O ye loving mothers, know ye that in God’s sight, the best of all ways to worship Him is to educate the children and train them in all the perfections of humankind; and no nobler deed than this can be imagined. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 138.
When I read this quote, I have two main reactions. I feel so blessed to be a mother and to serve God through this exalted role. I am honored to spend my days raising my two- and four-year old sons, teaching them how to care for themselves and others, helping them explore the world, and creating opportunities for them to discover what is important in life. If I can raise them as whole-hearted individuals who find opportunities to make a difference in the lives of those around them, I know I will do a great service to humankind.
However, I also feel confronted by the lack of alignment that our current society has with the central themes in the quotation. The quotation expresses a deep respect and love for mothers and upholds the nobility of motherhood with very high regard. Society, on the other hand, does not offer the same sentiments for this role which is, in fact, a full time profession for many women around the world.
Let’s take a look at motherhood compared to most other jobs. As a mother, I receive no training for my job. I am not paid. In many countries I would not have access to healthcare or benefits. I will receive no degrees or “work experience” that can help me find employment in the future. And, most importantly to my personal wellbeing, I have no everyday support: no coffee breaks, no work functions to look forward to, no on-the-job training when the demands get harder, no raises, no promotions, and no other job incentives that help me to feel appreciated for my continual labors.
I am sure many individuals in society may agree with the premise of the quotation, acknowledging that mothers teach the future generation and guide them to take an active role in human society. But what does society do to help mothers, to encourage them, to train them and to allow them succeed in their crucial role?
Many mothers are thrust into motherhood without even knowing how to change a diaper, what it takes to respond to a baby’s cries, make informed decisions about a healthy diet, create a safe environment, offer educational opportunities, or deal with the emotional results of becoming a mother. Why? Because we assume mothers should learn all this for themselves. Do we expect other professionals to learn it all alone? No. If you have trouble as a mom, you are left to your own devices and to those you find who are willing to support you.
The words in this quotation force me to recognize that the spiritual reality of my job as a mother is not equally respected by the world I live in today. What can I do about it? I believe I can learn how to do the best at my job without comparing myself to worldly standards. I believe I can take heart in the labor of love I am undergoing every day, assured of the spiritual responsibilities I am fulfilling. I believe I can look within for my job incentives instead of expecting rewards from outside.
But I also believe I can teach others about the reality of motherhood, as an extremely important job worthy of respect, and work towards a society where mothers have more support.
To the mothers who struggle with the false dichotomy of motherhood and “real work”:
Many mothers do these things. They reach out to neighbors in need. They teach Baha’i children’s classes focused on spiritual education to children in their communities. They involve their children in acts of service to the elderly, to the ill, and for the environment. They create opportunities for their children to make a difference in the world.
Once a new generation of children realizes just how empowered they were – learning by example and encouragement from their own mothers – I believe the station and support of mothers, on the part of society, will change for the better.
This quotation reminds me to take heart in the spiritual services I am offering the world, and to remember how much I can make a difference, just by being a mom.