When 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?
I 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.
A 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.
You 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.
Again, 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?