In Defense of Mothers

In regards to their role in motherhood, mothers of our time seem to have labels other than a mere “Mother” attached to them. Among many, the two most heard, I guess, are the Stay-at-home Mother (also known as the Full-time Mother) and the Working Mother. From what I understand,

A Stay-at-home Mother or a Full-time Mother is a mother who is stationed primarily at home, and she usually has no paid works outside of home.

A Working Mother is a mother who is working, usually a paid job, primarily in the workforce outside of home.

I have to admit that I fail to see how a Stay-at-home Mother is not a “working mother” and how a Working Mother is not a “full time mother”, but well, sometimes we just have to come to term that every term comes with their own inadequacy.

In my personal search for the ideal model of motherhood, I have unfortunately found none. There is no one ideal model that is adequate enough to contain the breadth and the depth of what motherhood calls for. It is not the model or the label that defines a mother. For the heart of motherhood lies in the love and sacrifice, in meeting the needs of others placed in her care.

My late paternal grandmother, a mother of eight, she ran a bread shop at their shop-house to provide for her children after my grandfather passed on when their youngest son was less than one month old. A strong woman who single-handedly raised her children up, and an inspirational woman still, whom her grandchildren love and admire.

Take for example, in the society groups that I have the chance to observe (mainly the middle-class and working-class, of Asian culture, in Indonesia and Singapore), the principal duties a mother holds are as follow:

1. In meeting the needs of her children
A mother is in charge of the welfare of her children. Their food, clothing, instruction and education are of her utmost priority. She is their primary care taker and is to them the embodiment of nurture and tenderness. It is not without reason that the mother is a child’s first sought refuge in any distress.

2. In meeting the needs of her husband
A mother is first a wife. As her husband’s best partner and support, she sees to it that he is well cared for physically (food, clothing) and emotionally (friendship, intimacy), and that he may be free to give his best in his vocation by taking upon herself the management of domestic affairs. This is not to say that husbands are not to share in the workload of house chores and child care, but it is a wife’s love to her husband to desire to serve her husband in the best way she can instead of keeping a fair score of who’s doing more than who. Likewise, when husbands do help around, it in turn shows their wives their genuine care and love. This is definitely much healthier for marriages than when a husband’s help is seen as a mandatory ‘do-your-part’. So be quick to chip in, husbands! It means a world to your wife.

3. In meeting the needs of her parents
In a non welfare state and in a society where insurance coverage is not yet popular nor adequate, parents are relying heavily on their children for their old day care. This is especially true in countries like the present Indonesia, where one’s retirement plan is literally one’s own children. As mothers are daughters themselves, they bear a filial responsibility towards their own parents, often translated into providing for them financially. And since it is also common for parents to pay for their children’s education into the tertiary level, with some parents go so far as to sell their land, a sense of pride in their children’s successful career is, in return, the expected reward for their toiling.

4. In managing her home
As the mistress of the house, she is the one in charge for making her home a safe and warm shelter for her family and a place where hospitality may be extended to others. With affordable domestic help and service (especially in Indonesia), mothers have the option of employing domestic helpers in managing their house.

My late maternal grandmother, a mother of seven. She stayed at home and took tailoring work orders to supplement her family’s income as money was scarce. A selfless woman who dedicated her whole life for her family, children and grandchildren.

Such tasks are definitely not simple. In order for her to be efficient and effective in carrying out all her duties, a mother must have at her disposal a flexible and vast range of roles and unhindered opportunities. She has to be given room to work at her home all the day one day, and to go out earning real money another day. All being the necessary extension of her “being busy at home”, all done with her family’s best interest in heart.

What about dreams and ambitions, don’t women have their rights to pursue their OWN lives, one may ask. Of course they do. But I am persuaded that the best way to pursue life is never by living it for one’s own self but to leave a meaningful impact on others’, often times by laying our own down. And the most rewarding dream/ambition one may achieve is in the full utilization of one’s potentials for the betterment of humanity, starting with one’s own family. This, in essence, is what mothers have been doing from the moment their first morning sickness strikes.

My mother, who has always worked hard alongside my father at our shop to provide for and make us what we are today.


My mother-in-law, an excellent homemaker who has dedicated her life to care for her family.

There may be many noises that attempt to pit mothers against each other and inflict false guilts on mothers from both sides of the door. If we buy into it and define our motherhood by divisive labels; if we find our motherhood pride in the shaming of others, we will eventually self defeat. At the end of this dangerous path is the impediment of family flourishing, and eventually the society itself.

All who are rightly called “Mother” are the ones who posses the same kind of hearts, the kind that swells with love and readiness to sacrifice for those placed in her care. Be it in her office wear, or her sweat pants.

And lastly, as a tribute to all mothers, here is the lyric of a beautiful Indonesian nursery song aptly acknowledging the noble love of a mother. (I have taken the liberty to loosely translate it into English.)

Kasih Ibu kepada beta
Tak terhingga sepanjang masa
Hanya memberi
Tak harap kembali
Bagai Sang Surya
Menyinari dunia

“The love of a Mother
To each child given her
Is without measure
And eternal in nature,

A love forever giving
It never knows taking
As the Sun self-burning
Unto Earth, life it may bring”

Happy Mother’s Day!

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