My youngest daughter, who isn’t quite four, blurted out those words the other morning as I fastened her into her car seat, rather hurriedly I might add. She pronounced this aspiration so matter-of-factly, it was as if she had just had a quiet epiphany. It wasn’t the first time that I had heard those words, but
for some reason, their unsolicited and random delivery totally took me off guard this time. Despite my hurriedness, I could see by the tenderness of my daughter’s eyes that she was sincere. Moreover, the certainty of her words made me think more deeply about their meaning and the questions that they elicited in me.
Did she mean it in the same way that another child might say that she wants to be a doctor or a writer? Or, is Mommy simply one of the many roles that she’d like to play when she grows up, much in the same way that she wants to be a Cheerleader-Princess-Ballerina-Rockstar (all one title)? What did she mean by “I Want to Be A Mommy” and why did the statement give me such pause?
I was reluctant to ask her directly because, after all, she couldn’t possibly grasp the significance of my emotions or questioning; but more importantly because, I was afraid that her answers might tarnish what felt like a really beautiful moment for me just then. What if she said something hurtful like “Mommies get to stay home and watch TV all day and never have to work”? Or worse yet, what if she reduced being a mommy to the tangible chores and routines that she saw me regularly do, versus the broader and more meaningful significance that I ascribe to motherhood.
The last thing I wanted to hear was my daughter make light of what it means to be a mother, which might be different still from what she characterizes as “mommy”. Had I prompted her, she may have said something remarkably beautiful or affirming like “I want to be a mommy because mommies love and take such good care of their children”; however, I never gave her that opportunity. In order to protect myself and because of my fear and insecurity about the answers, I left the pronouncement suspended and sealed it off from further discussion.
I took great joy in the possibility that my daughter’s excitement might be due, at least in part, to something that I must be doing right, but I couldn’t help projecting my personal concerns and struggles with becoming a mom, and the larger issue of women identification and value being heavily tied to motherhood. I know that my daughter is still young, and that there will be several more iterations of what she wants to be when she grows up, yet I couldn’t help but wonder whether in my choosing to be home with my children, especially my daughters, I was implying that other options were not worth considering, or conversely, that being a mommy should be their singular and most important desire.
My eldest daughter, however, who is six, and three years older, has since clarified what she meant by those same words, which she also uttered around the same age. She’s a bit more deliberate and careful with her words and hence, mommy’s ego, but still I marveled when she emphatically declared that, “Mommy is just one of the things that I’d like to be when I grow up, as well as being an artist, and a preacher.” The pursuit of motherhood at the expense of suppressing her natural gifts of prayer and praise, and creativity and design, is simply not an option for her. She seems to already understand, on some level, that they go hand in hand in making her the consummate young woman that she wishes to become.
Naturally, I will have more elaborate discussions with my children as their maturity allows, but in the meantime I wonder what messages they take away from my prioritization of their care, in my choosing to be home with them. Certainly, there are a host of interests that I pursue outside of being their mom, but foremost in their mind is “Mommy” as it relates to caring for them. Maybe “Mommy” for them captures all that I am and do, but perhaps more appropriately, it is that I am their constant, or even more prophetically, I am a guardian for their care and a keeper of my promise to protect and love them unconditionally.
Certainly, there is tremendous value and great joy in being a “Mommy”, especially within the context of marriage, where the relationship is built on trust and a mutual respect between two people that are aligned and fully committed to the care of their children. I would like to believe that for my daughters, the impression of being a Mommy has something to do with this context; otherwise, I’m not so certain that they would romanticize motherhood. Nonetheless, I want them to understand that their self-worth is not tied to their ability to marry, or carry or birth children, but rather, to the legacies and meaning that they create in their own lives and communities, whether they become preachers, artists, Cheerleader-Princess-Ballerina-Rockstars, mommies, or none of the above.