There is a pervasive problem in every parenting-focused, mom-filled Facebook group, message board and email listserv I peruse. It’s not the endless requests for pediatrician recommendations, or links to alarmist articles about vaccines, or the lady who constantly wants to know if it’s normal for her baby to have a runny nose. (Spoiler: It is, and it won’t go away for 18 years, so start wiping.) It’s that every message, request and rant starts with the same effing word: Mama.
Hey Mamas! Hi Mamas. New Mama Here! Mamas, help! Mamas, I have a question. Mamas, I need some advice. Mamas, please stop sending links to articles about vaccines! Thanks Mamas. What would I do without you Mamas? Mamas—big news: My baby said Mama today! Mamas, seriously—no more vaccine talk. Mammmmmmmma, oooooooh. I didn’t mean to make you cry, if I’m not back again this time tomorrow, carry on carry on, as if nothing really matters.
It’s not that I have a problem with the word itself. It was sexy and exotic when a bearded hippie cooed it in my direction at my first Grateful Dead show. I cried when both my kids said it, the sounds stumbling out of their tiny mouths like a drunk on the way home from the bar. I didn’t even mind the first few times other mamas crowned me with the moniker. I’m proud to be a mother and love the mom company I keep online and in real life. But somehow, slowly, “mama” became a monster.
Yes, it’s an easy way to address a large group of women who have gathered to discuss the shared experience of mothering. I’ve written my fair share of “mamas,” too. But the excessive mama-ing online is compounded by its use in the real world. I am mama-ed 24/7—by the pediatrician examining my coughing kid, by the check-out guy at the grocery store, by the wild-haired spin instructor shouting out, “All the mamas in the room!”
This endless mama-tization patronizes and clumps us all together, ignoring all the other magical and complex pieces that shape us. I am a mother. I am a wife, a daughter, a stepdaughter, a daughter-in-law, a soon-to-be aunt. I am a writer, producer, yoga teacher, comedian and novice basketball player. I am a college graduate. I am a feminist. I am a voter. I am a reader. I am anxious. I am way too into that dude on Outlander‘s butt. I am an obsessive Phish fan. I am not embarrassed to admit I love Twilight. I quit drinking coffee but secretly still drink coffee. I am not able to figure out how to use the Diva Cup, no matter how many times I try to shove that thing up there.
I am a mother.
The second we start our parenting journey society declares motherhood “The Most Important Thing About Us,” despite all the other things that make us whole. Who cares if you also are pursuing a degree, running a company, changing a tire, or putting on real pants in the morning—if you aren’t mama-ing your kids in pursuit of a Pinterest-perfect life, then who are you? We mamas deserve space to continue being our full selves, to expand further and deeper into all corners and crevasses of our lives. Celebrate and acknowledge our motherhood, but honor the rest of us, too.
Just about every time my husband and I are out without daughters in tow, someone will turn to me and ask who’s watching our kids, as if their existence and well-being rests solely on my shoulders. My husband, a wonderful father and partner, is never addressed as “Papa” in emails or at the store, or whittled down into a person who’s solely defined by the two humans he created. I want my layers to be acknowledged, challenged and celebrated. I want the world to know all of me. I want to be known as more than just “Mama,” because I am more than just a mama. And I know that you are too.
Only my children are allowed to called me “Mama.” The rest of the world needs to find a different word. And no, “Mommy” doesn’t count.