21 November, 2010

"As a mother ..."

Lisa at Life Without Baby wrote about her initial response of wanting to help a motherless young girl.  I often feel that way when I hear about abused children, or see abandoned children on TV.  "I could help them!" my mind screams. 

I was sad that Lisa felt her response was irrational.  She said “just that second I wanted to take that little girl home with me.”  I don’t think this response was irrational at all - I know she never thought of kidnapping, she just wanted to mother and comfort the child - but it has got me to thinking.

There was an article in the newspaper earlier this year about a little girl who got stranded on a commuter train. A woman cared for and comforted the child, returning her - by an expensive taxi trip - a very long way back to the original stop where the distraught mother was waiting.  The good samaritan was quoted as saying "I just did what any parent would do." The headline said "What any parent would do."

As a childless mother, a woman with no children, one of the most insulting and isolating phrases I can hear is a woman saying, “as a mother, I ...”  So often this comes with the inference that “only a mother/parent can be compassionate/feel this way/react kindly/understand.” 

I accept that I don’t have the same experiences as a mother.  But I resent the implication that only a mother can feel for a child, only a mother (or parent) can understand that the mother in the article would have been terrified, that only a mother can be relied on to help.  I get so angry when I hear this.

Of course I know what the rescuer was saying - if her child had been stranded she'd want a good samaritan (like she was) to look after them. That she could imagine what the child's mother was feeling.  But would she want just a parent good samaritan?  Wouldn't I do?  I get so insulted when I see someone say this kind of thing. As if people without children don't have the capacity to imagine the terror of the little girl and her mother. As if we wouldn't look after the child.  As if we don't have compassion, or commonsense.   

The comment "as a parent" or "as a mother" implies too that these people wouldn't have had this compassion for the child before they had become parents.  Really?  I doubt that.  And what about the parents that are so awful that you wouldn’t want any child to be in their company for ten seconds, let alone 30 minutes? Are they better just because they can say "as a parent ..." and nod smugly?

Of course people who use these phrases don't intend offence.  But it offends nonetheless, and hurts to the bone. "No," I feel like saying. "You didn't do it 'as a mother.'  You just did what any decent human being would do."   What Lisa wanted to do to comfort the child in her class.

But it still feels as if parents think we - the childless - are not decent human beings because we don't  have children. 


  1. I've had your blog page open in a window for a couple of hours now, as i try to make/think of an appropriate response.

    I can't seem to come up with one, except to say, i'm reading, an what you say touches my heart. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Thanks for continuing this discussion. You're right, my instinct was natural as a human being. And sadly, anyone who reads the news knows that being a mother does not automatically make a person compassionate, wise, or even decent.

  3. This rankles with me too -- so true.

    On her Coming to Terms blog, Pamela frequently used to take news stories that used the phrase "as a mother" & then substitute "as an infertile" -- often with hilarious results. ; )