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Sunday 10 May 2009

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Mother- A Character that needs to be redefined

“maatr dEvO bhava” – says Hindu Scripture, which means “Mother is your first and foremost God”. Mother is the one who brings a life to this world; she is the one who nurtures the hungry body and curious mind in those initial and crucial years of development. She takes care of the helpless infant with sleepless nights and restless days. She sees that her baby is safe and sound. It is her who makes the world meaningful place for the new born. It is through her senses that the child learns to make sense of everything. Without a mother or a motherly person, no infant would survive to see the adulthood. This fact is supported by science, biology and psychology as well. Mother is the first teacher, guide, friend, and the ‘whole universe’ of that young soul that just started its journey in this planet.

The term ‘mother’ has almost similar words in almost all languages of the world. The oldest language Sanskrit, calls her “Maa” or “Maataa”, and this is true for most of the Indian Dialects. English’s “Mother”, Spanish’s “Mama”, Mandarin’s “Ma”, Italian’s “Mama”, and French’s “Mere” – all look at one person. The infant’s first word (without crying, intentional vocalizing) is “mmmm… mmaa”, which speaks much about the origin of the word itself. “Ma” is the universal name for mother.

The first meaning for the word “mother” that is listed in most of the dictionaries is “A Female Parent” (Cambridge Dictionary, Webster’s Dictionary, Merriam Webster’s Standard Dictionary, etc.). But there is more to this literal meaning of the term mother. It means ‘the one who gave birth and takes care of her young ones’ (as in “The little kittens and their mother were all curled up asleep in the same basket”). It also means ‘the one who is compassionate’ (as in “Her elder sister was more like a mother to her”). The word also looks at an elderly woman who is looked upon with respect like “Mother Teresa”. And then there are usages of this word where it refers to Mother of All, like “Mother Mary”, “Goddess Mother”. These are only a few examples. We also refer our planet as “Mother Earth” with respect, as the earth is the birthplace of all organisms that we see and those we can’t see around us. We call our country as “Mother Land”, showing our gratitude. In Hindu mythology, there are several thousands of Gods and Goddesses, and there is one who is Mother to all of them. She is the strength, the power with which this universe draws its life. Such is the energy of a mother, from whom we can light our lives.

When “Mother” means a lot emotionally and linguistically, what does it mean to be that person? What are some of the responsibilities of this universally important person in an infant’s life? What are the current issues around those responsibilities? What does it mean to be a mother? Who can be a good mother, and who cannot? And, what is the father’s role in this drama of life? What does it mean to be a father? Being a mother is not just being a biological mother. “Mother-ness” is a feeling, a work of heart, from heart. Even some men can be “great mothers”, where the word mother means “nurturing affectionate person”. Some women, though became biological mothers, cannot be anywhere near the true sense of mothering. They cannot take care of an infant, cannot feed, clean, and care for that young-cute-helpless human.

In literature, we come across many mothers who sacrifice their happiness for the happiness of their children. Thetis, the sea-nymph, in Homer’s Iliad helps and supports her son Achilles so many times, in spite of warnings from Zeus, in the Trojan war. Her motherly affection wants her son to be safe and happy, though he is not the perfect virtuous man. She knows that he is not supporting his army, his people who trusted him. He is not doing his duties, being a warrior in the Achaean Army in Troy. In spite of all that she helps him, gives him clues, just because he is her son. That is the bond of mother to her child. Then there are two other mothers in Iliad. One is- Hecuba, queen of Troy, mother of Hector and Paris, who had a vision that Paris might bring destruction to Troy. But, she could not stop her son from bringing a reason of war into Troy, in the form of Helen. The other mother is wife of Hector, who had to see the tragic, terrible death of her husband with a small child in her arms. These tow mothers are the most hurt in that Trojan war, but their pain got the least attention in the epic. Similarly another Goddess-mother we see is Venus, mother of Aeneas, in Aeneid by Virgil. She too favors her son Aeneas, at times though he was morally not right. In Hamlet, Shakespeare’s Gertrude is on the other side of the spectrum. She forgets that she is a mother, but only remembers that she is a queen. She does what it takes to keep her status as a queen, and doesn’t think of its consequences on Hamlet. Her marriage with the new king, Claudius upsets him, makes him depressed, and ultimately hysterical murderer. But she doesn’t seem to be bothered by the fact that it is partly due to her lust that has pushed Hamlet, her son into depression. She is ignorant of those fine-tuned feelings. She is a Queen.

Apart from those queens, in olden times, before the revolution of Women’s liberation, before the economic freedom of women, mothers were homebound. They were expected to ‘bear, give birth, and bring-up’ the offspring of human race. They were mere ‘Female Parents’. Their counterparts, ‘Male Parents’ were the ‘bread-winners’ of the family, the sole earning member having the task of feeding many hungry mouths at home. Time has changed now, for better or for worse, I won’t say. Mothers are also earning members of many families. They share the burden of their counterparts. They take responsibility of rearing the child, shopping for the groceries, paying the bills, keeping the home, cooking the meals, helping kids with homework, take them for extra classes/ activities, and fix their hair with love. Where does she get the strength for all these works, when her counterpart is working at office and comes home ‘totally tired’? Yes, that is the new mother we see today. Some are super-moms. There are exceptions to this scenario, where mothers get a lot of help from fathers and extended family members. This is a relief to her. But then there are mothers who are forced to be all in all for her children. Either she is forced by the situation, or by her own choice, she is the sole support of her little family. She has to be the Male and Female parent to her children, and a good role model too (“As is the mother, so is her daughter” –Bible, Ezekeil, ch.16, v.44), besides being the breadwinner. To win this battle, she needs tremendous strength. Talking about strength, I think Mother Theresa and Eva Peron are among the greatest mothers. They are mothers to the poor, the needy people. They loved them all though they are not their flesh and blood. It takes a sensible mind, sensitive heart and a strong character to be a mother of a nation.

