While teaching in the government department at Claremont McKenna College, now many years ago, I developed a module on the history of marriage law in the United States.

It included a contrast of early American marriage laws, and the culture and habits surrounding those laws, with modern, no-fault divorce laws. (The first state no-fault divorce law, by the way, came courtesy of Republican Governor Ronald Reagan in 1969.)


These classroom discussions inevitably would turn to subjects of men and women, what they do, what they want, what they expect, what differences there might be between the sexes other than genitalia and chromosomes, what opportunities and responsibilities men and women have now versus what they had in the past, in the context of marriage, etc.

In these marriage-related lectures, no students were bored or uninterested. Or quiet. They all had opinions they wanted to share. This clearly was important to them.

Curiously, the women were the ones quickest to dismiss or denigrate motherhood as a meaningful or important activity. So I’d push back and defend motherhood. My argument went something like this:

Any man can do a job at some business. Any man can push papers around, file reports, go to meetings, fix a machine, or dig a ditch. And likely most women can do most jobs that men can do—which isn’t very impressive because it’s not a very high hurdle to overcome.

Still, if you’re a woman and you need to demonstrate to yourself or to the world that you can do what many men do routinely, knock yourself out. No one is stopping you.


But motherhood is something different than the work men typically do. Excellent mothering is a unique challenge of which only women are capable, and among them, only some.

The material with which a mother begins to work is a 7, 8, or 9 pound natural, narcissistic tyrant who cares for no one.

A baby doesn’t care when anyone else is tired, sick, or hungry—it’s going to cry and scream and demand whenever it wants something, and sometimes even when it doesn’t want something.

A baby knows nothing. It can do nothing. No other animal on Earth is so utterly helpless at birth as a newborn human baby.

Within a window of opportunity spanning approximately 16, 18, or 20 years, a mother works tirelessly to transform that little tyrant into a mature, reasoning, thoughtful, loving, productive, self-reliant human being.

There are no guide books to tell a mother how to do or achieve this. Or, rather, there are guide books, but none of them are very good because every child is so different in so many ways.


That’s why mothering requires unmatched energy, patience, and creativity. And endless, unconditional love. I’m not saying fathers have nothing to contribute to the raising of children. Of course they do. Yet mothering is distinct work that only women can do well.

The result, the reward, of motherhood is something so noble, so profoundly beautiful, so inseparable from the mystery of human nature, that it’s impossible to compare it to any raise, promotion, or title gained at any typical job. So let us not even try.

For women looking for the greatest of all human challenges, try being a good mother. It will test you in ways no classroom learning can prepare you. And your children will be better for it. You will be better for it. The world will be better for it.

And for those women who have already dared to undertake this monumental task of being a mother, a task that humbles the greatest of men, I say: Happy Mother’s Day To All Of You!