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Pepperdine | Caruso School of Law

Pepperdine Law Dean on Motherhood

As I drove down the street recently, I jerked to attention when I noticed the vanity license plate on the car in front of me. It simply said "Just Mom." What message is the woman driving hoping to convey? Those two words carried all the ambiguities that have haunted my generation of mothers.
One possible interpretation is that of the boasting stay-at-home mom who somehow managed to inoculate those of us who chose not to be "just mom" with a healthy dose of guilt and questioning about what mortal deprivations we had visited upon our children by making the choice to combine motherhood with other career endeavors.
Another possible interpretation is just the opposite: It's the mother who deprecates her other talents, interests and aspirations by an apologetic admission that she resigns herself to being "just mom."
Neither of these messages resonates with me. The first denounces women who have combined motherhood with other occupations, and the second diminishes the rich array of talents beyond those required to be a mother that an individual woman possesses. I reject both interpretations.
I then began to think about how often I use the phrase "just mom"and realized I use it often. I do so when I phone my children and begin the conversation with the greeting "It's just mom." I use it when I enter a room or knock on a child's door and say "It's just mom." I often begin an email with that phrase. Used in this way, the phrase is meant to imply safety, comfort—no bad news—just checking in because I'm your mom; just seeking to connect with you; just a familiar loving voice—all the messages that make a mother's presence a lifelong comforting refuge from the rest of the world and the onslaught of messages that bombard our children in their public lives.
"Just mom" is the vocal manifestation of the sense of belonging and caring that every mother seeks to convey to her children and that we miss so much when the voice that says "just mom" is gone from our daily messages. I choose this interpretation of that license plate because it celebrates a gift every mother has and can give to her children without carrying implications about any other woman's life choices. So, this Mother's Day let us celebrate and be thankful for the gift of "just mom."

Deanell Reece Tacha
Duane and Kelly Roberts Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law
Circuit Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit (Ret.)
Proud mother of four and grandmother of five