Once Upon a Motherhood


motherXduckWhen I judge a romance writing contest, one of the questions I ask some entrants is, “How has your heroine changed in the course of this book? Yes, she rescued her billionaire boss; but inside, how is she a more substantial person than she was 367 pages ago?”

A shorthand way to ask the same question: How will she be a better mother at the end of the book than she would have been at the beginning?

mother-lion-and-cubI don’t think you have to bear children, raise children, or even like children to contribute motherlove to a word badly in need of it. One of the most reliable expert witnesses I’ve worked with in the child welfare courtroom had no children, but was passionately–and successfully–devoted to making the world better for children.

So what do I mean by motherlove?

I mean the difference between the tender-hearted, sweet, passionate protectiveness we all feel for a new baby (provided the diaper patrol has recently been on the job), and the rugged humor of an adolescent’s mother. Any mom raising teens knows that enforcing reasonable boundaries can be noisy, dramatic, and painful, but somebody’s gotta do it or college/steady employment/creative success won’t happen.

rideXonXmomA mother worthy of the name knows that parenting and the body’s anticipation of it takes a physical toll, not only in pregnancy and gestation, but in exhaustion, anemia, inconvenience, and reproductive considerations that include safety, privacy, expense, and discomfort. Whether you’re devoting yourself to the care of your own child, or your brother’s kid while dad’s in rehab, you’re paying a permanent, physical price for standing in the shoes of the mom or mom-to-be.

catXwithXbunnasYou might get a greeting card or brunch out for your troubles, some years. You WILL get–and have been getting for years–wage inequality, loss of career momentum, and greater financial insecurity in old age. These wrongs are largely perpetrated by, and clearly benefit, the same sons, husbands, and dads buying us the smarmy cards and blueberry pancakes. Oh, I could rant…

But, when you love like a mother loves, you also get a grasp of the big picture beyond your self-interest. You make friends with optimism, hope, pragmatism, and resilience. You get some much-needed immunity from the social imperative to always be attractive and nice. You learn–oh, mama, do you learn–that if you don’t take care of yourself, the whole circus tent comes down.

PaddyXXXHeatherX1992_01XX1XAgain, I’m not saying children are the only way to grow a heart capable of these feats, but I do believe that once you’re approaching the world from the posture of a mom as I’ve described her, you’re in a position to make one heck of a big, important contribution.

So thank you, to anybody who has made such a contribution, whether to a child, an elder, a stranger, or a stray dog. We will never have too much motherlove in this world.

To the first twenty commenters, I’ll send the signed Grace Burrowes book of his or her choice. Whose love has changed you for the better or helped you grow?

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45 comments on “Once Upon a Motherhood

  1. I’ve been blessed to have many strong women, mother lionesses so to speak in my life. From my grandmother I learned to dream and imagine and to create a safe haven in the face of adversity for loved ones as well as patience and unconditional love. I also learned the latter from my mother along with respect for others, feistiness and grit, protectiveness and encouragement to be independent and explore and friendship, from my aunt Laura I learned perspective and to get my nose out of a book and think about others or be more cognizant, from my cousin Patsy I learned how to be more supportive and be there for disadvantaged kids as a teacher, from my best friend’s mom I learned how to talk and how to listen as well as how to laugh in the face of adversity, from a wonderful diagnostician and several if my teachers I learned how to think for myself, query, research in all directions, find my way and to stand up for others and to mentor, from my sister-in-law faith, love prioritizing and being there for a loved one no matter what. From all of these women I learned to be loved, to love and protect others and stand up for children, to be resilient and to enjoy life and be curious and explore and be strong. I have been very blessed and am very thankful to have had them and more in my life.

  2. If you had or have a good mother, you have been blessed beyond words, and I have known people who didn’t, who never got over it. I think there is something about having been unconditionally loved that never leaves you and makes you stronger. My mother was one of the best and most interesting people I have ever known.

    I’m so grateful that in my turn I was able to become a mother when other women were becoming grandmothers. Motherhood gave me love and fear, because when you are given that great gift, the first thing that you know is that you can also lose it. I listened to my child breathe when he was an infant, and now I watch the clock until he gets back home. My husband and I are so blessed in our child who is the best of us and some things all of his own.

    I forgot you were asking a question, so I will say that my mother and my child made me a better person.

    Happy Mother’s day to you also!

  3. There were many whose love changed an formed me for the better. But, of course, my mother was the most important. She was my first example of how to be a decent human being.

    It is hard to mother children under any circumstance, but when you have little money and six small children to care for it can be a monumental challenge.

