An Open Letter to My Sons on Mother’s Day

By Mary Barby P. Badayos-Jover, PhD

I’ve been a mother for the past 18 years. I have not really thought much of it, didn’t make elaborate preparations. For all intents and purposes, I just trudged along, making decisions that I thought best at the moment, with varied outcomes. Reflecting on my motherhood journey highlighted a few indisputable realizations, foremost of which is that I am far from the perfect mother society has set expectations for. I am short-tempered, sharp-tongued and panicky, among many other shortcomings. Yet you, my sons, have coped with a nobleness that I continually find surprising. You remained sweet, honest and pure of heart, making me forget that I once wished for a daughter. You know I even had my dream daughter’s name picked out before I got married. I wanted to raise a daughter who will become a woman who transcends societal challenges—someone who is confident enough to feel secure in her own skin, brave enough to defy set barriers, compassionate enough to fight against the injustices that others experience.

Years later, I also realized that I was given two chances to raise men who will be mindful of their societal privilege, accord respect for others regardless of gender identity, do their share of care work, advocate for gender equity and equality. There were a few instances in our lives together that I can vividly recall giving you explanations that may have been contrary to what you were stereotypically taught in school. You accepted these explanations with calmness way beyond your years. You didn’t argue nor asked follow-up questions. I felt that you understood the notions I meant to impart and found them sound. I hope those moments will serve you well as you grow into more mature adults, equipping you with the necessary mindset and skills to foster women’s empowerment.

As my sons, I need you to understand that the “cult of [perfect] motherhood” is highly improbable and even illogical.  Historically, this notion that a woman can invest quite impossible amounts of time and energy in raising children while pursuing careers proliferated in the ‘70s and ‘80s, as more women got integrated in the workforce. The ideal then, as it is now, is that women do these tasks while making it look easy and effortless (Schoppe-Sullivan in Alarcon, 2018). Perhaps this expectation is much more pronounced in this age of social media, where instagram posts of celebrity mothers make other women feel like they always fall short. We tend to forget that these posts are curated, made to appear as perfect as they can but maybe far from actual scenarios.

While research have shown that maternal employment is beneficial for children, mothers are still made to feel guilty for “not being there enough”, for not being able to perfectly juggle household duties and paid work. This guilt has held women back from accomplishing great achievements, making accomplished mothers the exception rather than the rule. Interestingly, we don’t often see the fathers in the picture. When it comes to raising children and household maintenance, it’s oftentimes only the mother’s role that is highlighted. Fathers seem to be exempt from child-rearing although they are parents, too. Recent years have shown how fathers are becoming more “hand-on” in raising their children, which is what I personally expect from my own sons. It is said that it takes a village to raise a child. For the father to be part of the process should be made more normal now more than ever.

Motherhood, especially in our country, has become synonymous with sacrifice, with martyrdom. This expectation is coupled with the idea that children should honor their mothers at all costs, no matter what she does. However, to quote Alexandra Sacks (in Alarcon, 2018), “Motherhood is rarely black or white, rarely a total success or a total failure.” Mothering is after all, a human relationship that is fraught with tension and missteps. As my children, I give you permission to call me out when I make blunders that affect your and others’ lives or futures. I am not infallible and may be blind to certain truths. Yet I trust that I am raising you as individuals who can discern well and make principled decisions,  even if these decisions run contrary to my own beliefs.

I write this on a Mother’s Day that precedes the most politically-engaged national elections I have seen so far in my lifetime. One in which my eldest son will be participating in for the first time. I hope he and all of us do right by our motherland and honor her with our choices for public servants.