Motherhood, the Highest Ordinary Calling: A Response to Amy Glass

Ahh, Amy Glass. If nothing else, your essay has motivated a great deal of reflection on my part.

In full disclosure, I don’t give a rat’s patootie whether or not I make a good feminist. I’ll not try to persuade you that feminism means validating a woman’s choice to be a stay at home mom. Feminists have their own narrow view of the world, and I have mine.

That said, I’ll delve into the specifics of your brief, thoroughly offensive, and ultimately deeply pitiable essay.

On the surface it seems true that “doing laundry will never be as important as being a doctor or an engineer or building a business.” I can say emphatically that laundry, dishes and diapers are not my favorite part of motherhood. But I can also say emphatically that if you think those mundane activities are what drive my love of being a mom, you have utterly missed the point.

Every career comes with some amount of busywork. Nobody becomes a police officer for the excitement of filing reports after arrests. Nobody becomes a doctor for the love of maintaining patient files. Nobody becomes an entrepreneur for the pleasure of managing payroll, insurance claims, or inventory. We do the mundane and monotonous because for the majority of people, success requires unglamorous work.

Likewise, mothers don’t choose their life for the joy of laundry, dishes and diapers. Let’s not be absurd. We see a higher purpose in our work, which makes the mundane bearable, as in all other fields of work worth doing. I see my children as the greatest offering I make to the world. I look around and see a city in which good parenting is scarce; school violence is commonplace, teen pregnancy is almost expected, absentee fathers are the norm, the welfare cycle has thousands in its grip. How I wish I could take every abandoned child in my arms and give them a safe, stable home. But I am only one person; what can one person do?

I can raise my own children well. I am raising my children to be kind, generous and dedicated. By passing my vision on to them, I multiply my own effect on the world by five. They will go places I’ll never go, love people I’ll never meet, impact the world in ways I didn’t know possible. I believe my choice of work compares favorably to any other field in which people strive to make a change for the better.

You claim rather rashly that “You will never have the time, energy, freedom or mobility to be exceptional if you have a husband and kids.” By contrast, you praise (and suggest throwing showers for) the following: “a woman when she backpacks on her own through Asia, gets a promotion, or lands a dream job not when she stays inside the box and does the house and kids thing which is the path of least resistance.”

Here I will add an aside: if you intend to imply that you yourself have chosen the path of exceptionalism, my dear, reconsider: that entire paragraph is a run-on sentence requiring, at minimum, several commas. Periods would be better. Exceptional writing skills are not a natural byproduct of childless singleness. 

If you truly believe this, I question your definition of exceptionalism. Exactly what are you looking for? Worldwide recognition? Hundreds of people have achieved fame without being exceptional (Paris Hilton may top the list). Financial stature? Countless heiresses fail to be exceptional. Having a career? Oh please. Women in offices across the country are pushing papers in a way that would bring tears of boredom to the most laundry-besot mother I know.

The fact is, there are average and exceptional people in every field. What makes a person exceptional is not what career they choose, how well they get paid, or who pats them on the back. Exeptionalism is a characteristic of people who follow their own unique paths exceptionally well.

I am amazed at your ignorance. Queen Cleopatra, Abigail Adams, Dolly Madison, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Marie Curie, Emmeline Pankhurst, Queen Victoria, Maria Von Trapp, Rosa Parks, and J.K. Rowling were all mothers. Countless inventions, businesses and nonprofit organizations are created by mothers working to solve their children’s problems; motherhood, for some, is the prime motivator towards achievement.

Conversely, the examples you mention are not examples of exceptionalism. Thousands of people have hiked through Asia. Buddhists consider the Tibetan mountains a pilgrimage site, and some even climb prostrated to show reverence. Exceptional would be, say, the first woman to climb Mount Everest and the Seven Summits (Junko Tabei, wife and mother) or the women who first pioneered the foothills of those treacherous mountains, facing violent brigands, disease, and political corruption (Flora B. Shelton, Minnie Ogden, and Dr. Susie Rijnhart, all wives and mothers), or the woman who dedicated her life to intensive biological research deep within the forests of Tanzania (Jane Goodall, wife and mother). Tourism is not exceptionalism.

Exceptionalism requires rising above life’s challenges. The truly exceptional woman will exceed the challenges of motherhood, rising to noteworthy heights regardless of her marital or parental status. Why assume all mothers are in a box?

I would argue that people are much too absorbed in their own “exceptionalism”. There are 7.14 billion people in this world today, and many billions more who have come before and will come after. Only a few thousand will be remembered. We are small people in a big world, so if being exceptional is your only standard of success, quit now.

You will not be remembered for your little Asian hiking trip. It’s been done before, with an army of elephants. You will not be remembered for your promotion. Believe me- somewhere, someone is making more money than you. You won’t be remembered for landing your dream job, unless your dream is to make the world a better place for someone other than yourself.

You will be remembered for the impact you have on the lives of other people. And motherhood, of all ordinary occupations, has the most profound impact on other human beings.

I know a number of women who are better writers than Amy Glass, while juggling four or more children. From my perspective, Amy is the one cruising the path of least resistance. Get up late, pour some coffee, write a sloppy, grammatically challenged blog post and receive advertising funds. Sweeeet. Some day when my kids fly the coop, I’ll try it. I’ll call it Retirement. And maybe Amy Glass will throw me a shower to celebrate.

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