    One of my earliest memories was of not liking oatmeal – and that was all we had to eat for breakfast most mornings. It was a sensory thing. It looked like a bowl of snot (sorry) to my young eyes. She tried to force me to eat it. It made it halfway to my stomach before it made the return trip and spewed all over the table. Her response was not to beat me or make me do without breakfast – God knows we had little enough else to eat. She took the left over oatmeal and put it in the ice box (yes ice box) to harden. The next morning, when everyone else was eating fresh oatmeal, she took yesterdays oatmeal (which had hardened) out of the ice box, sliced it and fried it in butter for me. So I had a little fried oatmeal cake instead of the bowl of snot. That’s mother love.

  4. My own mom was the epitome of unconditional love to all four of us. My oldest brother was the typical black sheep, always in trouble, always needing help, always causing mom grief and heartache. Yet, she always forgave him, never stopped showing him love, and always helped him. I didn’t see it for what it was until I did some growing up myself. I wish I could be more like her, but I still have a long way to go.

    • I recall the day my oldest sister commented that my mom was a better mom for boys than she was for girls, and a better mom for little kids than big kids. That took a huge weight off my shoulders, and made me realize that as a parent, I was going to have high cards and low cards too, and they wouldn’t always be the cards that worked best for my kid. This is where love steps in…. if we’re lucky.

  5. My Grandmothers have influenced me. Both of them lost their husbands at an early age, raised their children and re entered the work force.
    Nana Molly was the kindest person that I have ever known. She always had the time to listen to me. Always. She taught me to cook and bake. Nana had faith- in God, in me and even in the lottery.
    My father’s mother worked during the day and went to secretarial school at night. She raised two sons and was able to travel with friends and family after she retired. She supported my decision to go to college out of state and I was so happy that she was there when I graduated from college.
    I have tried to take the time to listen to my daughter and support her decisions. On Sunday’s, we have Sunday Supper– we take time to eat together and reconnect– and laugh, too! 🙂
    Happy Mother’s Day to you!!

    • We tend to think of single moms are a modern phenomenon, but they aren’t. My grandma was widowed at age nineteen (with a baby), her mother had been abandoned by a husband who went west and just faded from view (he took up with a new family, though we didn’t learn that until after my grandma had been long gone). To raise a child alone back in the day had to have been mighty hard work, even harder than it is now. Hats off to those grandmothers, and the examples they gave you.

  6. I’ve been lucky enough to have several excellent ‘mothers’ in my life including teachers – one of whom never gave birth but was a mother to many of her students. (Of course, she claims she did it for the selfish reason that she enjoyed helping other people.)

    My mother and grandmothers taught me a lot by example. My grandmothers helped in many ways but ultimately one of the most enduring lessons was in styles of parenting – including that you don’t have to be overly demonstrative and verbose to make a point. Sometimes the simple approach works best.

    Happy Mother’s Day!

    • That was my mom. “I love you,” was clean sheets that smelled of the lavender Yardley soap she kept in the linen closet, clean clothes, and dinner on the table every night at six for nine people, or ten, or eleven.. Her favorite parable was the beggar’s banquet, which to me is the embodiment of pragmatic love.

  7. My mother and both of my grandmothers showed me what it means to be a mother as well as an intelligent women, as well as a strong work ethic.

    My paternal grandmother was a *stage mother* in the best possible meaning of the word. Dad was in vaudeville with a famous (a VERY famous)partner and made the rounds of the circuit in the Midwest. That very famous partner used to say you can take the boy of Chicago, but you can’t take Chicago out of the boy. They were young when they were doing this and Grammy made them do their Latin homework in the backseat of her Ford when they played a burlesque house so they would see the, um, dancers. She protected them and was always looking out for them. She appear soft-spoken……but don’t cross her when it concerned her son (or grandchildren!).

    My maternal grandmother had a college degree when many girls didn’t finish grade school. She also was an amputee, having had a traumatic *footling* birth and the nervous doctor crushed her leg trying to save her. At nine, they amputated it. She played tennis, as well as gave birth to two children, things she was told she would never be able to do. She was a pianist and music was important to her as well as reading. I remember reading the Readers Digest versions of many famous novels when staying at her house when I was under ten…and then reading the *real* versions when I was older and being amazed I hadn’t realized what was missing!

    My mother was an opera singer, a coloratura soprano. She also had six children. After her death, we ALL agreed, her biggest mistake raising us was to make us EACH feel like we were only children. One of her roles was *the Queen of the Night* and every time she did dishes, she practiced those runs…over and over and over…..I can still hear them in my sleep…every day….before I even knew what they were and what she was doing…..they are a part of me. I didn’t understand at the time it is was only with daily practice, those very difficult arias would stay in her voice so she could do them when she was hired. She loved my children unconditionally and with one of them having autism, it isn’t as easy as it sounds.

