Maybe once upon a time it was straightforward, with a construction paper craft coming home from kindergarten with every kid.
But I think we are realizing collectively – it’s complicated. Perhaps because people have a platform in social media to share their experiences and tell their stories, we are starting to understand that there is no one story about motherhood, or families. There are a whole lot of people who don’t have a Hallmark experience of either being or having a mother.
People who have struggled through the process of adoption. Parents who long for that greeting card vision of family, but don’t have it, for so many reasons. Or those who do have it and find it stifling. The loss of a child. The loss of a parent. People who didn’t receive the mothering they needed. Marginalized parents who are fighting to do their best for their kids under crushing circumstances – depression, poverty, abuse, illness, racism, toxic relationships, to name just a few.
This day pushes a lot of emotional nerves in so many of us.
I have been wondering why that is so. Why do we care so damn much about Mother’s Day?
It may have more to do with the importance of mothering itself than any particular expression or celebration of mothers. Last year for Mother’s Day feminist icon Gloria Steinem wrote about “Mother as a Verb”, contrasting the identity of any particular person as a mother (noun) with the action (verb) of mothering in the world:
“…when mother is a verb – as in to be mothered and to mother — ah, then the very best of human possibilities come into our imaginations. And we are all able to mother, whatever our sex or our age or our abilities.” ~ Gloria Steinem
The relationship with Mother is a primal one. The Mother that nurtures, protects, nourishes. We carry deep wounds when She is absent in our lives. The loving embrace, the fierce protector, the hearty meal, the tender word. Every single thing that lives needs to be mothered – whether it’s a seed in the earth, a babe in the woods, an infant in arms or our own adult hearts. Mothering matters. That’s why we care so much about Mother’s Day. This is a day that shines a bright light on where mothering is and is not present in our lives.
What if we celebrated not the individual mothers in our lives – good, bad or indifferent – but mothering itself? Honoured all that nurtures, protects and nourishes life. That would go way beyond sex, gender, family or biology. These actions in the world are worthy of our highest respect. We would acknowledge that caring for another is always a sacred, even holy act.
If we cultivated a respect for mothering in all its forms, greater appreciation for those who do it would automatically follow. Mothers, parents, caregivers of all kinds, stewards of the earth, wouldn’t have to fight so hard for support and recognition. We would radically change our relationship to the very earth that sustains us.
Who – or what – in your life mothers you? Consider the personal relationships in your life, but also your art, the food you eat, the natural world around you, your senses, breath, the divine.
Who – or what – in your life needs your expression of mothering? Who do you see who needs nurturing, protection, and nourishment in order to thrive? How might you extend your unique expression of it in the world? Big or small – mostly mothering is made up of many, many small actions. What needs your support to grow? Who or what is in peril in the world and requires protection? What nourishment do you have to offer to others in body, mind or spirit?
“I have some food in my bag for you
Not that edible food, the food you eat?
No. I have some food for thought.” ~ Erykah Badu, “Appletree”