It’s like motherhood and apple pie. Right?
Today is a day to celebrate the perfect mother. Your mum who was always there for you, come rain or shine. Mum, who loved you when the rest of the world said you’re unloveable. Mum, who cooked perfect meals seven days a week, clothed you with impeccable taste, and always looked amazing when dad walked in the door. Mum, who worked hard to be a role model of virtue and womanliness and loveliness. Mum, God bless her.
This is the mum at the end of the book of Proverbs. The woman of virtue who, the book says, is up before dawn doing business, dealing in property, making clothes for her family, loved & respected by all…
The trouble is- I don’t think this woman exists. I don’t think she ever did. It’s a lie that almost everyone in society takes a part in, if just for this one day a year. The book of Proverbs ends with this woman of virtue, really as a contrast to the woman of vice at the beginning of the book. The earlier example stands on the street corner, luring young men with her womanly wiles into her boudoir. She is folly. This super-mum, super-wife, super-saint is really just showing us a model of living wisely. A contrast. It’s not a model of reality against which we should judge ourselves.
But Mothering Sunday makes it look like every mum is this idealised supermum. Why do we do this? What’s that really about?
Maybe, by making women out to be this idealised stereotype we are actually quieting the story of real women. Maybe it’s time to say, yes, we’re grateful for what our mothers were able to give us. But they are real women, who struggled, who did their best. Some of our mums hated cooking. Some of them were emotionally damaged and had less to give. Some of them didn’t really like kids but didn’t realise until it was too late.
I hesitate to quote this Phillip Larkin poem, especially on Mothering Sunday, but I think a reality check is in order. And, despite the swearing, there’s some truth here.
“They f*** you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do. They fill you with the faults they had. And add some extra, just for you.”
Now, Larkin’s conclusion at the end of the poem is not to have any kids and not bring more misery into the world. I think that’s too pessimistic a conclusion. After all, our parents fill us with their nobility as well as their faults, with their character traits both good and bad. There’s lots of good in the story. Otherwise human history would be on a very steep and very quick downward trajectory into depravity. And I don’t see that happening.
So let’s celebrate mothers. Let’s celebrate Mothering Sunday. But not by pretending all mums are perfect, or by making ordinary mums feel bad about their failings by holding up this lie of saintly perfection. Let’s recognise that all parents do an okay job of bringing up kids, somewhere between a 30% and 70% success rate.
Let’s pray for parents who have a really tough job. And say well done mums for doing your best.