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Being All Mother

Being All Mother

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I really lost my temper. I hadn’t meant to. But she wouldn’t stop whining. I was trying desperately to get an article finished, and was frustrated and stressed. And she stood there behind me, telling me her stomach hurt and asking me if I could help her.

I mumbled, “One second,” and hoped she would go away. She didn’t. And when my “one second” had turned into twenty minutes, the whining hit an all-time high. Swiveling around in my chair, I said (okay, I yelled), “Can’t you see I am busy? Please leave me alone!”

And she did.

“Can’t you see I am busy? Please leave me alone!”She walked out of my office, and I heard her crumple on the stairs and start to cry.

Priorities.

Mine were most definitely out of whack. The second I heard her wail, I snapped out of the workaholic trance that unfortunately consumes me more than I would like to admit. I ran to her and held her and apologized. Her stomach was hurting. She needed her mommy. And ultimately, that is all that mattered.

As I sat with her, I tried to explain that sometimes mommies can make mistakes and lose sight of what is most important, and I asked for her forgiveness. I told her how lucky I am to have her, what a huge gift she is, and how grateful I am that G‑d felt I was worthy to be her mommy. I assured her that I love her and am here for her, even if sometimes I don’t respond as quickly as I should. I wiped away her tears. She hugged me and told me she loved me. And then I was the one who was crying.

I recently read an editorial in the New York Times in which a woman described her view of motherhood. She wrote that while being a mother is part of who a woman is, it shouldn’t be all of who she is.

I thought about her statement for a while. How completely backwards! I am all for women working outside the home, having careers and doing what they need to feel fulfilled and productive. But when it comes to whole and parts, there is no such thing as being partly a mother. I wonder, did this woman also rationalize when she was pregnant that it was okay to smoke or drink? After all, maybe she was only partly pregnant?

There is no such thing as being partly a motherWriting is part of who I am. Editing is part of who I am. Teaching is part of who I am. Being a mother is who I am. It embodies me. My children are me. And I hope they know it, since for better or worse, I am the only mother they have.

Judaism doesn’t define motherhood the way the rest of the world does. The Jewish perspective does not require that a woman have a child in order to be considered a mother. Chavah (Eve), the first woman, is called em kol chai, “the mother of all life,” before she ever gives birth to a child. Being a mother is the ability to be other-centered, to have another at your core. This is one of the reasons why the word for “womb,” rechem, shares the root of the word rachmanut, “empathy.” I don’t just feel badly for your pain, I feel your pain. Your pain is my pain. You are a part of me.

But coming back to Chavah, I wonder if we could read this phrase another way. The words em kol could mean “all mother”—not “part mother,” but all mother. She is the mother of all life, and she is all mother.

There are many roles I fill, many things I enjoy doing. But for most of them, I am truly replaceable. Granted, I hope not too replaceable. But some of the things I do could most definitely be done by others, maybe even done better. And even the things I excel in, that I feel passionate about, that I focus on . . . they are only parts of me. There are many writers, many teachers, many editors. And there are many mothers. But there is no other mother to my children. Only me.

Hopefully, next time I will be able to remember it without needing to first make my baby cry. After all, she is my world, they are all my world, and I am theirs. Em kol chai.

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
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Anonymous July 4, 2013

Thank you ~ Thank you for such a nurturing article...Accepting of all of our being...When we can be vulnerable in front of children we model a healthy way of being human and --not only accepting our responsibility for our behavior, but also making ourselves vulnerable to a child, who, by nature, is vulnerable in a world of adults. This kindness nurtures a courage that will be needed at times, even into adulthood. It is a good example of living Torah.
Thank you, too, for "Mother of All" ~ Past the childbearing years, with no children, I have felt sad sometimes. While I didn't fall apart(probably because I was a teacher), I am very aware of the great honor to be given a child from G_d to be raised in the Light of G_d. Your article gave me a healing hug, feeling the strength of being vulnerable in the loving arms of Mother of All. Thank you. Reply

Honi East Northport, NY/USA June 9, 2012

Not the Only One Although I would love to say I've never yelledxat my child the truth is that I have...it's something I need to practice NOT doing. Tempering my anger and frustrations with apologies and asking my child's forgiveness helps both of us...but I find that asking G-d to help me grow and grant me wisdom to open my heart and soul to the greater goodness within me is essential. Reading these articles and responses gives me strength--yes in our jobs we are replacable-- but as mothers wexare not! Reply

sarah Aventura, FL May 18, 2012

Being All Mother I work at home also and I have to work and be a mother all day and all night. I had a rough week with my 2 year old asking for me to get him things while I worked at the computer on a tight deadline. Your story reminded me that no matter what I have to do for work, he comes first even if it's for a cup of water.

