A Meditation on Mothers

I thought I’d change my Facebook cover and profile pictures to my mother and the mother of my daughters, it reminded me of the topic and I have some time on my hands because no one’s showing up today, so I thought I’d free-associate about mothers for the Mother’s Day Weekend.

I know people who are cynical about the commercial aspects of the day, and it does, indeed, make a whole lot of money for Hallmark, etc. I’m not cynical this year, for some reason. I think that any day that gets us to stop and think about important people in our lives is a good thing. Mother’s Day does that.

Yes, Mother’s Day was created by proto-feminists as a way to protest whatever war we were in at the time. Yes, on Mother’s Day we should celebrate strong women who make a stand for what they believe in, and we should celebrate peace.  Probably the biggest thing to remember about mothers is that you shouldn’t kill their children. If you’re a child, try not to die before your parents. It’s not the way it’s supposed to work.

“Mother” is as much a fluid concept as it is iconic.  We make a really big deal about motherhood, but not every mother is cut out for the job. Not every woman who has a child is a “Mother”. Just because a woman is childless doesn’t mean she isn’t a mother.

As a therapist who sees all kinds of people, I can tell you that some women simply shouldn’t be mothers. They’re too young or too busy with their addiction or too mean or they don’t like children at all or don’t know what it means to be a kid or they have a mental illness or they are in an abusive relationship and can’t protect their children. None of these things are necessarily their fault, but any of those things could make parenting impossible and frequently do. Boys and men: If you get a girl or woman pregnant and you know she has one of those problems, you are setting her up for a lifetime of difficulty. If you are having sex with a still childless girl or woman and she has one of those issues, you need to think twice about what you’re doing.

On the other hand, there are some women whose entire life is about being a mother. They are far fewer than it seems, but they are out there. In my life, I have met only a handful of women whose very nature and career is being a mother.  Everybody else had a child as part of their life — a large part or a small part of their life — but a part, in any case. They are also teachers, clergy, salespeople, artists, dancers, house cleaners, or leaders of the free world. Just because someone becomes a mother doesn’t mean they stopped being a person. It just means that they added another part to their life’s resume’. It’s an important job, to be sure, but it’s seldom the totality of who they are.

No matter what Freud or society or women’s magazines or anybody else says, “it” is not always the mother’s fault. There are other people around and they — in an ideal world — will also take charge of children and help to raise them.

Something I have learned: Actually having a child in their womb changes women, in a way that we men can only guess at. No matter what becomes of that fetus, its simple presence changes a woman. Abortion cannot be taken lightly, even if a woman wants to.  Miscarriage cannot be taken lightly, even if a woman needs to. Loss of a child during a pregnancy is a scar that just doesn’t go away for a very long time, if ever. Carrying a child is an experience that involves love made manifest.

Speaking of love made manifest, mothering a person is the act of doing just that. I have a biological mother and she did the “raising” thing. I also have many, many non-biological mothers who have raised me. Among these are Mary Lou Brewer (my high school history teacher), Nancy Williams and Lucy Briand (mothers of best friends in high school whom I stayed with during college), Becky Johnson, Mary Lou O’Neil, Cy Sherman and any number of Deering adult women, Hazel Vancor from Centre Church in Lynnfield, Lynn Carmen Bodden and Jeanette Sherrill, Fran Stiles and Jean Golden as part of my ministry journey. In an odd way, my sister Michelle and my wife Michelle – two very different people continue to raise me to this day, by giving me insights into the people I meet. Virginia Satir, by writing her book Peoplemaking, became a mother to me. Women therapists I have had have become mothers to me in the same way.

If a woman cares about children and helps them mature in some way, if she is a guide, she is a mother.

A friend of mine gave me a great gift years ago by sharing this piece of wisdom: There is not a manual for raising children in the genes. There might be love, there might be care for a child, but raising a child — the messy daily stuff of diaper changing, taking care of a sick child, helping your child ride a bike, setting limits and saying “no” at the right time, encouraging independence and saying “yes” at the right time, advocating for your child’s education, and imparting wisdom about relationships — does not come at birth. Their is no special bag of instructions in the birth canal. Women, like men, are “making this stuff up as we go”. There are lots of great books out there (see Peoplemaking, for instance) and there are many experienced mothers of all stripes out there. Doing it on your own, though, is tough. It’s ok — actually important — to ask for help. You are not a failure if you ask for help. In fact, you’re far more likely to be a success if you do.

Raising children is one of the most important things human beings do. On Mother’s Day, here’s to the female half of the population that does the job.







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