Last week, I received a text from a friend that said, “I hate Mother’s Day.” This woman is the loving mother of four young children and a home educator. I knew she liked being a mom. So I called her, asking, “Whoa, what’s up?” She let out a breath of air and told me that she disliked the holiday because her children never did anything for her.
She called me today to say that Mother’s Day had gone well after all. Why? Well, she realized that her husband was never taught to give a card or gift to his mother, which is why he didn’t have her kids do it. She also realized that, as awkward as it seemed, if she did not step in and teach her children how and when to express gratitude for their mother, she would perpetuate this ignorance another generation. She pulled her husband aside on Sunday and asked him to have the kids make her cards. He agreed with joy. An hour later her children presented her an array of thoughtful, hand-made cards. She cried.
The whole situation reminded me of the oft-quoted line, “The hand that rocks the cradle rocks the world.” Motherhood seems so small at times because it is so private, small scale, and hard to quantify. But mothers, especially those who sacrifice the time and energy to raise their children during the young years, socialize their children in countless areas from money management to how to look someone in the eyes and politely greet them. Their impact–collectively–is culture making and culture changing.
Take the problem of childhood obesity. While the federal government can (and does) spend millions on public awareness campaigns, state legislatures ban snack foods from school cafeterias, and the mayor of NYC prohibits super-sizing soda, we know that the most significant indicator of whether a child is obese is whether he eats regular meals with his family. In the mundane act of eating dinner, parents provide a critical link in food socialization, teaching a child how to approach food from using a fork to what to eat and when to stop consuming.
Eating together, like much of child rearing, feels so intuitive that we tend to underestimate its value. Because we are merely walking in our parents footsteps, we can assume that our mothering is unimportant and ineffectual. But each of these little acts can be decisively formative, and, every now and again, we catch a glimpse of their impact. My friend saw that on Mother’s Day. I hope you see it in some way in the midst of your day.