My brother and his family spent the day at our house yesterday. It was a great opportunity for my sister-in-law, Mary Ann, and I to catch up on things and talk about, well… what mothers and wives normally talk about. One of the topics that arose was marital fidelity. Not that she’s having problems with my brother (he’s a good boy) and neither am I having problems with my husband (more than merely a good boy). The discussion centered on my mother’s theory that “letting go” is a surefire way of driving a man to look elsewhere.
By “letting go” I mean not paying enough attention to one’s looks (enough being a relative term). Both Mary Ann and I have put on weight since the day we got married. After two daughters, I must be around twenty pounds heavier. After three sons, she’s a close second.
My first pregnancy was a difficult one. And, considering how many times I almost lost my baby, all I really wanted was to take care of her, day and night, when she was finally in my arms. It wasn’t hard deciding to forget about my career. That was in 1992, the year that will go down in history as the year when the Philippines reeled from eight- to sixteen-hour brownouts everyday. Our woes were confounded by the fact that Cubao, Quezon City, where we were living at the time, was practically waterless for an average of 16 hours a day.
It wasn’t exactly an ideal situation for paying attention to one’s hair or clothes or all of those kikay things that an unmarried female enjoyed as a matter of course. I had to squeeze in everything that had to be done in the few short hours each day when we had both electricity and water.
My mother bullied me every time we saw each other. She was happy enough being a grandmother to her first apo but she always had some “comments” about when was the last time I went to the beauty parlor to have my hair done, bought nice new clothes, had a manicure and a pedicure and all that jazz. She even enlisted the help of my mother-in-law and my grandmother to drive home her point. All of which was amusing at times but often irritating. In the first place, I was never a manicure-pedicure kind of girl before marriage. And I had no intention of turning myself into one afterwards.
I understood that, in her own way, my mother was voicing out her concerns. She is of a generation that believed that no self-respecting woman would dare show up in public without dressing up and without being fully made-up. And “public” meant stepping outside her bedroom door. But I am of another generation, one that believes that the power of a woman goes beyond her looks.
Compared to the situation of other people, my mother’s sometimes-amusing-and-often-downright-irritating attitude was trivial. It was just about looks. I think about the situation of other “children” and I consider myself lucky because I was wise and brazen enough not to take my mother’s affectations too seriously.
The cliché “Mother knows” best is premised on the theory that no mother would want anything but the best for her children. Maternal instinct, some would call. But what a mother knows and what she thinks best are relative terms. Consider the mother who, although gravely concerned over a sick child, nevertheless refuses to bring the child to a doctor, even where accessible, but insists on relying on the rituals performed by an herbolario—not the kind that are truly knowledgeable on medicinal herbs but one who believes that all illnesses are caused by having slighted some unseen creatures and the cure, therefore, lies in appeasing these spirits.
“Child neglect” is an ugly phrase. Often associated with the plight of children born into poverty, it is just as real for those born into more affluent homes.
Uneducated and uninformed the mother who believes in the herbolario may be, at least her good intentions for her child are genuine. Her ability to decide on what’s best for her child may be hampered by her own lack of learning but the intention to do her best is there.
But not all women become mothers by decision. Many of those who become pregnant “by accident” (for lack of a better term) are often emotionally unprepared for motherhood. Not quite ready to give up their “freedom”, their idea of raising their children is either to dump their them with their own mothers or to let yayas do the job for them. It’s their way of dealing with the situation.
Then, there are those that regard children as “opportunities”. There are mothers who encourage their young daughters to spend hours and hours in front of the television, learning to gyrate a la Viva Hot Babes, in the hope that they can be just like them in the future, earn loads of money and save the entire family from poverty.
There are mothers who will totally disregard their children’s inclinations and preferences and insist that they become nurses or whatever may be the current money-making career. We had a househelp once whose mother insisted that she seek employment abroad as a domestic helper so she could send money home to support her—the mother, the mother’s unemployed husband and her younger half-siblings.
In short, there are many aspects to “Mother knows best”. From generation issues to limited education to questions about what are we really talking about here—what’s best for the child or what’s best for the mother?
In a culture where children are raised to be obedient to their parents, to abide by their parents’ decisions unquestioningly as the deepest sign of filial respect, we need to understand why living by the “Mother knows best” creed should not be a tool for limiting our options as human beings. We all have our own minds, don’t we? So, why let someone else decide what’s best for us?
Age begets experience but that doesn’t always translate to wisdom. There are people who can go through all kinds of life experiences and still fail to learn from them. Hindi na natuto. For whatever reason. Or, sometimes, it is the inability to cope with changing times. Instead of relating past experiences with current realities to make them relevant, many people insist on living in the past and insisting on applying standards they grew up with which may or may no longer be relevant.
Does Mother know best? Sometimes, perhaps, but not with everything. After all, mothers are humans suffering from all kinds of human imperfections like you and I.