Please Don’t Call Me Mommy

Unless I gave birth to you or legally adopted you, please don’t call me Mommy. There have been many moments in my parenting journey that have caused me to take pause and think, “Wow. This having kids thing is pretty incredible.” One of the most memorable is when my babies say, “Ma Ma” for the first time. This evolves into an adorable toddler version of “Mommy” into a more grown up “Mom” into an all too soon “Mother”, as in “My moth-er is so uncool.” As uncool as I may or may not be, I love the sound of the word. True, sometimes when all 5 of my kids are shouting “Mommy” at the same time, I wish I could remove it from their vocabulary, but 95.5% of the time, it is my favorite thing to hear – from my children. The word is getting butchered to the point that all the joy is being taken out of it.

Years ago, I worked in a clinic in Washington Heights, NY, a neighborhood populated by many immigrants from the Dominican Republic. I was much younger, it was B.C (Before Children) and like every young woman walking the street, I was on the receiving end of a lot of catcalls. To the men hanging on the corner, “Mommy” was another word for girl, as in “Hey, Mom-eee, looking good. I want to …(the rest of the sentence is rated ‘R’)” Every once in a while, after I turned and gave my evil stare, I would hear an ashamed, mumbled, “Oh s*%t. Sorry, Doc.” Prostate exams are fairly memorable.

In that part of the city, at that time, I think girls were called Mommies because many of them were mothers or wanted to be mothers very soon. Fifteen and sixteen year old girls carried their expanding middle proudly and their 50 year old grandmothers were equally proud to care for great grandchildren while the “Mommies” went back to school or tried to find work. In such a maternal society, universal use of the word Mommy made some sort of sad sense.

How about here and now? Soccer Mom, Mommy-bloggers, Mom-trepreneurs, Mommy jeans … Good Grief! Have you heard of Mommy Makeovers? I am reminded of the scene in Dirty Dancing when the main character says, “That was the summer everyone called me ‘Baby’, and it didn’t occur to me to mind.” Why don’t we mind? Perhaps, we don’t mind being called Mommy by the masses because we are in the midst of an identity crisis.

We are the most highly educated, most accomplished generation of women this country has seen. We rest comfortably on the effort and struggle of the suffragettes and the women who threw hardballs at glass ceilings. We are nearly there, but we are not there yet. We have yet to receive equal pay for equal work, and a pregnant employee is still a weak link in need of fixing. (Thank you Marissa Mayer and Yahoo for throwing a bomb at that theory.)

Instead of taking our individual accomplishments and experiences and embracing the positive influence they have on our parenting, we are taking a wide brush and painting ourselves into a pink, polka dot scene surrounded by absurdly proportioned female silhouettes wearing 1950s attire. With “We are Mommies, aren’t we adorable?” as our mantra, it is no wonder employers shy away from women of childbearing age and no wonder stay-at-home moms suffer more from depression than any other group.

I am a mother. It is the most important role in my life, but it is not an accomplishment. Women have been doing it for… well, forever. We are not an elite, cohesive group. Our differences far outweigh the maternal thread we share. Being a mother is work, but it is not a job. To say it is, is condescending. A job is something for which you receive financial compensation. Parenting is not about compensation. A job inherently implies something you can lose or quit. Once a parent, always a parent. I am not sure when motherhood went from being a natural, wonderful part of a life, to being an absurd generational label. To base an identity on something so evolutionarily ordinary and so personally extraordinary is odd and speaks to the fact that we are a generation of women lost. Why can’t we just embrace our shared experience of mothering without turning it into an embarrassing sitcom?

Someday, I pray I will look back and know I was a good mother. My efforts will be judged by their results. Those five results, I hope, will always be proud enough and self assured enough to call me Mommy — even in public. But, I beg of the masses, please don’t call me Mommy. I am not a “Soccer Mom” because my girls enjoy the game, anymore than I am a “Golf Wife” because my husband plays occasionally. I am not a Mommy Blogger, because I enjoy writing and also happen to have kids. The occasional “Mom” as an adjective is fine and harmless. I fear though, we are letting this situation slip out of control. You can let your children know they are the most important thing in your life in ways more subtle and effective than bumper stickers and t-shirts. Our daughters may choose to be mothers someday. They may also choose to or, more likely, need to have a job. Without doubt, they need better examples. I am not your mother, but if I was, I would advise you to “let it occur” to you to mind.

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  • Gramblk

    Thanks Karen, for putting into words what I have felt for years! Love you Doctor, Aunt Eileen xxxooo