Rabbis ponder why Noah was chosen over Adam to save human and animal lives before the great flood. There are many thoughts on this, but my favorite response came from former chief rabbi of Israel, and survivor of the Buchenwald concentration camp, Rabbi Yisroel Meir Lau: "It is because Noah, unlike Adam, had a mother." Mothers, if they choose to, can be the change agents of our violent society.
The early 80s were a very interesting time in the history of the United States. Mortgage interest rates went as high as 18% and were not lower than 13% throughout that decade. Inflation was an ongoing concern and I, Teresa, had two babies: one in 1982 and one in 1983.
Interestingly, I was surrounded by women who declared that they had literally hated being mothers. They declared that children turned women into slaves. One older woman repeated to me often that she would rather have an abortion than children and had abortions been legal she would have not had children. There were no loving, encouraging, maternal figures in my life at that time. None. The women a generation older than me who should have been showing me how to be in this stage of life were telling me to jump ship and run or risk having my life ruined. I was terrified.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered that none of what I was told was in the least true! I was having a wonderful experience! Once I got past the sleep deprived stage, that is... lack of rest aside, I realized early that active mothering was important. It was worth prioritizing. So I set about teaching myself how to be a mother that was everything I knew that mothers could be. That was the most audacious goal I ever had. And I missed it by a mile. But I actively chose each day to find the joy in raising children.
Motherhood is a vocation that requires creativity, intelligence, resourcefulness, patience, and a professional level of organizational skills. I loved working at it. I became immersed in the act of raising and nurturing. Far from being enslaved, I saw myself as privileged. Nothing could have prepared me for how much joy being a mother was. And nothing could have prepared me for how hostile the modern world is toward women that embrace it.
There was a time in human history when the role of mothers, if not the mother herself, was revered. In the time when humans lived very simply, in simple homes close to family, creating their own entertainment, spending most of their time in or near their homes, the mother was known to be the most influential member of any family. Raising and nurturing children was understood to be an essential role. In fact, mothers were the original essential worker. Even when the individual woman was disrespected, the role of mothers was not.
In 1898, a man name William Ross Wallace wrote a poem called "The Hand That Rocks The Cradle" that was published in Loomis' Musical And Masonic Journal.
It is a bit syrupy sweet for even my romantic tastes, but it does acknowledge one absolute truth: mothers are the first and foremost influencers of any society. Each stanza concludes with the phrase, "the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world." I prefer "shapes the world" but I won't play semantics with a 19th century poet. His meaning is clear.
It is the mother that imbues the hearts of her children with love or hate, peace or violence, critical thinking or dogmatic raging. It is the mother who teaches how to live in a world full of imperfect humans and to do it with, or without, grace and courtesy. It is the mother who instills the value, or the denial, of the sanctity and dignity of all human lives.
Mothers are the shapers of culture. In the end, all violence and cruelty comes down to mothers who allowed it and thereby created a culture that allows it and excuses it. As a culture we are so obsessed with our personal freedoms that we have forgotten that we have personal responsibilities.
The first one of those is to raise our children to be intelligent, diligent, compassionate, honest, and courageous. The next is to raise our children to become self sufficient contributors of goodness to the world. To be helpers when they can be, needy only when they have no choice, and to be grateful for all they have. This is best done by being each of these things and setting the example. Give voice to your expectations and live them out.
I continue to find myself in the awkward position of standing firm in the face of a culture that cancels motherhood. Help end violence in our communities by doing the same. Here are a few things I did.
Refuse to accept that motherhood is an unfulfilling trap. Grasp the true importance of this role. Whether or not full time motherhood is the path you chose, realize that mothers are valuable and important and the work is incredibly rewarding.
Change your companions. I eventually had to eliminate those older women from my circle. The constant complaining about mothering from women who had material resources that I could only dream of undermined my mood every time. In order to keep a civil tongue in my head I searched until I found a few women who believed in motherhood as I did. We encouraged each other and found joy in living the mom life.
Speak up for and openly encourage young mothers. Those women who are struggling with this new and demanding role need someone to cheer them on. Reach out with words that lift them up. Tell them everything they are doing right. Be positive. Only when you have done that have you earned the right to offer suggestions.
Be on the look out for moms that are weighed down by motherhood. Being a mom is exhausting even when you have a partner and resources. Women who struggle with finances and lack of support need a champion. Offer to listen. Ask questions. Invite her over and let her bring the children. Your example may be the trigger that lets her see how to overcome her problems and focus her energy on being the mom her kids need.
Realize that love is not enough. Moms who lose their children to foster care, moms under investigation for serious child abuse, and moms who say they wish they had had an abortion all claim to "love" their children. I have seen this over and over again. It is a phenomenon that is hard to grasp, and yet it is reality. Humans instinctively "love" their children. But the instinctive, inactive form of love is useless unless it is accompanied with actions that reveal that love to the child. Active love protects and provides. Encourage each other to acts of great parenting. Challenge each other to pay attention to raising children that are kind and strong and able.
Noah's mother must have been proud of her son. He stood firm and upright in a profane and violent society. She must have been a wonderful woman. When Noah reached adulthood he was completely qualified, in spite of his faults and flaws, to accomplish the work he was given. Be the mom who looks at her adult children with satisfaction and pride by taking pride in your work during their early years. Be encouraged today!!
One last thought: No politician, legal authority, mental health expert, teacher, or deep thought thinker can change the culture of public violence that is running rampant in our society. Mothers who actively teach love and respect by modeling it can do that. Put mothers in their appropriate place of honor and allow their influence to lead us.