A Poem I Really Dislike

**Disclaimer: I was absolutely CLUELESS as to a graphic to go with this!!!!! So, sorry, no picture! But, we’re all big adults. We can handle that!

I found this poem the other day and immediately didn’t like it:

“I love you, Mother,” said little John;
Then, forgetting his work, his cap went on.
And he was off to the garden swing,
And left her the water and wood to bring.

“I love you, Mother,” said little Nell;
“I love you better than tongue can tell.”
Then she teased and pouted full half the day,
Till her mother rejoiced when she went to play.

“I love you, Mother,” said little Fan;
“To-day I’ll help you all I can;
How glad I am school doesn’t keep!”
So she rocked the baby till it fell asleep.

Then, stepping softly, she took the broom,
And swept the floor and tidied the room.
Busy and happy all day was she,
Helpful and happy as child could be.

“I love you, Mother,” again they said,
Three little children going to bed.
How do you think that Mother guessed
Which of them really loved her best.

It seems like a sweet poem on the surface and in its first impression, but as I’ve been trained to rip apart poems since IB English in Junior year of high school, it seems different to me. As a mother, a daughter, and even a teacher, I have some issues with this poem.
1) The ages of the children. 
It seems like Nell and John are little children, whereas Fan is the eldest sibling. Does this mother actually expect little children, like say, 3 and 5, to be as useful around the house as say a 9-10 year old? Hopefully, not. While they are playing, and teasing, they are learning. True, Nell shouldn’t be teasing and and pouting, but what little preschooler isn’t going to? At church, I now teach the 3-4 year olds, and although I’ve only done it 2 weeks, I’ve seen some Nell and John in them. But, that doesn’t mean they don’t like me or their other teacher, or that they don’t want to learn about Christ. It just means they aren’t at the mental or emotional capacity yet, and that the adults teaching or mothering them need to be patient and help them learn. I’ve also seen my nieces and nephews who are that age, even into the early elementary school grades, act like Nell and John. Does that mean they love their parents any less than their eldest siblings who are very mature for their age? No, it doesn’t. I’ve seen how they cuddle their parents and get excited when their mom, who works over the weekend nursing, comes home. But, again, parents can find the right time to help these young children understand responsibility, just like Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, which I already LOVE!!!
2) Different love languages.
It seems like this mom’s love language is “Acts of Service.” How would her children know how her mother expected them to show their love unless she told them or asked them to help? I hadn’t heard of love languages until I was in college, but now, I can look at people I know and realize why certain things may or may not be appreciated or why certain things they love having. But, not all moms’ love language is going to be acts of service. Mine, right now, is words of affirmation. Now, Rhys doesn’t talk, but he smiles when he sees me and cries when I leave. That shows me his love, not the fact that he (I wish) doesn’t throw his food on the ground, (I wish) doesn’t get into cords or other things he shouldn’t touch, or (I wish) goes to sleep when he should and stays asleep all night. He’s not capable yet. And who knows, love languages change, so maybe down the line, it’ll be gifts from my children like hand-made in elementary school art class, or quality time when they are teens and super busy with after school activities. But, just because one child cleans the house and puts the baby down without being asked does not mean that child loves her mom the best.
3) Living up to expectations.
As a teacher of 3 years, I have been able to see preteens from a different point of view than when I was one myself or being a sibling of one. There are students who have told me I am their favorite teacher. They always do their homework, always participate, always help out, always behave, and always succeed with their grades. Of course they are some of my favorites. However, there are also students whose parents have told me that they’ve mentioned that I was their favorite teacher and I would never have guessed! These are the ones who chatter during class, forget most of their homework, and do poorly on tests. However, their parents see them trying in my class, even though they aren’t succeeding. They are trying because they respect me. I can tell when a student tries. I have a student who has an F in my class, and always talks, but apologizes when I softly reprimand him, and always beams when I told him he did something well or that I was proud of him. He likes me just as much as my favorites like me. That is because I reciprocate kindly. So, the same could be said of children. Just because a child says, “I love you,” but doesn’t do all that parents except of them does not mean that child doesn’t love their mom as much as the other.
4) Different personalities.
I have 3 siblings. We are all different and have different personalities. We all have different traits. We all have different successes and different failures. We have different strengths and different weaknesses. One of my sister loves the love languages and talks about them often. We’ve discussed ours at different times. They are vastly different. We are all also in different stages of life. I’m the eldest and the youngest is just finishing 9th grade. But, I know for a fact that we all love our mother the exact same amount, we just show it differently. For me, I need my mom’s interaction (and her words of affirmation). There barely goes a day that I don’t call her. I grew up with her doing that with her mom. True, we never lived near my Grandma while my dad was in the military, so that was how my mom was able to communicate with her. I live only 35 minutes from her and see her at least every Friday when she babysits Rhys. But, calling her every day is very important to me because that is what I was raised with how to show mothers you love them. I also ask her for advice all the time about Rhys. She did a great job raising her kids and has been there, done that. So, I show my love by asking her for advice. But, my siblings do it differently. One sister cleans the house and does pedicures, manicures, and massages for her. Does she love my mom more than me, NO! I will be honest, and I am ashamed of this fact, but I still fight with my mom often. However, I have never seen my brother fight with her (even though I’ve seen him fight with me and my siblings.) Does that mean he loves her more than me? NO! 
5) Favorite children.
It makes it seem that the mother has a favorite. That isn’t fair and that isn’t right. I know I’ve admitted that I have favorite students, but those aren’t my children. Right now, with just Rhys, I wonder how my heart will have room for another child. I know it will. But, will I have favorite children? I hope to God that I don’t. True, I may appreciate the way one child acts and hate the way another child acts, but does that mean I don’t love them as much or believe they don’t love me as much? If I have done my job right in loving them and teaching them Christ-like love and behavior, I have no reason to believe that I will have favorites..

