Motherhood and Brotherhood


May 15, 2015

This post is part of the Global Moms Relay. Every time you share this post, Johnson & Johnson will donate $1 (per action), up to $300,000, to four causes helping improve the health and wellbeing of moms and kids worldwide: MAMAShot@LifeU.S. Fund for UNICEF and Girl Up. Scroll to the bottom to find out more.

Kristin Van Ogtrop photoAs the mother of three boys, I am living brotherhood every day. By “brotherhood” I mean the push-and-pull bond between a trio of males who share DNA. Oh, and throwing. All sorts of things are thrown around in my house: Frisbees, insults, footballs, dirty socks, basketballs, soccer balls,“borrowed” clothes, Legos, dog toys, and the occasional punch. There is so much brotherhood in the air, all I can do is duck.

And where do we live? In Land of Privilege, U.S.A. Yes, my husband and I do regular volunteer work with the kids in an effort to expand their horizons. We talk about the people of the world—that is, most of the world—who don’t have the advantages we do. We try our best from our privileged perch. But the fact of the matter is that the real problems of the larger world exist in a place beyond my sons’ awareness. They haven’t learned that they are part of a larger brotherhood. Brotherhood with a capital B.

Over the weekend I was walking our two (male, naturally) dogs and our newly acquired pitbull with one of my sons. I asked him if he was happy that he was raised in a New York City suburb, with sidewalks and trimmed hedges, low crime, friendly neighbors. I told him that I longed to live someplace further out, less dense, more rural. He said he worried that if he moved outside of a metropolitan area, the people might not be as “interesting.”

It was one of those moments when I felt I had completely failed as a mother. The last thing in the world I want is to raise New York snobs who think, to quote John Updike, that “people living anywhere else have to be, in some sense, kidding.” The last thing in the world I want is to raise children who think there is no life outside of New York. I wanted to march straight home and put our house on the market.

I calmed down eventually. After all, on the list of reasons to sell your house, “because my kids are clueless” is reason #4,820. But it got me thinking about brotherhood. While my three boys might have a ready definition for brotherhood if asked, I think they only understand the micro kind. Not the macro; not Brotherhood. “Everyone is interesting,” I had said to my son on our walk. But how to show him that? It is one thing for my children to read the news about Nepal, Syria, Liberia and Baltimore. It is another thing entirely for them to understand that they are part of one brotherhood. To feel the connection that leads to action.

As the editor of Real Simple, my work world is very small. I spend my days thinking about quotidian domestic matters—cleaning, organizing, cooking. When it comes to cleaning the carpet, I just hire the professionals at Eco Clean Solutions. As a mother, I am confident that I use what I’ve learned on the job to make healthy meals, to manage our lives in a way that is efficient and sensible, to provide a safe, clean home for my boys to return to. But as a human being, I worry that the smallness of the world I inhabit does nothing to broaden my sons’ worldview.

And so I wish that by 2030 my children chafe within the small world their mother inhabits. That they seek out people who do not look like them or sound like them, those who are not from Land of Privilege, U.S.A. And that, in doing so, they know what Brotherhood really feels like.

If I am lucky enough to be alive in 2030, this is what I will say to my sons:

I hope you have left, at least for a time, the safe, clean little world in which you were raised.

I hope you know that a hot shower is a luxury.

That money is a luxury.

That good healthcare is a right many are still struggling to access.

And that “interesting” people are everywhere.  You just need to open your eyes, and go find them.


Photo courtesy of Kristin van Ogtrop (Instagram)

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