Something odd is happening in the public sphere: Moms are disappearing. Oh, they are still seen out and about, but more and more rarely will you hear them spoken about as mothers.
You’ve likely seen the updated, politically correct vocabulary: breastfeeding is now “chestfeeding,” pregnant moms are now a “birthing person,” and in some countries mothers are identified only as “Parent 1” or “Parent 2,” as if it is not obvious who they are.
It’s not just political activists who are pretending mothers do not exist. At public events, organizers increasingly find cute new ways to refer to mothers. They might call them the children’s “grown-up” or “big person.” Teachers and librarians coo, “Turn to your grown-up!” “Bring this painting to the grown-up you came with!”
The mania for inclusion means we now ignore that most children still attend library story hours and kiddie museums with their mothers. Enlightened adults will nod and affirm how wonderful it is that we are no longer excluding people who don’t have mothers.
Mothers themselves often meticulously scrub their vocabulary of gendered nomenclature, calling themselves “partner” and “parent,” never “wife” and “mother.” We are attempting to convince children that their female parent figure — if they have one — is no different from any other parenting stand-in, replaceable and not unique.
What Is at Stake When We Ignore Mothers
I reject the trend and am confident I am the mother to my children, not just a “parent.”
Motherhood is not merely linguistic but reflects a substantive reality. A mother has a unique role that benefits women, men, and their children. When we change the way we refer to mothers for the benefit of the handful of kids at an event with dad, grandma, or the nanny, what is lost?
Young children look to a mother, whether biological or adoptive, for comfort and nourishment. As radical as it sounds these days, this fact has a clear basis in the phenomenon of pregnancy. Every person now living was nurtured and brought into the world by a mother.
Even now, this is an unavoidable reality. Last year, the war in Ukraine brought international attention to the vast and far-reaching surrogacy industry. Suddenly, hundreds of babies were stranded thousands of miles away from the “parents” who paid for their gestation.
No matter how progressive we may wish to become, we cannot avoid that babies need the physical reality of a mother. If artificial wombs become mainstream, the genetic blueprint of each child will still cry out for a whole mother.
For scenarios in which a child does not have a mother due to death or separation, the best solution is to approximate the mother-child relationship: one that is exclusive and consistent. Children who have suffered the tragedy of losing a mother know they are missing someone key. We don’t help such children by pretending otherwise. And we certainly don’t help other children by training them to ignore the tremendous benefits they experience from having a mother.
Why We Are Changing Our Language
The impetus for the change appears to be two-fold: Women have been convinced motherhood is not tied to physical reality. When reality asserts itself, many mothers do not want the responsibility that it entails. There are horrifying stories of mothers taking exams while in labor and going back to class within days of giving birth because they did not realize it would be reasonable to request time to adjust to this dramatic development.
College-educated mothers increasingly prepare for pregnancy, labor, and delivery like an athletic event or final exam, forgetting the entire point of the experience is to meet a new person to share life with on the other side. There is increasingly a fundamental disconnect between the experiences of motherhood, beginning before birth, and the needs of the child.
In scenarios in which children require the unglamorous, self-sacrificing attention of a primary caregiver — which is more often than not the mother — many mothers balk. The general attitude seems to be that someone, somewhere should be made to care about this.
From calls for financial compensation for stay-at-home mothers to the demand for precisely 50/50 split in caring for young children and household responsibilities and the assertion that the world should be reordered to accommodate breastfeeding, mothers resist the limitations of motherhood. For a society that no longer sees motherhood as a vocation, its inherently sacrificial nature is incomprehensible.
The Consequences of Feminism
No one is seriously suggesting, of course, that a mother is limited to mothering for her entire identity. Women should maintain a full and rich life outside the daily happenings of a young child. For every child, however, a mother who can nurture him or her as a primary focus is necessary. Why is there such strident objection to this basic fact?
Scholar Ruth Wisse rightly recognized the destructive influence of feminism. She wrote during the ascendency of second-wave feminism, “By defining relations between men and women in terms of power and competition instead of reciprocity and cooperation, the movement tore apart the most basic and fragile contract in human society, the unit from which all other social institutions draw their strength.”
Recognizing the unique reality of motherhood requires reexamining the premises of feminism that have become the default in our modern era. If mothers are, in fact, unique, radical egalitarianism between the sexes is not only impossible but also undesirable.
A Sign of Hope
An unexpected sign of hope can be found in graphic T-shirts and merchandise marketed at mothers. At local parks or shopping centers, it’s not uncommon to see a mother with an infant wearing a shirt that identifies her as “Mama Bear,” “Mom,” or “Mama.” At first glance, the trend seems silly. Who can’t figure out that she’s the kid’s mother? Why the shirt?
But when you consider the cultural forces bent on ignoring or minimizing her motherhood, the shirt appears to make a worthwhile point. However much popular culture may demean the role of mother or pretend it does not exist, many persistent young women choose to prioritize raising their children.
While activists with a political ax to grind continue their efforts to erase mothers, the nature of a mother’s role is irreplaceable. As long as mothers continue to invest in their children, their imprint will be felt whether or not they are lauded at the public library.