Thanks for sharing. Reply

Chaya Gross Jerusalem/akko, Israel May 17, 2012

Is it about all mother or all nurturing? Is being a woman about being nurturing or only about motherhood? It seems to me that what happened which is perfectly understandable sometimes is that women who by nature are nurturing at times have a "selfish" streak where they wmnt to be first! And the reaction as in this story is a huge guilt trip. True it would be utopian to think we can always be available 24/7 to meet all the needs of our families, friends, and communities...but sometimes it is ok to say just a minute, even if there are tears involved. Women, must be reminded that their nurturing role is critical in keeping the world moving towards the redemption, no less, but even so they are entitled to a break without feeling guilty. It is a huge challenge, but the Creator of the Universe built it into His perfect plan by giving ONLY women an extra holiday called Rosh Chodesh (the new month). This is to teach us that even stomach aches can pass without Mommy, and it doesn't mean she loves you any less. Reply

Anonymous May 15, 2012

Way to go!! Reply

Shulamit Melbourne, Australia May 15, 2012

The words "Rechem"and "Rachmanut" What a beautiful interpretation! Being able to empathize is a dominant characteristic of most women,whether they have children of their own or not. Reply

Anonymous granada hills, CA May 14, 2012

i agree, but...? thanx for this thoughtful article.

i am Thank G-d a mother too, to an adorable 10 month yr old. i know that my primary role is to be her mother, but its so hard for me to feel fulfilled and accomplished by just mothering! im not exactly sure what else i could be doing to fulfil that other parts of me, without taking away from my mothering role, if my essence is mother...

any advice is welcome ;) Reply

Anonymous Brooklyn, NY May 14, 2012

So, we are human I, too have had moments like you described above with my children. I am not proud of them and they haunt me. However, asking forgiveness and letting our children see we make mistakes and apologize for them does start the healing process. Sometimes a different kind of closeness begins to take root. We learn as our children grow. Maybe that is what makes grandparents so understanding and accepting. They are given a second chance to parent and not make those original mistakes! Reply

Anonymous Tacoma, Washington May 14, 2012

wrote that while being a mother is part of who a w I suspect tht the woman who was quoted in the article is talking about women who become so obessed with becoming mothers that if it doesn't happen their whole life falls apart. I am a mother and loving most every minute. But since I married late in life (relatively speaking) I knew that I might never have children. Some women I knew in the same position fell apart because they defined being a woman with being a mother. I figured out that my life wasn't going to be over if I never had children. I was lucky as I had several family members (aunts and cousins) who never had children and still seem to be happy with themselves. Reply

Nechama RIchmond, VA May 14, 2012

"Ouch* these kind of moments, are my one make the top of my very short "regrets in life" list. My children are both teenagers now and I'd love the opportunity to have parented them with the wisdom I have now!!

A recent article was published about a Baylor University study showing that a woman's brain (if all goes well) actually changes & grows shortly after birth! (MSNBC How Motherhood Changes the Brain by Linda Thrasybule)

Technically,it's impossible for motherhood to not affect every area of your life.

"The researchers observed increases in gray matter in brain areas such as the hypothalamus, amygdala, parietal lobe and prefrontal cortex. These regions are responsible for emotion, reasoning and judgment, the senses and reward behavior.

Compared with the less-enthusiastic moms, the awestruck moms were more likely to develop bigger mid-brains, and saw growth in key regions linked to maternal motivation, rewards and the regulation of emotions..." Reply

Esther Joseph London, England May 14, 2012

Sad- Edison I feel sad that an article like the above one can bring such anger and judgemental comment from people - if you believe in what you have said you would not have named your self anonymous but stand by your comment. I admire you for putting forward the above article it's important for one to look at ones behaviour and make changes, if we were all perfect ( anon Edison) the world would not be like this , I accept people with flaws that are willing to hear, listen and learn. Reply

Rivkah Katzrin, Israel May 13, 2012

Anonymous obnoxiousness This article showed raw real beautiful motherhood.

