I recently overheard a group of women sitting at a sidewalk café. They were having drinks and slinging war stories back and forth – Tales from the Mom Front, of course – when one of the quieter ladies took advantage of a gap in the conversation and launched into an anecdote about her baby, Sadie.
“But…Sadie is a DOG,” one of the women remarked, wrinkling her nose.
“Yes, but still…” the quieter woman defended herself, “She’s my baby, and she doesn’t let me sleep at night, just like your baby doesn’t let you sleep at night.”
“Well, it’s not the same thing!” the ringleader concluded. The rest of the ladies nodded in agreement.
I found myself contemplating that conversation for the rest of the day. Was it necessary for the ‘ringleader’ to take the ‘dog mama’ down a peg? What kind of reward did she feel in her heart by disqualifying her friend? Why did she feel the need to differentiate herself and her experience?
Merriam Webster dictionary defines the noun mother as a “female parent” or a “woman of authority.” The definition of mother as an adjective is “of, relating to, or being a mother.” Isn’t it a gracious choice for those of us with biological children to extend our minds, hearts and acceptance to the idea that others can be mothers in their own right, without necessarily having biological children of their own? Perhaps that single woman in your building is mothering her entire group of colleagues at work. The nurse who shows up every afternoon to take your elderly neighbor outdoors for some fresh air — isn’t she representing the nobility of motherhood, whether she has actually given birth to a human being or not?
And then there are animal caretakers. I suppose it’s easy to roll our eyes and say, “A cat isn’t a baby.” But, so what? What do we gain by such an exclusion? Maybe we can pat ourselves on the back for a minute because we have a ‘Very Important Job,’ but smug satisfaction doesn’t feel nearly as good as, and in fact precludes us from, making a real connection with another person.
Reflecting on this chance conversation I overheard has left me a better woman. It’s so easy to feel both heroic and victimized in motherhood, but perhaps we moms are missing the point if we can’t use our experiences to understand the similarities that we share with other human beings and their life experiences. In the end, we are all more alike than we are different.