Emotional Health · Family & Friends

Being A Mother — The Role of A Lifetime

Women who are mothers do indeed define themselves quite often in relation to their children, first and foremost. The truism “You are only as happy as your least happy child” speaks to this. And women who do not put their children’s needs first (something we all do from time to time) are subject to guilt and shame for not being a “good mother.”

As we age, the role shifts somewhat, becoming both easier and harder. Rebellious, defiant, and angry children are harder to love unconditionally than “helpless” infants, on the whole. As they grow up, children who behave as if our needs are totally secondary to theirs are also problematic. While most make the shift, especially when they become parents themselves and begin to understand what their parents have given them through the years, we are all familiar with the near universal tendency of people to regress when they are around their families.

Journalist Lesley Stahl says that our reward in later years is that we become grandparents, a role that allows us to re-enact some of the most fulfilling and fun aspects of parenthood without the mess and bother of day-to-day childcare.

“Having grandchildren is the great reward for enduring the indignities of aging. Holding your baby’s baby is life affirming. It’s joyous. With our own kids, the love was tempered by responsibility. We had to guide them, keep them safe, get them through school, and teach them manners, on and on. Grandparent love is unfettered and pure. And we feel better about ourselves being ‘yes’ people than scolding mamas.”

While this is true for many of us, there is a significant portion of the aging population who are being asked to shoulder much of the heavy-lifting as well by their adult children who need help with their kids Many of our readers have responded to previous posts, writing that they are burdened by the responsibilities of child care and financial help at an age when they expected they might be able to retire and wind down.

Not only do mothers continue to mother their own children, more of us are asked to “mother” our mothers now that people are living longer and require more care. Sons are less likely than daughters to pick up the extra work of caring for their dependent parents. A disproportionate amount of this responsibility falls on their sisters, whose lives as caretakers of all kinds are extended indefinitely.

One of the reasons why this happens, as Gilligan points out, is because that is a fundamental part of how we define ourselves. For better or worse, Motherhood causes a shift in identity that may occur suddenly but remains stubbornly in place ever after. Sometimes deeply troubling, anxiety-provoking, and at times even agonizing, women also feel it is their most important job and fulfilling one. It is truly the role of their lifetime.



Gilligan, Carol. 1982. In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development.
Stern, Daniel. 1998. The Birth of a Mother: How the Motherhood Experience Changes You Forever.   


Join the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • Myriam Weinstein May 28, 2017 at 2:41 pm

    So true. I’ve always felt that I can be 3,000 miles away, but the emotional connection to my kids and now grand kids is constant .

  • Barbara May 18, 2017 at 7:53 am

    Love this article- it is true in every sense