A Few Observations About Motherhood


by Doug Koop

For reasons I assume to be obvious, my experience of motherhood is rather limited. I do, however, have a mother, and I’ve also been married to one for quite a few years. So, the fact that I am not actually a mother won’t disqualify me from making a few observations.

Mothers are necessary. This isn’t only because they are the ones who deliver babies into the world. That’s vitally significant, mind you, but it’s not the only necessary thing they do. Mothers, more than others, excel at the tasks of primary nurture. Especially during the early years of childhood, mothers more than others tend to the physical, social and emotional needs of their offspring.

This is incredibly important. The love and care mothers provide, and the sense of security they instill, shapes the adult character of children. Mothers serve as protectors, guidance counsellors, homebuilders, teachers, janitors and more. A full job description for mothers has never been, nor never will, be completed.

Suffice it to say, mothers are necessary to the well-being of people on this planet.

Being a mother is difficult. As a keen observer of mother behaviour, I’ve noticed that many sacrifices seem to simply come with the territory. I have even observed (to my detriment), that childbearing demands the sacrifice of some mothers’ bodies.

And anyone who bothers to look at all closely will see that mothers are generally the first to sacrifice their own wants for their children’s well-being or pleasure. (Benefits abound to those who regularly observe and comment upon this.) Mothers will sacrifice their own sanity to maintain peace in the household, and to keep older children happy and at home. As they get older, they willingly sacrifice serenity to look after grandchildren.

Mothering is difficult because so much of it seems to be sacrifice and service. Sacrifice and serve—two tough words. Two necessary words; two words demonstrated more consistently by mothers than by any other people group.

Mothers are easily taken for granted. Because mothers so frequently and willingly put the interests of others ahead of their own, the rest of us tend to assume their good will and good service. This is not the best response. On the day before Mother’s Day some years ago, our grass needed its first cut of the season. My son hauled the lawnmower from the dusty spot beside the house where it had been sitting unnoticed and mostly unsheltered through the chill of a Winnipeg winter. Its paint seemed more faded and rust spots larger, but by and large, it seemed in reasonable shape.

We cleaned the worst of the grime off the engine, topped up the oil, cleaned the spark plug, filled the gas tank and got ready to give it a go—total time, about 10 minutes. Wonder of wonders, with the second pull on the cord the engine coughed to life, sputtered for a minute and then steadied into a comfortable roar—ready for another season of work.

And that’s when it struck me how easy it is to treat mothers like lawnmowers. We take them and their service for granted just about every day. But once a year we haul them out of obscurity, put them on a pedestal, shine them up and tune them up. Then we yank the cord and anticipate another year of stalwart service.

I’m not saying this is the best way to treat them, but it’s a fair description of too many households. And because mothers do so much work on an ongoing basis, few of us want to make very much of it if only because we might feel an inner compulsion to become more involved. Too convicting; let’s move on.

Mothers generally are well aware that the rest of us can’t live without them. And at least once a year, on Mother’s Day, the rest of us briefly interrupt our self-centeredness to admit that deep down, we know that too.

Doug Koop is the editorial director for Fellowship for Print Witness, publishers of Christian Week, and managing editor of SEVEN.

The article above was featured in the May 2009 issue of SEVEN magazine.