Mom Genes

Mother— defined by a concept and/or conception.

Culturally, we have inherited concepts of Mother, that have often been confused with biology. Women have inherited mothering traits that are largely determined by our cultural DNA (supported by biological DNA). We tend to think that biology is supported by culture, but that is certainly not always the case.

Our cultural DNA still has us favoring Mom as the primary caregiver and nurturer. However, cultural norms are changing for men and women allowing biology to not be destiny, and enabling new configurations of family (and work) life. Still, our cultural DNA insists on a concept of Mother as primary caregiver and nurturer that has endured various sociological tweaks and scientific breakthroughs.

The biological necessities of motherhood are rather short lived, compared to the cultural ones. Of course, that is because children take so darn long to grow up (biologically and culturally). So, Mother, as a concept, may commence with knowledge of conception, but it lingers long after (or beyond) any physical imperatives. Our cultural DNA ensures that Mother is not only a physical event and a psychological necessity, but also a cultural idea.

Not an ideal, but an idea. There have always been adoptive parents and wet nurses, and ways around non-biological mothering. In recent decades, in vitro fertilization, and various hormone treatments, surrogacy, and other heretofore unimaginable methods have expanded the possibilities for motherhood. (and for TLC shows). We have an idea (and an ideal) of Mother, but when it comes to kids, our culture seems to be very non-maternal, and very unsupportive of mothers, especially struggling mothers.

The current concept of Mother dovetails on earlier cultural concepts of the long suffering but ever loving nurturer, nowadays schlepping all day every day. Always frazzled, running late, eating on the go, texting or skyping to stay connected. Dinner is an ideal. Basic nutrition is not so basic; nor is it convenient or affordable. It’s a luxury. Schools are stressors for kids and (mostly) Moms. Mothers are preoccupied with keeping their children occupied–for their safety; for scheduling around work; for building the kids’ resumes. There is little down time and, like the adult world, busyness is equated with productivity and worth. In our culture today, if Mom is busy, she’s doing it right. Mothers’ Day in 2015 means a day with answered texts and probably a call, and an opportunity to not schlep.

As a culture, we consider the nurturers and caregivers the least worthy of respect. Oh, there’s lip service, but not policy or compensation. We outsource caregiving and devalue it– at home, school, hospital, assisted living. The primary cultural concept of Mother as caregiver and nurturer–that which describes our Mom Genes– is in fact devalued in our cultural reality. Like an appendix, we are left with Mothers’ Day.

Perhaps starting with this Mothers’ Day, you can contribute to work/programs/organizations that make a difference to mothers and children. What can you do beyond Mothers’ Day? Consider how well those Mom Genes fit. Maybe it’s time for alterations.  Here’s to a Happy Mothers’ Day (and many more)!

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