The old African aphorism made famous as the title of Hillary Clinton's 1996 book It Takes a Village to Raise a Child rings true in today's society, perhaps more so than in the past. Though there are still a few mothers who are able to stay at home and practice full-time mothering (about 30 percent), the majority must divide their time among many responsibilities: a huge chunk to the job that helps pay the bills, smaller chunks to housecleaning, laundry, cooking, shopping, and sometimes even college classes.
Most of our children must get by with less mothering-a word which simply means to care for and protect-than they need and deserve. But thank heavens for all the "other mothers" who step in when a child's birth mother cannot be there. There are lots of them, and they come in a variety of packages.
Fathers are often called upon to mother their children. Though fathers have often been better at the protect part of the definition, rather than the care for part, today there's a new brand of father. These fathers don't cower at the sight of a dirty diaper and are just as likely to be seen kissing owies and tying shoes as they are teaching the fine arts of baseball and fishing. Furthermore, there are over two million single fathers in this country, who must be both father and mother to their children, no easy task whether you're male or female.
Teachers, coaches, and babysitters are skilled in mothering technique. Who picks up the children when they hurt themselves on the playground, who comforts them when they fail at a task, who encourages them to try again, and who teaches them the skills of cooperation, determination, patience, and compassion? A multitude of kind-hearted individuals, some parents themselves, love children enough to spend hours often at low pay or no pay to help children learn and succeed.
Grandparents are increasingly asked to step in to mother their grandchildren, sometimes fulltime; six million children in this country are being raised by grandparents. It seems like a lot to ask of older folks who have already raised their children, and it is. However, children's needs trump peaceful retirement almost every time. Though grandma would rather be reading a good novel than potty training a toddler, she'll often rise to the occasion, arthritic or not.
And last, don't forget the millions of stepparents who take other people's children into their homes and offer them love and guidance with little or no credit given. Step-parenting is the most difficult of all and is fraught with dangers that can ruin a marriage or scar a child's psyche. Those attempting stepparenting will find help and comfort in Susan Philip's book Stepchildren Speak. Written by grown-up stepchildren, it offers parents, stepparents, and even stepchildren valuable insight and advice. Over half of American children live in stepfamilies.
On Mothers' Day this year, take a moment to consider ALL the mothering you have received over the years. Honor these people, thank them, and return the favor to the universe by mothering a child yourself, yours or someone else's.