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    “Parent” is a Verb

    August 17, 2006 by Brandy Vencel

    It’s all the rage to verb nouns. Unfortunately, it seems all too common to noun words that it would be very helpful to remember are also verbs. Parent is one of those words, and I would also include the more specific terms mother and father.

    No one uses the word father as a verb any more, unless it is a seedy daytime television show determining which male donated a certain genetic material. Unfortunately, the term is devoid of any significant meaning outside of the church {and sometimes inside}. When I hear “father,” I think of a head of a household and specific childrearing tasks, but I am learning others do not think the same.

    Mother is not entirely lost, and yet the idea of requiring that mother be acknowledged as a verb is. Si and I have recently met women {more than one!} who tell the story of how, early on in their childrearing lives, they decided to go back to work {notice I didn’t say they had to go back}, and that going back made them a better mother.

    If mother is a verb, going back to work can do no such thing. One cannot perform a given task if one is not present to do so. But if mother is narrowly defined as a mere position that a woman giving birth to a child has in that child’s life, then perhaps going back to work would allow someone to become a “better mother,” because when mother is only defined as a noun, there is room to judge a better or worse mother based on how the woman feels about her position as such.

    Early on in my motherhood years, there were days when I wanted to go back to work. Work made me feel smart and competent…and beautiful {better clothes and no spit-up}. I distinctly remember telling Si on more than one occasion that I was quitting. I don’t think he ever believed me, and he usually looked at me with laughing eyes, which, in the midst of my passionate outcries, I found quite annoying.

    And then he would ask the inevitable question, “Well, who do you plan on leaving the baby with?” Immediately, I would change my tune. Leave the baby? My baby? I didn’t care how miserable E. made me while he was teething, I refused to leave him with a stranger who I knew could never love him like I did.

    Let me reiterate that part: I know a stranger could never love my child like I do. This is important. I am often tempted to buy into the idea that when parents choose to enroll a small child in daycare, or even get a nanny, the child is being mothered by someone else. I am beginning to believe that the truth is that they aren’t being mothered at all. Not really.

    Mothering starts with a noun, the word mother. It is a position that only one woman can hold in a person’s life. The verb mothering pours out from the heart that gave the child life {or the heart that adopted that child and gave the child a family}. It is a connection that a nanny, even a really good one, can never have with that child. It is an instinct that a paid caregiver can never be trained to have.

    I have nephews that I love, but I don’t love them like I do my own kids. I have good friends who have children, and I love those children, but I don’t love them like I do my own kids. And I don’t believe this to be some sort of failing on my part. I was created to mother my own children. Every mother was created to mother her own children. This is reality.

    The unfortunate side-effect of this is that the popularity and acceptance of hiring paid caregivers {remember the Outsourcing Parenthood post I quoted yesterday?} effectively creates a generation of orphans.


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  • Reply Brandy August 17, 2006 at 9:48 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing your insight! I can imagine it’s such a tricky place for you to be in–loving kids whose parents are unwilling to sacrifice their own lives to raise them themselves, and yet being committed to doing right by your own child in time.

    I will say that I think an in-home nanny is a superior situation to group daycare, where children seem more likely to be actually neglected and forgotten.

  • Reply Anonymous August 17, 2006 at 8:45 pm

    Very good post. As a professional nanny I couldn’t agree with you more. I always tell parents in my interviews that I believe my work, my existence in a child’s life, is a distant second best to their own mother being home. I also let them know that I can in no way replace their true mother and I am not going to try to do so. Despite this I am never lacking in offers to hire me. Too many parents are just too selfish to give up their “very important” positions at their company to spend their time reading to their own kids. They believe that second best for their kids is good enough. Sad, but true.

    I have also put the parents I work for on notice that I can only do this until I have children of my own. Hard to imagine that they don’t mind knowing that their child’s caregiver will eventually abandon them!

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