    • *They were young when they were doing this and Grammy made them do their Latin homework in the backseat of her Ford when they played a burlesque house so they would NOT see the, um, dancers.* I forgot the NOT in my post…and believe me, Grammy would be coming to get me if I left that out!

      • I did wonder. I hope you’ve written some of this down, because that legacy is rare, and disappearing. The Latin homework, the dancers, the Queen of the Night (ye gods, talk about tricky) while doing the dishes.

        Ever thought of writing a book?

  8. My first husband once said he was worried how I would be as a a mother since I did not seem terribly interested in children. Then I got a puppy, and he realized I did have that capacity of love he felt a mother needed. Sadly that husband did not live to see What a good job I did raising our son. Son is 23, working on the other side of the country, with an Ivy League degree and no student loans.

    My 11 year old daughter got her first puppy yesterday. After waking to his cries throughout the night, she asks if that is what it’s like raising a baby. I think she will make a good mother too.

    • You had me at, “an Ivy League degree with no student loans.” I’m sure there’s a blog post full of mamas wondering if they can introduce their daughters to him.

      For my daughter, it was horses, a very expensive kind of puppy, but she’s still interested in them even into adulthood.

  9. Quite a few strong ladies who showed me the value of an education… They taught me, some literally as they were teachers, to look to my elders for my life lessons & I think of these awesome women every year on this day. Thank You for all you gave me!

    • So many people point their teachers as an inspiration. I dedicated my first book to my junior high English teacher (a guy), and my first piano teacher was one of my all time role models. Teaching truly, truly is a vocation. (I’m looking at you, Sabrina Holmes.)

  10. My great-aunt, Jenny, was just such a nurturer. She was my paternal grandmother’s sister and she loved with her whole body. Aunt Jen was one of 13 children so she had many nieces & nephews, but she always made me feel as if there was only the two of us during our times together. She smiled with her whole face– eyes crinkled at the corners and always accompanied with a little high pitched tee-here kind of laugh. She hugged with big, enveloping drama, always accompanied with a squeeze. She showed me, from an early age, that the amount of love a single person could give is infinite.

  11. My Mom loved me and did a very good job rearing me in spite of being reared without a mother of her own to use as a guide. Her mother died of cancer when my Mom was only 3 so she really has no memory of her or how she acted. Her older sister helped her dad but she was 15 years older and married young. I’m the eldest child and daughter and somehow managed to turn out okay though I know she goofed up a few things with me. But she tried and she learned and got them right with my 3 younger sisters and one brother and we’re all pretty close. In fact, we just had dinner with Mom and my next-to-last sister and her family, and one of my other sisters called while we were sitting around talking. I keep telling her she cannot leave us because I don’t know how we’ll cope (yeah, I know I’m selfish and unrealistic but I don’t want to lose her).

    • You were the trailblazer, which is a tough, tough job. There’s fifteen years between the oldest siblings (twins), and the youngest in my family, and those fifteen years made a huge difference in the way my parents raised kids. My oldest siblings talk about very different childhoods than I had, and in some regards, getting Mom and Dad “broken in,” wasn’t easy.

  12. My husband’s love has changed me and made me be a better person. We have been together 25 years and I think it was through the dark times – those unpleasant abyss that every marriage moves thru, the months when you look at each other and wonder who the hell is that person eating dinner with you and then all of sudden – they reach out with love and you remember. He has never let me take the easy way and he has always demanded and insisted being all in and totally committed. I wanted to run and escape to that perfect life that was somewhere I wasn’t and he would simply ask what do you want? I would remember I wanted him.

    • Sometimes, knowing that question to ask take genius. Sounds like he knew when to put that question to you, and it’s a good one. I hope you have AT LEAST 25 more years together abyss-free (my parents made it to 70, Shana Galen’s grandparents are at 75 years).

  13. I have a wonderful family that has always loved me and supported me with any choice I’ve made.

    But I have gathered a small group of friends in the last few years that are amazing. They don’t expect me to fit their mold. They let me be me and accept me. I’ve had friends in the past that always seemed shocked by me or made me feel like I had to be constrained version of myself. Sometimes I look at myself and wonder at the ways I’ve changed. Then I realize I’ve not changed so much as I’ve simply come into my own.