The obnoxiousness and rudeness of anonymous from Edison and New Jersey is so over the top and shocking... Reply

Hadassah NMB, FL May 13, 2012

each mother is unique I really enjoyed your article,.Yes we do make mistakes sometimes, and kids learn from how we handle our mistakes, more than from our perfectionism. We all grow and kids do not need to feel discouraged with the fact that they are not perfect (yet!)
I related to your comment about being replaceable. When the children entering my nursery classroom have difficulty saying goodbye to mom, I always encourage them to hug and kiss their mommy since she is special to them. That bond is worth nurturing. My being a mom or wonderful teacher does not take the place of that mom for that child. My job as a teacher is to help them separate but know that their mom will be there for them. Reply

Rachel Cohen Stamford , CT May 13, 2012

To Anonymous in NJ and Edison Your comments are not only so self congratulatory but so completely show a warped sense of perception of reality. I wouldn't believe any mother who says that she has never raised her voice or yelled in frustration, but certainly not women who managed to miss the point of this beautiful article and anonymously project perfectionism while coming across as rude, obnoxious and ridiculously critical. It is your children I worry about, not the author's! Reply

Esther C Stamford, CT via chabadnw.org May 13, 2012

Being all Mother is about being Human The post that from the womanwho has "never once raised her voice" and that essentially in doing so you give your children" bi polar impressions" seems so self serving and robotic.. Kids learn lessons of forgiveness, patience, and love through the humanity and sometimes insanity that is a family. And part of that is being able to acknowledge our flaws and try to improve. We are human, we are not perfect, and we want to be better. The point is that you stopped what you were doing, went to your child, comforted your child and realized you needed to reset your priorities. I think this happens in most families when we get caught up in the whirlwind of life. Reply

Anonymous new jersey, usa May 13, 2012

partly agree with anonymous from edison I am afraid that I have to in part agree with anonymous from edison. Having mothered for many years, no matter what deadline I need to meet or project I must finish, I never yell at or raise my voice at a child out of frustration. This really is the a,b,c's of parenting. It would seem to me that you may need some restructuring in your attitude or in your ability to schedule yourself - while your article continues to tell us that you don't agree with being part mother, you don't necessarily have the tools developed to practice what you "write"/preach or think. While this is most certainly understandable in a young new mother, maturing as a mother mandates that this becomes integrated fully into your mothering skills.
This is work, just as developing any other skill and characteristic is. Let's hear next mothers day that you have worked on this for the year and can report a clean no shouting record (out of frustration at least) at your children. Reply

Shalayne Portland, Oregon May 11, 2012

As a mother, who experiences very similar situations with my own children, it is so easy to get distracted and simply put everyone else on the back burner when something comes up that I am zoned into. It is nice to relate to your article. Thanks for sharing in such a personal way.

I will always be a mother, it is a part of my being, even when my children become adults I will still be an ever-changing mother. Reply

Mae R. Atlanta, USA May 11, 2012

Thank you for this article, i absolutely agree that sometimes we lose sight of our most important task...to be a mother. This is a welcome reminder for me, i love being a mom and so grateful to Hashem for allowing me to be one. There is nothing more beautiful to hear than than hearing the voices of my kids say...Mommy! Reply

Anonymous ci, oh May 11, 2012

This is great! I love what you told your daughter and I think i am going to save the words for when I am a mother! Thanks! Reply

Malka Miami, Florida May 11, 2012

mother is who I am As my children grow older (and grow beards!) I still feel, Thank G-d, that "mother" is what I am (and all the rest is just a part of me, as you said) Of course, as they grow and change, I have to do the same, but it's all under "the umbrella" of "mother."
As a teacher, I just love to watch the younger elementary school girls (1st and 2nd grade, usually) play "mommy." They know, in their heart of hearts what the core of their existence is--"Mommy!" Reply