“I wish thee all thy mother’s graces, Thy father’s fortunes, and his places…..” wrote Richard Corbet (1582-1635), to his son, Vincent Corbet, meaning that mother is the host of virtues, and father is responsible for fortunes. It was, and still is, understood that mother is to mend and mind the mannerisms of children. Modern mothers find this task extremely illusive, since they are not with their children all the time. When they have to manage the role of father as efficiently as they can, being the best mother is on the back burner (boiling their own hearts, for some). Most modern mothers are choosing to leave the children with someone else, at ‘Day care centers’, or with Nannies. They want to work, need to work to keep the life engine running. Some women chose not to have any children, so they don’t want to go through the stress of duel life. These women know what it takes to be a mom and just can’t take that to their heart. Then there are some other mothers, who don’t want their children to be away from home, so they get someone to help them. A Nanny or their own mother or mother-in-law will be staying at home, either full time or part time, with her children to take care of them. These are some of the compromises a modern woman has to make to be a mother. On the contrary, there are some companies, where the day care centers are provided on campus for those who need that facility. Oracle, Sun Microsystems, and Microsoft Corporation are some of the big technology giants who take care of their employees in this respect. If most of the companies can provide their employees such a facility, the incidents of Autistic children will be far less than what we have today. Autism, ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) are some of the psychological problems that could be lessened with motherly care.

There is a saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention”. We humans boast of making new inventions in all possible areas. This includes mothering and working moms. There are new networks of moms, who are career oriented, like men are. But these networks provide them with support, resources, and contacts to be successful in both fields. ‘Working moms networks’ are the inventions of needy mothers. Now the network helps many stay-home-moms who earn some extra money by working from home. The newer technologies like telephones, computers, high speed cable networks, and web based businesses have come to the rescue of some of these mothers who wanted to sail both boats without rocking. But, there are others who fall into the other side of the spectrum. They simply don’t want the responsibility of being a mother, in spite of becoming one. They want to see the child’s smiles, not the frowns; they want to hear the 'cooes', not the cries. They want to be called mothers, but not be one. These are the women who are totally self-centered, where the motherly heart in them has died out. They build their empire of self-glory on the tomb of a mother.

Then there are fathers who are more of ‘mothers’. These fathers know how to bathe, feed, change, play, teach, and cuddle their children just like any mother does. This father hears the cry of their infant from the other room before his wife does. He prepares the midnight bottle for the baby, though he has to go to the office next morning. He takes the child to the park on weekends, thinking that it is his privilege to do so. There are fathers who adore their children more than their mothers do. These fathers don’t hesitate to stay home if it comes to the point that the kids had to be left with someone else. These are the men who have a motherly heart. Psychologically they have evoked the feminine side of their conscious, which is present in all men. Those women who are strongly career oriented and think that it is disregard to be a stay-home-mom have weaker feminine side and stronger male-counterpart of their conscious. “Its all in your head” said poet Maya. How true it is!

Yes, it is all in our head and in our heart. It is our choice to be parents, to begin with. Once we own that responsibility, we need to do the job efficiently. What is the efficiency level? That depends upon the individual parent’s ability and child’s needs. But, in general, being a mother is a fulltime job by itself. She has the responsibility of raising a healthy citizen, a brilliant person, and a compassionate human with arts in his heart. Only a mother, or a compassionate parent, can do this to the child. It is extremely rare that a child reared in an orphanage becomes such an ideal citizen of the world. We need to ask ourselves certain questions before we become parents. Do we really want a child? Are we ready for all those responsibilities? Are we capable of handling a child or two? What are our priorities? Only when we answer these questions to our satisfaction, we can become a mother or a motherly parent. To be loved is easy; to love is hard work. It is the essence of life. Mothering is that kind of work, very hard work, sweat-n-blood work.


Bibliography

Webster’s Universal College Dictionary
Merriam Webster’s Standard Dictionary
The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.
Theories of Personality – by Schultz & Schultz.
Social Psychology – by Myers.
Iliad – by Homer
Aenead – by Virgil
Hamlet – by Shakespeare
Psychology of Mothers – by Anupama Niranjana
“Family and woman” – A Hand book by Anupama Niranjana (In ‘Kannada’- an Indian Dialect).
dictionary.cambridge.org
http://www.wahm.com/
http://www.wahm.org/
http://www.momsnetwork.com/
http://www.miserlymoms.com/

(Essay on Mother - October, 2002 - De Anza College, Cupertino, California)
(Also read this write up)

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