    • Oh, I hear you. I’ve been me all along, I’m just getting better about finding the people who like who I am. And those other people, who think they know better what person I should be? Pfft!

    • My dad once said something along the lines of, “Your mom would have ended up running some big hospital if she hadn’t had you kids. She’s a woman of great ability.” She stayed home to raise the seven of us, but that my Dad GOT what a sacrifice that was touched me. In his world, (he’s 95) staying home was what women did. At least theoretically, he grasped that Mom had made a choice to build a family with him.

      I’m glad you had your mom in your corner, glad you still do.

  14. I’ve had many strong women in my life; but my mother has been my idol. She raised 3 children while working full-time in a male dominated field (banking) and a very male dominated society (hispanic).
    She taught strenght is not exclusive of compassion; and that a woman is capable of anything she puts her mind into without depending on a man

    • If you want to get me ranting, get me going about the wage inequality minority women face in America. The average for white women is $.79 on the white male dollar (because at entry level, white women are making $.93 on the white male dollar, so the gross inequalities older women face even out some). For minority women, that figure–on AVERAGE–is $.53 on the white male dollar.

      I cannot imagine the challenges your mom faced. No wonder she’s your idol.

  15. Okay you’re making me cry at work. I don’t want my mascara to run. Mother love toward animals. My husband and I took in an adult dog who was going back to the pound, a kitten that had been abandoned in our apartment complex, and two kittens at the pound who were about to be killed. It is difficult to express the love and companionship we have received from these wonderful animals. If you are considering adopting a cat or dog, it is totally worth it.

    • YEP. I was so proud of my daughter when she asked to have a pair of cats for her first apartment. She walked out of the shelter with the two cats who’d been there the longest. One of them is sitting in my as I type this, purring like a Ferrari.

      Good kitty, Chloe. Very good kitty.

  16. Awww, I love my children desperately. I am so proud of them both. But a granddaughter. Goodness gracious. Its not bigger love. But different love. I am different now. Not it such a big hurry. What on earth was I in such a big hurry about back then? I remember always being in a hurry.
    Now, the love that comes from grandparenthood. Its different. We are not in a hurry. We take her to Disneyland every year. And we just follow her. Wherever she wants to go. Don’t get me wrong. Yes, indeed we do spoil her. It is a great pleasure of ours. But we don’t do that brat behavior. No. Behavior is expected. Manners. Etc. Its no fun with children behaving badly. We see grandparents all over at Disneyland miserable and unhappy with unruly kids. But not us. We make sure she has a nap, decent food…..And we do whatever she wants. One year, it rained. She discovered that there was no line at either Dumbo or the Carousel. We went back and forth between the two for 4 hours. Nothing else. Just those two. She loved it. Then, it was time to go back for lunch and a nap. Perfect Disneyland day if you ask me. But back to the question, the grandparent love has changed and enhanced my life more than I could have ever dreamed. Both from her and what I feel for her.

    • This is wonderful, uplifting. Gives good insight into what’s to come. I’m a mom to a pre-schooler but reading what you wrote, I thought I want that too, for myself. Also, it made me think of my mother and my in-law and what it all must mean to them. Thank you.

      • Oh, sorry, I forgot. Hi! And hi to Ms. Burrowes! I love your writing and your blog! It’s my first time to comment here.

    • I can’t tell you how many kids are kept OUT of foster care because Grandma jumps in with both feet, and does what needs to be one. That grandma love is something else, and there’s even an anthropological theory that civilization began to move forward when women started living long enough to be grandmas.

      I believe it. I’ve seen it too many times firsthand. Your granddaughter is one lucky kid.


  17. What a lovely Mother’s Day post. The love of both my parents has changed me for the better, in so many ways. I love my Dad–he’s gone now and I miss him. Thankfully, Mom is still with us. She is the best woman I’ve ever known. Among her Mother’s Day gifts from me this year was a pillow proclaiming, “Home is Where Your Mom is.”

  18. My grandparents were married for 55 years before my mawmaw passed away. My grandpa held on for a few more years, but he was so lost without her. That was the love story that I watched growing up.

    • I watched my parents’ marriage, but by the time I came along, they’d been at it about twenty years. Some of the hardest parts happened before my time, and when I turned twenty, they moved to the West Coast, so I didn’t see much of the golden years either.

      But what I saw was great stuff, and I wish more people had role models like that. Of course, I could write a book… hey. Wait. Oh, yeah.

  19. Thanks to everybody who commented, and I’ll be emailing you to get which title you’d like, and where you’d like me to send it. Just give me a little time to get a book deadline or two squared away… or three. Possibly four.