My daughter, son and I had just finished the five-minute train ride around the zoo, checking out moose and wolves on a hot summer day. A grandmother was sitting behind us with a toddler that was, how should I say this, less than stationary.
As the train rolled in to the station, the toddler started to head off the side of the train before it stopped. Both of my kids lunged for the little boy to prevent him from leaping, and my daughter turned and yelled “Oh, don’t let him get off yet!” The grandmother, defending herself, said she wasn't going to let him get off just yet.
Then, as the grandmother stepped off the train, she turned to me and said, “She’s gonna make a great mother some day! Already looking out for little ones, huh?”
I’m sure this was supposed to be a compliment, meant to express how impressed she was with my child’s compassion for total strangers. All I could say was “Thank you.”
My daughter took that compliment and beamed with pride. To some extent, the grandmother is probably right. My daughter possesses a level of caring and empathy and compassion way beyond what I model for her.
But the more I thought about it, the more bothered I became with that comment.
Why MOTHER? Why do we say to females that the qualities of compassion and concern for others qualify you for motherhood, but not some other profession, like a physician, who makes sure everyone is health? Or a teacher - someone who often selflessly makes sure children are learning how to navigate the world in our absence? Hell, even a Zoo employee?
And do people even say that to men? That if they show some kindness to a stranger, they will make a fantastic father?
I know this elderly woman meant well, but I think I would have swallowed that compliment easier if the emphasis was on how impressed she was with my daughter’s sense of humanitarianism. And the mere fact that she didn’t even acknowledge my son’s concern as well gives me pause, but that’s another post entirely.
So, what makes someone think a stranger will make a good mother?
If you Google “signs she’ll be a good mother,” you’ll learn a host of things to look for, like “Babies will love her,” or “She doesn’t mind mess.”
This makes me vomit in my mouth a bit.
Most of these articles were written by men, for men, about traits a chick at a bar might possess that would indicate she has strong maternal instincts.
I’m sure some guy was thinking, “you know how we hook men in to not cleaning up their shit? Tell them that the woman that will make a perfect mother ALSO prefers to live in squalor."
And the Baby Whisperer thing? Please. I’m not even sure my own children would have let me hold them upon first meeting if they hadn’t been yanked from my loins. Babies are temperamental and fickle. Some may just always love men, or only prefer softer frames, or have a strong fondness for folks who dig natural deodorant. Just because they don't immediately warm up to a woman doesn't mean that woman won't kick ass as a mother.
Thinking that if I slightly altered my search, I might find some answers that make me less sweaty and twitchy, I Googled “what makes a good mother.”
This search produced results from credible sources, like physiologists, doctors, and reputable parenting forums. They described qualities a bit easier on my gag reflex. Things like being attentive when your child speaks to you. Showing interest in your child and the things they love. Loving your children madly.
Not one single article said that the sign of a good future mother is the concern for a complete stranger on a zoo train, or anywhere else for that matter.
I have no doubt my daughter will be a fantastic mother one day, if she chooses that path. But I also have no doubt that those same qualities would also make her a great activist, teacher, health care worker, counselor, hair stylist, wife, friend, or any other profession she chooses.
I just hope that the next time someone tells her she’ll make a good mother one day, I can be quick enough on my feet to say, with a wink, “That, and save the planet once her kids are tucked in.”
Because I know she’ll be incredible no matter what she does.
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