My mother was a most unusual woman for her generation. She divorced my father when I was three, went to college and eventually obtained a Ph.D. in plant morphology when women were not heartily welcomed by the nearly all-male faculties of university science programs. She also taught at the university level, and was well-published in her field. I could go on, but suffice to say she was a Renaissance woman. All that aside, when it came to being a mother she was typical for her day and time.
When she was in her dotage, but still of crisp mind, I asked her what she and other 1950s mothers talked about when they got together. After a few moments of thought, she listed politics, books, recordings, world events, plays, movies, travel, volunteerism, and pastimes such as needlework. I then asked, “Did you talk about your children?”
“Oh no,” she quickly replied. “We talked about interesting things.”
One might think that came as a blow to my fragile sense of well-being, but the fact that as a young child I was not very interesting came as no surprise. I happen to agree with my mother: I do not find young children interesting in the least. The odd things they occasionally say and do are interesting, but they are not. And by the way, I usually enjoy being around them because they can be and often are entertaining. They frequently make me laugh, and I am rather proud of the fact that I often make them laugh as well. But interesting? No. Like new wines, they possess the potential to someday be interesting, but in the meantime they need lots of maturing.
In my relationship with my mother, she was the person of interest. The many facets of her life were fascinating, in fact. Perhaps that’s why I believe that mothers are obligated to demonstrate to their children that women are, in fact, interesting people. And that is certainly why I am concerned that a good number of today’s moms are not succeeding at that. As evidence of this, I cite the fact that when today’s moms get together, they mostly talk about their children. That’s not healthy. A child or children should not be the primary one’s source of identity or narrow focus of one’s life. Why not? Because they leave home someday (hopefully, that is), and then where are you? Furthermore, I will submit that mothers who talk almost obsessively about their children are not interesting to their children. It is much more likely that their children take them for granted, and that is not good for neither the children nor the mothers in question.
Mothers are also obligated to teach their children that women have legitimate claim to authority. That demonstration begins at home. I will submit that mothers who think their children are so fascinating that they talk about them disproportionately are not doing a good job of demonstrating authority to those same kids. In a classroom, the teacher needs to be the person of interest. If she fails at that, she also fails at exercising authority. Likewise, in the home parents need to be the persons of interest, not their children.
Quite simply, children pay attention to adults who are interesting, and the people who benefit most from that arrangement are the children.