We Can Be Heroes

Here’s something that I said yesterday: “Being a mom is the closest you’ll ever get to feeling like a superhero.” I said it in response to something that Christy Turlington Burns said about the remarkable experience that one has, when one becomes a mother, of suddenly finding oneself able to move figurative mountains, that moment or series of moments when one realizes that, as impossible as it seems, one can feed other human beings with one’s own body and go days without sleep and lift multiple children in a single arm and just keep going, even when you’re exhausted and overwhelmed and your heart and brain are exploding, you can just keep going. Christy was making a point about how the work that we do as mothers lends itself to other work, more global work, the work of making the world better place. We can do this, she said, we do do this, because it’s just what we do.

We were talking about this, because we were speaking on a panel at the WIE (Women, Inspiration and Enterprise) Symposium on the topic of moms and social change, and, of course, one of the obvious questions that comes up when you talk about mom s and social change is how does one do it? One does it by doing it, obviously, but when we tal k about just doing it (do it because you want to make the world a better place for your children, do it because you want to help other moms, do it because becoming a mom made you recognize just how lucky you are, do it because your grew three sizes the day that you had children and you just need to put that heart-power somewhere, do it because it matters, do it because it’s urgent), are we not, maybe, complicating the discourse of motherhood a little? You know, by promoting that old saw about how uniquely caring and nurturing moms are, about how they’re so willing and able to clean up other peoples’ messes, about how that’s what moms do? Or, perhaps, by setting up a new standard of the supermom – the mom who not only devotes herself to the work of motherhood and perhaps to work outside of motherhood AND to the work of mothering the whole world, or, at least, to those parts of the world that need a little mother love? Aren’t we all just a little intimidated by the Angelina Jolie model of super motherhood, wherein mother is not only Mother, but also Epic Global Force?

Or are we overthinking it when we worry about the discourse around motherhood social change? Why not just just embrace the discourse of nurture and care and draw attention to the power of those things? And why not acknowledge the fierceness that can accompany those things? Heather Armstrong pointed out that those things aren’t always just soft and cuddly; sometimes the caring, nurturing mom becomes Mama Bear and goes after threats and challenges ferociously (she also pointed out, quite rightly, that talking about what moves us as mothers doesn’t mean that we’re talking about being defined by our motherhood, but that we’re fueled by it.) Christy pointed out that perhaps we don’t even want to frame this power in terms of ferocity and aggression; we can think of it in terms of ‘urgency,’ in terms of directing our powerful energies where they’re most needed, when they’re most needed. And Mary Alice Stephenson and Alisa Volkman both pointed out that regardless of how we frame this discussion, how we frame ourselves, it remains that this work, the work of social good, is not just the domain of superheroes, conventionally understood. Ordinary moms do this work everyday, all over the world. Ordinary moms are working the extraordinary work all the time (for evidence, just check out Mominations. AMAZING stories.) As activists and champions and movers of social change, and also just as moms, doing the critically important work of raising human beings. Raising future citizens of the world.

(Which, YES. As I posted recently: “not all mothers are heroines, not all mothers are feminists, not all mothers raise good citizens, not all mothers have the best intentions, even mothers with the best intentions do not always see those intentions fulfilled in the ways that they expect, or at all. None of that matters. What matters is this: ordinary motherhood, undertaken in ordinary ways, can be as extraordinary, can have as extraordinary an impact, as any work undertaken in the public sphere. And: that this work that we do out here, in the wilds of the interwebs, exchanging our stories and airing our discourses, living our motherhood virtually, but publicly is important for the fact that it makes motherhood part of the public sphere, it forces motherhood into the space of public discussion and asserts it as necessary and given and there. And that is the best first start, I think, to making it possible for us to say, simply: I am a mother, and my motherhood is important, my motherhood can be radical, my motherhood can be is a feminist act.”)


We are heroes, all of us. Let’s celebrate that. And more importantly, let’s do something with that. Let’s use our powers for good. Let’s be mama bears to the world. Let’s fight for the world and all the other mothers and children and living beings in it as though it and they were as dear to us as our own children. Because they should be. Because they need us. Because we need them, and each other, and that, my friends, is what heroism is all about.

(Johnson & Johnson sponsored our panel, for which we’re hugely grateful. They’ve developed a remarkable tool for social good – &you – which we spoke a little bit about on the panel. It’s a widget that you design yourself to promote the causes that you support, and makes sharing those causes and mobilizing your community around those causes as easy as a click of a button. I called it a ‘kitchen table tool,’ and that’s exactly what it is, if you think of the kitchen table as a virtual kitchen table, around which you gather your family, friends and neighbors to share and plan and work. Check it out. And if you have any feedback on it, J&J would love to hear it – leave it in the comments.)

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