Being mother as well as momPublished 12:28pm Monday, May 14, 2012
Was Sunday “Mother’s Day” or “Mom’s Day”? Far more important than what we call the day is our concept of the person. I consider whether she is thought of on this special day as mother or as mom. She is both, of course, but different concepts are expressed by the different words, and there is great value in understanding them.
I suggest mom is much overused. Like all overused words, they become less meaningful and useful. In point of fact, overuse of mom and neglect of mother devalues both. Consider this newspaper headline: “Mom kills her three children.” This is not a mom but, at most, a mother.
Let’s put before us the range of words used and, when in the right connection, used properly. In addition to mother and mom, there are mommy and ma. Some ethnic, national, and cultural groups enjoy honorific, diminutive, and affectionate variations of these. My mother-in-law, for instance, was Mum. She was when my wife was born to her in England, and she remains so in our memory and references.
Let’s take the alternatives individually and consider their distinctive meanings. Mother is both generic (“We honor all our mothers this day.”) and formal (“Enter your mother’s name on the application form.”). We find it expressed most frequently in the third person (as is she and her), and this is the appropriate form for third person reference. If we are intentional and careful in language, we will use mother more often than the current trend. Its use has much to do with thoughtful deference and serious respect.
Contrary to current popular notions, nonetheless, it is not incorrect to use mother in first person direct address, e.g., “Mother, can you come for Christmas?” (In this context, mom is quite proper as well, especially when you wish to express affection specifically.)
Mom, in comparison with mother, is more affectionate and informal, and most meaningful and appropriately put in first person direct address, e.g., “Hi, Mom, I’m home.” It has almost replaced mother even in third person reference, especially among young people and even the middle-aged.
Honestly, my opinion and judgment is that this practice is unfortunate because it limits the meaning and diminishes the value of language. I do not mean to assert mom is wrong, but I do suggest it may be incorrect. When we do this, we might think we have become “cool,” but, in fact, we have lost understanding worth preserving and using. We have also failed to pass on a valuable custom.
Perhaps it is not too much to put it: If everyone is “mom,” no one is “mother.” More serious: If everyone is “mom,” there is no such thing as mothers or motherhood. This would be most unfortunate.
This is why “Mom kills her three children” is not only semantically incorrect but, far more serious, logically inappropriate. The woman is a mother technically, but a mother killing her children has none of the emotional properties of “momship,” as it were. Most inappropriate uses of mom are merely incorrect. This is one I am eager to say is morally wrong.
Then there is that wonderful word mommy. I still hear our now-grown children saying, “Cookie, Mommy?” (You’ve got her heart, kid.) We hear this most often from young children in the cuddly, mushy stage. It is the softest, sweetest term of the three. The sequence Mommy, Mom, Mother is strongly social and almost chronological.
Nonetheless, what mother is not warmed and rewarded when a strong, maturing young man returns home and says: “Hi, Mom!” and, then as he hugs her whispers, “I love you, Mommy”?
Guys, call your mother “Mommy” once in a while. It will do something that even “Mom” does not quite accomplish.
I do not denigrate whatever word you use, regardless of context. I do encourage you to think through your usage and employ the most meaningful term in its context. It is not only a consideration of appropriateness, but of respect.
(I can say the equivalent about the terms father, dad, and daddy. Sometime I shall.)
My mom at times felt like killing me; but Mommy was a wonderful mother and never did.