Recently after attending a church service in New York City our twenty five year old son, Noah was asked by his newly married guy-friend…no children… how his eight and a half month pregnant wife Kristi was doing. Noah beamed from ear to ear and proudly announced, “She’s dilated to two and eighty percent effaced!” Totally confused and befuddled, the friend smiled and said, “You’re going to have to translate that,” which the prospective daddy did with glee! Ah, how times have changed since my mother, whose 100th birthday we celebrated last month (even though she passed away at 90) was never really comfortable with saying the word “pregnant”. Still, think how amazing it is that almost every mother (and often her husband as well), though they may not know the same words to describe their condition, have a common understanding of the intricate and the awesome pregnancy and birthing experience.
The next day we drove through Pennsylvania and stopped for a Mennonite carriage ride through the farms of Amish country of Lancaster County Pennsylvania. Our little horse Sully and driver Ben took us to an Amish family home where we met the fifteen year old daughter of an Amish family with thirteen children. Rosy-cheeked and smiling with hair twisted into a bun under her simple Amish hat and plain blue dress, she came out to the driveway to sell us a little homemade crayon holder for our grandchildren. When we asked why she wasn’t in school she explained that the children in her family attend a private, one-room school up the road and finish school when they complete the eighth grade. Her face didn’t show the stress and strain of many of our “mainstream teenagers”. What seemed to be there was simplicity and contentment. Isn’t it interesting that even though we all have different ways to accomplish our goals, what every mother on earth wants for her children is contentment and happiness.
A month later we were privileged to do a seminar in Boston to a group of the children of affluent parents at the Seaport Hotel in the Boston Harbor. We had children from ages three to fifteen for a fun half hour before we sent them next door for a party while we talked to the parents. To introduce the kids to a new system for communicating with their parents we challenged them to download a picture from our internet site and put it on their refrigerator when they got home so they would be reminded of the importance of communicating with their family members. As only sweet child could, an adorable seven year old boy came up to me afterward with his smiling mother’s hand on his shoulder for support. With great sincerity he said that he was very worried that he might fall asleep in the car before he got home and would it be okay if he downloaded the picture in the morning if that happened. Obviously the product of a wonderful mother, he would have melted any mother’s heart!
He led me to remember a young boy from one of the Muslim families we had met on our world tour last year. During a session in Cairo, the parents, whose marriage had been arranged by their parents had asked us to dinner. The husband was from Syria and the wife was born and raised in Palestine. With tongue in cheek, the parents said that the biggest problem they had with their son was that he always wanted to give everything away. He was always looking for ways to transfer some of their money and his things to those who need it more. They were simply beaming as they presented their “problem child” in a moment of parenting joy!
Of course during our travels there have also been multitudes of stories about children who weren’t so great! Mothers were losing sleep trying to think of new ways to motivate their kids to be more obedient, more respectful, more goal oriented, less strong willed. They are worried about children being bullied, hyperactive, dishonest and learning disabled. It seemed to be the same problems explained in a thousand different ways. More often than not, another mother in the circle that often gathers after a presentation on parenting to discuss problem children, solved their problems for each other since they had “been there.”
On a beach in Bali we met mother who looked about sixty but was probably forty. She had spent many hours, months and years in the sun selling her wares to tourists to support her family in poverty. As we struggled to communicate without a common language, we suddenly discovered through sign language and pigeon English that we each had nine children. Suddenly we were fast friends, knowing without even speaking the same language, that we had shared a common experience that made us equals!
Whether you are a young mother joyously preparing for the entry of a first child, an affluent parent in Boston or an Amish or a Muslim parent raising children in a scary world, mothering brings not only magnificent struggles but also moments of profound joy as we teach and nurture the values of integrity and love. Rich or poor, living in the United States or half way around the world, truly motherhood is the great equalizer!