Since my children were born, I have not only been known as Michelle, (or Mac as my friends call me) I have also been known by two, rather special small people as ‘Mummy’. It’s a name I did not choose of course, it’s the name naturally given to a woman once they become a parent. It’s a title, a special appellation.
The first person to call you Mummy however will unlikely be your child. It will most probably be a friend, a midwife or your partner/family member. You have to wait until your baby speaks for that rite of passage, and even then, first you will probably be ‘Ma-ma’. With my own children, Gabriel’s first word was ‘car’, but Willow’s was actually ‘Ma-ma’. Gabriel was car obsessed and shortly after that came Da-da. I remember spending time stood in front of my first-born, urging him to repeat after me, ‘Ma-ma, Ma-ma!’ eventually of course, it happened, and just as it was when Willow uttered the phrase, I felt an obliterating elation.
Why? I had finally made it in life and earned my stripes as a Mother. Hadn’t I?
Perhaps the title ‘Ma-ma’ or ‘Mummy’ made me feel like a grown up. I know when I first became engaged, married, pregnant or held my first-born, I felt a little like a fraud. A teenager stepping into the big wide world of parenting; scared, anxious and pretty clueless. You have to learn on your feet and let’s face it, blag things until you understand them. You can read all the parenting books on the shelves and listen to all the other parents on this planet, but nothing compares you for the real thing. Being a Mummy is like a special ticket into a VIP world, that you did not know existed. All of a sudden you can talk to strangers with ease, you are rarely alone and you always have something to discuss with other parents, you are universal. You now have a purpose, and a whole load of responsibility.
My children are now a little older. At age 4 and 5 they are capable of choosing what they want to call me themselves. We have naturally progressed from Mama to Mummy and sometimes, when Gabriel is feeling cool, I am ‘Mum’. I have to admit that losing the ‘Mummy’ title makes me a little sad. Maybe because it’s the end of an era, I now no longer have toddlers, my children are growing up and they themselves are making the decision that ‘Mummy’ is perhaps too baby-ish for their street-cred. It leaves me feeling nostalgic. Silly really, because I am still the same person, in the same role and our mutual love remains. I give my heart unreservedly, regardless. The work of motherhood is so valuable, aside from a chosen handle and that’s what is important.
It does often make me smile though, when these names and titles are used collectively. ‘Can all the Mums step forward’ or ‘Would the Mummies mind moving their prams’ etc. At the doctors, or schools you will be, for years addressed as ‘Mum’ or ‘X’s Mum’. It’s like our names, (or other titles) are no longer needed or required. We are suddenly like a herd of cows, being ushered and en masse, addressed by others. Of course, it’s privilege to be a parent, a Mama, Mummy, Mum or Mother I just wonder if these on occasion, over-used titles ever contribute to the identity crisis that parenthood sometimes brings?
What about myself? Mothering has no age limit- I have had my own Mama, Mummy, Mum, Mother journey and I am firmly placed at Mum, where I have been I expect for around 30 years. When I am extremely unwell, like last year when I suffered for months with Viral Pneumonia, I felt comforted when I saw or spoke to my Mum. When life goes wrong, or I need help my Mum is there. She is my Mum, but she will never be, ‘just a mum’. I can’t imagine a ‘re-brand’ now, least not to Mother! Although of course, that’s what and who she is, penned onto my birth certificate and next of kin documents.
I sincerely hope that I would never become ‘just a mum’ to my own children either. Once the title becomes personal, special and extraordinary, the concept of the title becomes less relevant doesn’t it? Parenthood is an action, and the titles are insignificant without the substance. My children can call me what they like actually, as long as I am doing my best that’s all that matters.
So what should we give to our children as part of motherhood, taking the role and the honour? Aside from the obvious, I think we need to give our children positive role models of women at all times, whether you are a Mama, Mummy, Mum or Mother (or something else) biologically or otherwise, we should fill our lives with other interests and ambitions as well as focusing on care and love. Despite the wonderful titles, and the transitions encountered; we have more than one string to our bows.