family. So if you are a full-time mother, please do me a favor. Next time you’re at a party, and someone asks what you do for a living, please tell them that you run the world.
Lorraine is the author of “The Abbess of Andalusia: Flannery O’Connor’s Spiritual Journey” (St. Benedict Press). Lorraine’s web site is www.lorrainevmurray.com
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