Born to Carpool.
On being "just" a mother.
The glossy ad features an elegant, well-coiffed woman with a Mona Lisa smile and a state-of-the-art minivan in the background. The copy reads:
I wasn't born to carpool.
I never fantasized about spending weekends at the home improvement store.
I am a mother of two, but not just a mother of two.
I am more than the sum of my errands.
While I am usually not attracted to car advertisements, this one definitely caught my eye. With breathtaking bluntness, it hammers away at the very institution of parenting -- demonstrating that while I can admit to being a mother, I would never admit to being just a mother. Not only has the ad been designed to strike a chord within a large percentage of the population, it completely undermines my worth and value as a person. You see, I believe that I was born to carpool.
Before you attack my politically incorrectness, allow me to explain.
When God created Man and Woman, He charged them with the commandment to "Be fruitful and multiply." It stands to reason that God did not intend for Adam and Eve to simply go through the physical steps necessary for having children, then abandon their kids in the wilderness while they go out to yoga classes! The task of raising children was also part of the Divine Will, and it necessitates a lot of hard work. In fact, any parent will attest that more difficult than giving birth to children, is raising them.
Thus we find that parenting -- for both mothers and fathers -- is an exalted, God-given task. Yet the prevalent view in society seems to miss this point.
Why do so many of us fall prey to the feeling that parenting is a step down from a "real" job?
Why do so many of us fall prey to the feeling that parenting is a step down from a "real" job? Why is it that when a woman says she's a full-time mom, she is often dismissed as a second-class, intellectually-challenged creature? Even parents who work outside the home often struggle with the way they regard parenting versus their payroll job. How have we allowed ourselves to buy into the "bottom-line" ideal where fame and fortune are attractive, but sticky fingers and outings to the park are not?
Many are familiar with the famous story about a rabbi who once addressed a group of die-hard feminists. During the question-and-answer period that followed his speech, a cynical woman raised her hand.
"What does your wife do?" she asked witheringly.
"My wife?" he replied. "She runs a home for neglected children whom no one else wants to care for. She feeds and clothes these kids, meeting their every need. She provides transportation for them, well-balanced meals, and makes sure they receive adequate medical care."
The interrogator sat down, utterly defeated, and you could almost hear the rabbi's ratings soar.
He then added: "Those 'neglected' children are our own -- my wife is their mother."
WHY DO IT?
The car ad speaks to the hearts of all the women of the world who feel that they do not want their identities tied up in mothering. They do not want to be known as "Josh's Mom"; rather they strive to be "Sally, the exercise fanatic," or "Ms. Smith, the business executive." It seems almost as if we are afraid that by focusing on being parents, we will lose our own worth as individuals.
Another sticking point is that many equate self-worth with occupation and/or financial status. The classic Jewish stereotype of "My son, the doctor" is a not-so-funny truism that many of us secretly (or openly) adhere to. The premise is that if someone has a good, high-paying job, s/he is worthy of accolade.
Parenting meets none of the above requirements. The pay is extremely low, the hours are incredibly long (i.e. 24/7!), and there are no promotions -- ever!
So why do we do it?
Parenting gives us the golden opportunity to become true givers. When we are born into the world, we are pure "takers". As we mature, we (hopefully) learn how to give, but there is always a limit as to how much we are willing to give. Parenting is perhaps the only relationship that requires unconditional, endless giving. When a child wakes up crying at night, no matter how tired the parent is, the giving instinct somehow kicks in. In parenting, unlike other give-and-take relationships like marriage, the giving is completely one-sided for a good many years, and requires a deep, relentless sacrifice that transforms a person into a sublimated giver.
Who is the ultimate Giver? God Himself. Thus, by granting us children, God grants us the opportunity to imitate His own ways through selfless giving.
Furthermore, parenting is a sure-fire impetus for parents, themselves, to grow and change, as they aim to shape their children into exemplary human beings. The best way to impart good values to one's children is to be a good role model. That means constantly working on oneself to be more patient, compassionate, giving and honest.
From a practical, concrete point-of-view, raising well-nurtured children is a parent's opportunity to ensure the future of the Jewish People. The continuity of our tradition rests in the hands of those who take upon themselves to educate and inspire their "next generation".
Aside from the very spiritually rewarding aspect of parenting, there are some clear personal gains as well. It is very clear that a parent who is focused on raising children has endless opportunities to enlarge his or her own life in the process. Whether by coaching Little League, coordinating a family vacation, or helping to research a project on volcanoes, we can't help but enrich ourselves personally at the same time that we care for our children.
Raising children together profoundly bonds a couple together. It is awe-inspiring that a husband and wife are offered the opportunity to partner with God to create and nurture a child. Caring, involved, growing parents will continuously grow in their own relationship as they reap the rewards of their shared giving. Not only do they share a deep connection due to their "full-time job", they also insure their own lasting legacy in this world, when their children carry on the namesake and life's work of their parents.
My commitment to parenting is not a flat-out exclusion of my own personal aspirations.
And dare we mention the rewards? What about good old fashioned "nachas"? How about watching your children navigate through life with self-confidence -- knowing that you were responsible for making them feel good about themselves. Not to mention the hugs and kisses, the accolades of teachers and friends, the closeness, and the love.
My commitment to parenting is not a flat-out exclusion of my own personal aspirations. I can still be a thinking, creative, sophisticated person. It does not exclude me from being a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a teacher, a mentor, a writer.
That is why I can stand up and say "I am born to carpool" -- carpool being a code-word for all the various tasks I perform as a parent. And I revel in it, awash with the gratitude that God has bestowed precious children upon me -- and charged me with the responsibility and privilege of caring for them.
So while Mona Lisa is battling her insecurity complex about being more than the sum of her errands, I'm at the park having fun with my kids--fulfilling a large aspect of my life's mission.