“…browsing through a dictionary one evening, I came across a medieval word that has fallen out of usage. It is ‘motherful.’ It would be good to have this word back. We could use it as we use ‘wonderful’ or ‘beautiful,’ to describe something that startles us with its wonder or beauty. A mother might look impressively efficient as she turns up for her work. But when she is together with her child again, we may marvel at the change in her as she relaxes into being motherful.

It may be a challenge to struggle through transitional discomforts as we ripen into mothers. But the better we can understand ourselves, the more we shall be able to support one another–in being motherful to our children.” –Naomi Stadlen (“Learning to be Motherful,” in New Beginnings magazine, issue 2, 2009)

Stadlen’s book, What Mothers Do, is one of my top recommendations for new mothers. One of my favorite things about it is how she explores how culturally we lack an appropriate vocabulary of motherhood and ascribe more value to the other tasks of “getting things done” while simultaneously taking care of children than the multitude of subtle behaviors and actions that make up the nearly invisible act of mothering. She uses an example of a mother trying to brush her teeth and being interrupted by the baby–we see the toothbrush left behind and think that the mother is getting “nothing done,” while in reality, she is mothering at that moment.

Look at that motherful sight! 🙂

I’ve found it helpful to re-read this book with each baby, because I am so likely to fall into the “getting nothing done” mental trap. Stadlen does an amazing job making the point that when we have to stop “getting things done” to look after our babies we ARE still doing something, we are MOTHERING and that truly still is getting “something done.” While I still thing things like that, the reframing really, really helped me. We do lack a vocabulary in our culture to describe what mothering is–we see someone shopping with two kids in the store and we only count the shopping as “getting something done,” the mothering acts the mother performs as she navigates the store while caring for her children are invisible (both to the observer and often to the mother herself).

The word motherful reminds me of Dr. Bradley’s great word, “motherlike”–as in, giving birth may not be ladylike, but it sure is motherlike. I’d like to see both words in common usage.

I think I’ve found my topic for my next LLL meeting!

9 thoughts on “Motherful

  1. Excellent post! I think this continues to be true as our children grow, not just with our babies. Too often people think the task of mothering gets easier as the kids get older because their physical needs lessen but I think it gets easier only when we learn to relax into that mothering role. I find that to be true especially as we’ve settled into unschooling. On the surface it appears that the kids and I aren’t doing much but the reality is that we are ALWAYS doing something. It’s difficult to quantify or draw specific lines of cause/effect in terms of action and result. But it all exists together and without taking the time for mothering my pre-teens (one almost teen!) none of it would happen.

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