Today we gladly honor our mothers, if we are lucky enough to have had a good one, but many of us know examples of mothers who were demons, and children of these mothers have mixed feelings about Mother’s Day. Sometimes, the best mother one has is instead a different relative, or even a mentor.
Once a year we formally acknowledge the power and the glory and the heartache of motherhood. But whoever mothered you figures big in your life every day, then and now. Your birth mother brought you into this world and nurtured you, and usually protected you and gave you a chance to live, and with luck be happy.
Our Long History
In his 1973 PBS television series The Ascent of Man, Jacob Bronowski, a Polish-British mathematician and cultural intellectual, began the 13-part series with the episode titled “Lower Than the Angels,” and describes our separation from the other apes, and the beginning of our ascent 400,000 years ago. I liked this series enough to watch it through several times, and bought the book.
He titled the 13th and final chapter The Long Childhood. He points out that other mammals our size have much shorter childhoods. Dogs and cats become adults in 15 months. We mostly don’t come close to being adults for 15 years. Many would say 25, or even 30 years to reach full maturity, and even then, we may recall the old humorous saying, “yes we are only young once, but immaturity can last a lifetime.”
Our childhood takes a long time because our brains are so complex and there is so much to learn, even hundreds of thousands of years ago, long before we had books. We can imagine little cave children being shown with grunts and gestures and the beginning of language how to avoid danger, how to do things, and the things we could do kept expanding, slowly at first and then more and more, and faster and faster, now at breakneck speed. It’s hard on us, but we find ways to keep up somehow.
There is a long list of things we once had to learn that are no longer necessary, like:
- How to make and keep fire.
- How to chip off pieces of flint and use the arrowheads and spearheads to kill and skin animals for food and clothing.
- How to make bowls hardened in the fires.
- How to plait reeds into baskets.
- How to read the actions of the weather.
- How to read the actions of the animals, and of the wandering, strange humans who were, more likely than not, hostile or at least competitive.
Our stone age mothers taught us all manner of things, and they helped us live to teach our children.
Except for the complexity of technology, it is easier for most of us now to survive and thrive. We have come a long way toward a fearsome control of nature. We have succeeded so well that we have reached 8 billion lives, and 9 billion is in sight.
So let us honor and thank our mothers for their instinctive nurture and protection, and give thanks that most mothers get pleasure from doing so, and do it pretty well.
Mothering More Than Mothers
There are, of course, mothers who are simply not equipped to be good mothers, and though it is not their fault, we have learned to share responsibility for the children when the mothers can’t. There is quite a bit of room for improvement in mothering those who need it most, and it is usually a very good thing for a child to be adopted, or given foster care.
There is a heartbreaking scene in the movie The Cider House Rules, where the boys in an orphanage near the coast of Maine prepare to be lined up by the kindly staff and examined by prospective adoptive parents. Those boys really wanted to be adopted, and so too do many now, here, and everywhere. How many orphans are there worldwide? I looked it up. According to UNICEF (the United Nations International Children’s Fund) the total is only 153 million. 2% of the world’s population. 1 in 50. That’s a lot.
There are many ways to be a mother, and the children usually benefit, but not always. And these children are usually, not always, very grateful. Grandparents, Aunties, Uncles, cousins, older brothers and sisters, family friends; one of my best friend’s mother was his big sister. Many men are both father and mother to children in various degrees of relationship.
It puzzles and saddens most of us to hear of some people objecting to single or partnered gay and lesbian people adopting. Some of the objectors think they are protecting the children, but I think it’s more often a problem with the objector’s bad religion. I can’t imagine Jesus objecting to any person of good intent adopting an orphan. I like the Beatitudes (also known as the Sermon on the Mount) a lot: “Blessed are they who….” but my favorite Jesus teaching is a one-liner:
A moving example of empathy.
An Era of Good Feeling
My minister’s message on Friday talked about an air of cheerfulness in the populace. One thing that made me extra cheerful was that when the President introduced his infrastructure plans the last few weeks, he spoke boldly that the $2T plan will be funded by taxing wealthy individuals and wealthy corporations. I was expecting howls of outrage and there was some of that, but it was muted and many of the 1% people did not howl, and in fact some of them said it was a pretty good, reasonable idea.
It seems we are in a brief new “Era of Good Feeling.” It’s as if kindness and generosity are the new generally accepted public values. If true, and it seems to be, this is very good news. Our suffering in the pandemic has caused changes of heart about helping each other.
It is in the news that the Biden infrastructure proposal calls for addressing climate change and pollution, job creation, and a concerted effort to generally catch up with the rest of the developed world. And the President’s plan includes a seriously large-scale increase in government-funded childcare and early education.
As Elizabeth recounted in the reading, 50 years ago we were on the brink of a sweeping reform in publicly funded childcare, during the Nixon presidency. It was strongly bipartisan, much more so than now, but President Nixon vetoed it. He said that the bill would implement a “communal approach to child-rearing,” and tied the measure to board-based American fears of Communism.
We have spoken often about the surprising changes wrought on our society by the COVID pandemic. One of the surprises is that it exposed the problems surrounding insufficient help for families, especially mothers, in keeping their jobs while losing the help provided by in-person schooling, and no adequate system of childcare.
A Hopeful Future
Several times during my ministry here, I have laid out the case for liberalism pointing the way, and liberals, both singly and together, doing the most of any group anywhere to ease the pain and strain in the lives of ordinary people, of whom we are a part.
COVID and Biden are providing the opportunity for a great leap forward. The popularity of these proposals is wide-spread. Clear majorities favor swift and powerful measures to restore our health, our economy, and our institutions, and then break new ground.
Imagine the relief from pain and strain in the lives of women and men to have the help of the government in making ends meet, and bettering the conditions of work and school, and therefore family life. If we get it, we will never go back Like Social Security and Medicare, we ordinary people like these programs very much.
I felt a sense of relief when I became eligible for Medicare. The fear of catastrophic medical expenses was lifted. “Oh, that’s better,” I thought. Hey, how about everyone feeling that support, that relief. And think about how much happier and stronger we as a people will feel if everyone has security, and taking the idea a little bit further, if everyone has enough of everything that is essential. Imagine all the people, living life in peace.
The greatest relief will, and should, first go to women, millions of whom have suffered mightily these past 14 months. If both parents have jobs, but there is no school and no affordable childcare, who is more likely to have to give up their job in order to care for the children? Relief for them is manifestly right and proper, and it seems that’s where this tide is headed.
If this is done right, I think we can easily imagine a much happier populace, happier mothers, happier children, happier parents and grandparents, happier everybody. This is an outcome devoutly to be wished. Let us pray therefore, each in our own way, that all mothers and all women, and the activity of caring for and educating our children regardless of gender, that these millions are raised up and honored, with both respect for the work, and with wages that are paid that reflect the importance of what they do.
Dear God, may it be so and soon.