As we observe Mothers’ Day, the holiday set aside to commemorate mothers, our feelings and experiences may be quite ambiguous. For some, our experiences with our own mothers was or is less than ideal. For some our relationships with our mothers have had their high points and low points. For some, we have been fortunate to have good, loving relationships with our mothers; for others, the relationship was tenuous at best, downright tortuous and difficult at its worst.
Whatever experience you had with your own mother, or that you are having with your children, this date will probably not pass without some reflection on your part. For those who have not chosen to be a mother or who have not been able to, this holiday can be difficult for any number of reasons. Friends of mine who have not chosen to be a mother, have different thoughts about what that means in their lives. For some, it is a choice that holds no regrets. For some it has been a conscious choice not to have children; for others it has been as aspect of their lives that never seemed to fit into the life, relationship, or meaning that they had planned for themselves. For those friends of mine who have been unable to have children even though they wanted them, this can be a painful and difficult time. Regardless of our circumstances, we all have mothers ourselves.
In this culture, many people have been born over the last 40 years or so, by choice. It wasn’t until the mid to late-1960s that birth control became available en masse. I recall deciding to have a baby, and had the option not to as a result of different kinds of birth control. While not everyone had children by choice, more so did than not. That said, none of us know what it is going to be like to be a mother until we have had a child. People often find out after giving birth that they may not take naturally to the role, or may have no idea what they are doing. That’s a pretty typical feeling. And more than one woman has found herself unable to handle the demands of mothering/parenting.
Parenting and mothering roles continue to change. More women are choosing to parent on their own, or find themselves in the mothering/parenting role as a result of marrying into a family. We learn to parent on the job, regardless of what age we or the children are, and regardless of what stage of life we are involved with children. And the relationships we have or had with our own mothers and the mother figures in our lives, do have an impact on us throughout our lives. Some of the women who have been role models for me and who in some ways have been mother figures to me, have been women who have provided love, support, encouragement, and guidance at different times of my life. When I think of the role of mother, I think of these women as well, for they provided what I either didn’t find in my own relationship with my mother or couldn’t find as she passed away when I was relatively young. I was an adult mother myself when my Mother died, but was in no way ready to be without her in my life. I have missed her. My Mother had a major impact on how I have developed.
For many of us, mothering comes in a variety of different shapes and sizes. From childhood, certain women have also been mother-figures for me. The principal of George Washington Carver, Ruth German, was one of my first role models-a quiet, strong, and decisive woman who listened and asked penetrating questions. She made me think deeply about life. Other women teachers and professors who were role models, and who taught me about being a woman, about being a person with purpose, drive, and desires to fulfill. The master teacher of psychology and child development training, Dr. Antonia Bercovici, set an example of a woman who was a professor, a life-time learner (despite having a doctorate, continued learning and expanding her capacity to understand more), who did her work as well as having a family. She continues to serve as an example of what is possible, maintaining her professional practice until this day. Mrs. Dorothy Paul, my late-Godmother, was like a mother to me, supporting me through some very difficult times in a way only someone older and wiser than I could do. She came into my life after my own Mother passed away, and for over 20 years until her death in 2010, was a powerful support and influence for me. Dr. Cecilia Ranger, a Holy Names sister whom I met at Marylhurst University in Oregon, was one of several women from this religious order who provided guidance, support, encouragement, and helped open both doors to opportunities for me and my eyes to possibilities and my own gifts. My graduate advisor, Dr. Mary Caygill, is a single woman who helped me achieve a lifetime dream, and walked with me through the process of digging deep into my depths to discover the work that has become my life work. She helped me birth the rich journey that became first my doctoral dissertation, and then my life purpose. For many, the dissertation is empty work. For me, it was one of the richest experiences I have ever had, and it was made possible because of my willingness to pay attention to what each of these women had taught me through their examples and through their trust, belief in, and faith in my ability to live out my life purpose.
My long term and deep friendships, and some of the relationships in my family, provide an element of that nurturing mother in relationship to me. And I in turn try to be supportive and a good role model to my own daughter. In friendships and relationships with my cousins, I also find myself in the position with others that my mentors and mother figures were with me. With both younger women and men, I find myself in a similar role. Mothering in its most beautiful sense, is an essence that is part of many women, regardless of whether or not they have ever given birth. This Mother’s Day, I have listened to and read a lot of what others have said about this day and motherhood. Much of my life experience and my choices have all been made through the lens of motherhood. Unexpectedly, the role of being Mother has been one I’ve loved the most. It is also a role that is full of mystery, surprises, change, and great gifts. Celebrating Mother’s Day, for me, is about thinking back on all those women who helped shape me and my ideas about mothering, and of being so grateful for my own daughter. She is such a very special person-a woman I admire, and one I have gotten to know in an entirely different way since she became a Mother herself nearly 8 years ago. She is also someone I love beyond measure, and my most treasured relationship.
Once you are a Mother, everyday is Mother’s Day. If we are not caught up in the throes of mothering and raising young children, we remain connected to the lives of our children. Regardless of their age or ours, the relationship we mothers have with our children helps define who we understand ourselves to be. Through the eyes of our children, and then grandchildren, we come to understand ourselves from different perspectives. In life, we get what we get, not always what we would prefer. For me, I was one of the fortunate ones who had a wonderful mother. Unfortunately, she died just as I was turning 40.
That was a long time ago, and not a day goes by that I don’t wish she were still living. Today, I thank all the women who have been there for me at some point in my life, including my own Mother, for they have put me in touch with my higher angels, and have shown me the gift that comes with allowing that part of ourselves that we connect to mothering, to come out in ways that are supporting, kind, compassionate, and loving. And I guess the greatest gift and lesson I have taken from my role as mother is this. In order to be ever growing and adapting to the changing needs of life, my family, and myself, I have to be committed to honoring and nurturing the gifts that I have to create, grow, learn, and thrive, in order for me to begin to understand how it is I can support, guide, nurture, or help anyone else. To be a mother, requires needing to learn to self care and living in the process of harmonizing.
My wish for all women is that your relationships with your mothers be sources of love, healing, and joy, and that when you are without that ideal mother we all seek, we find instead, the love of good friends, family, our own daughters, or the daughters of some other mother, fills us with whatever we need, filling in the gaps of our lives like water filling a dry stream bed. Be at peace with your Divine Feminine, the Shekinah or Feminine Face of the Divine that is part of all of us. Celebrate life, be joyful, and give thanks. Find ways to forgive, and move on. Release yourself from fantasies that bind you, expectations that hurt you, or memories that have been hanging on too long. Embrace that part of you and that part of your close and loving relationships where your true character and nature is known and cherished. Recognize what you have, and release ideas about what you should feel, do, have, or be. So let’s celebrate. As I was finishing this article, a good friend called to wish me Happy Mother’s Day, and we talked too about all the people our lives who have been like mothers for us. Today, we may think a little more than usual about those in our lives who have helped nurture, love, and guide us, and about our own daughters and grandchildren, or the children we have taught, cared for, and known along the way. Cherish the connections, and honor those who help affirm us every day.