6) It doesn’t really apply to today’s families.
Lastly, this is a very antiquated poem. I did a google search on it and most of the results I got where from the 1880s-1910s “how to raise your children” articles/books. That is when “children should be seen and not heard” and “don’t speak unless spoken to” virtues were rampant. If this didn’t happen, children were spread across the knee and spanked or hit with a rod. My mother would never ever do that to any of her children or expect to enforce those old-fashioned philosophies on her children! 

Again, it would be nice for all children to act like Fan, but that is like expecting all students to behave properly and always be responsible for their academics. It’s a nice hope, but doesn’t really seem grounded in reality, even though as parents and teachers, we work our butts off for it to happen. So, I can see why the mother is disappointed with her two younger children, as I am disappointed with some students sometimes. But, again, we don’t know the inner workings and thoughts and true feelings of our children and students. Moral of story: We should try our best not to judge our students or children.

What do you think of the poem?

Tayler is a work at home mom. She does free lance articles and dabbles in graphic design and virtual assisting for bloggers. She spent 3 years as a history and English teacher. Her passions are her husband, two children, history, reading, nature, and her Savior, Jesus Christ.

  • Where did you even find this poem?? I actually remember reading it when I was a child (I had a few super old children's textbooks my mom picked up for me to read just for fun)! I remember thinking after I read it that I should be a little more considerate to my mum but then again I was definitely not trained to rip apart the meaning of poems! 🙂

  • I found it on my FB newsfeed during Mother's Day weekend!

  • I think this is an awful poem. For pretty much all the reasons you listed.

    I think having a "favorite child" is pretty normal, though. And I don't think it means loving any of the other children less. There's just always going to be one you connect to on a different level. And if it does happen to you, I hope you never feel bad about it. (But also, you can never admit it!)

  • That is a good point, but I still hope I don't have a favorite child of my own.

  • And you probably won't. I'm sure it's just as common to NOT have a favorite as to have one.

  • Ok that's a tad bit disturbing.