Yesterday was my day off. Like most Thursdays, I was at home with the family for the entire day. It’s usually an occasion for house projects, errands, and playing with the boys. Yesterday was no exception. By 10:30am I’m already exhausted by the frenetic pace of little people incessantly lobbying for attention. And, like always, I marvel: “How does my wife do this day-in and day-out?”
In a 1905 address, President Theodore Roosevelt (1858 – 1919) reminded a group of mothers how vital their work was to the nation’s health. When he came to the White House in 1901, his own six children ranged in age from 3 to 17 years. Throughout those years, his wife Edith had shown extraordinary strength in managing her social duties as first lady while at the same time raising the notoriously rowdy group of children known to the nation as “the White House Gang.” Roosevelt does not mention Edith by name in his remarks, but he is obviously intimately aware of and deeply grateful for her many sacrifices.
“No ordinary work done by a man is either as hard or as responsible as the work of a woman who is bringing up a family of small children; for upon her time and strength demands are made not only every hour of the day but often every hour of the night. She may have to get up night after night to take care of a sick child, and yet must by day continue to do all her household duties as well; and if the family means are scant she must usually enjoy even her rare holidays taking her whole brood of children with her. The birth pangs make all men the debtors of all women. Above all our sympathy and regard are due to the struggling wives among those whom Abraham Lincoln called the plain people, and whom he so loved and trusted; for the lives of these women are often led on the lonely heights of quiet, self-sacrificing heroism. . .
Inasmuch as I am speaking to an assemblage of mothers, I shall have nothing whatever to say in praise of an easy life. Yours is the work which is never ended. No mother has an easy time, the most mothers have very hard times; and yet what true mother would barter her experience of joy and sorrow in exchange for a life of cold selfishness, which insists upon perpetual amusement and the avoidance of care, and which often finds its fit dwelling place in some flat designed to furnish with the least possible expenditure of effort the maximum of comfort and of luxury, but in which there is literally no place for children? . . .
The woman’s task is not easy—no task worth doing is easy—but in doing it, and when she has done it, there shall come to her the highest and holiest joy known to mankind; and having done it, she shall have the reward prophesied in Scripture; for her husband and her children, yes, and all people who realize that her work lies at the foundation of all national happiness and greatness, shall rise up and call her blessed.1”
1 Theodore Roosevelt, “On American Motherhood,” The World’s Famous Orations, vol. 3, ed. William Jennings Bryan (1906; reprinted, Bartleby.com, 2003), http://www.bartleby.com/268/10/29.html