Mother’s Day just passed by, and while I love my mother, I think it is a strange day to celebrate. We were all brought here, by a woman, our mother, into this mortal life. Being born of a mother is one universal in a world of variations. Does that automatically make being a mother special? I am, by choice, child-free and wonder what we celebrate on Mother’s Day. I suspect it is more than the fact of a biological relationship. What if you have ongoing struggles with your mother? Is there still cause to celebrate? What if you had the mother from Mommie Dearest? It may be social taboo to discuss, but I wonder if anyone has a less than ideal relationship with their mother?
While my mother does not quite meet the scary Joan Crawford standard, our relationship sometimes feels like a roller coaster ride. Once, on Mother’s Day, in fact, I came from out of town to visit my mother. I drove us to a park a few miles away from her home. While we were there, I was test riding a foldable bike that was sitting in the trunk. As I checked out the bike, we managed to split up at the park. After not seeing me for a few minutes, she drove her car back home without me. I biked around looking for her. Later I realized I was at the park by myself, without a phone, my wallet, or any heads up about what had happened. Entirely confused about why I was left there, I ended up biking Atlanta roads without a helmet in the scorching heat to her house. The fury burned hot inside and out as I made it to her home. When I asked her why she left me, she said she was hungry and was sure I could make it home Ok. Without apology, she noted that I was so outdoorsy that I would have enjoyed the ride on my own. This same woman also loaned me money to buy my first rental property. Later, I realized she wanted the brag of telling her friends that her daughter owns a rental. Money usually came easier than compassion. Though things are getting better, I find myself constantly struggling to be understood.
Many other millennials are similarly examining their upbringing. Parental apology fiction is a new sub-genre. In these modern sitcoms, children confront parents with pain from their upbringing and get resolution. That fantasy seems a far cry from where I am. For now, it is enough that I got some insights into our tumultuous relationship. The book, Will I Ever Be Good Enough, has helped me understand some difficulties through the lens of personality. From it, I developed the understanding that it takes enormous effort to go beyond providing for physical needs. To care and nurture through disagreement is the hallmark of unselfish love. Supporting another’s self-actualization requires immense emotional reserves.
Hence, my pondering. Some women become pregnant involuntarily, unknowingly, and ill-advisedly. To be born of another human is the most natural thing. In reality, the right combination in the horizontal mambo can make most women into mothers. Biology comes before the choice for some. Being motherly, however, is not for everyone. Emotionally immature women have children to fill a void in their life. In other cases, young girls do not get sexual education and become mothers early in life. At the same time, our country is reducing the legal options for women to choose whether they want to bring a pregnancy to term.
So, the distinction is essential. Being a mother is quite different from being a Mom. Instead of motherhood itself, I propose that it is mothering that we celebrate on Mother’s Day. Biological mothers have varying degrees of warmth and lovingness. What we celebrate, then, is mothering. Those moments in which someone, sometimes an actual mother, cared for us. The celebration of caring, nurturing, and warmth is itself a cause to celebrate. To love when it is difficult or trying, or when there are disagreements, is what I set out to celebrate.
Thankfully, I have a big extended family. As our immediate family became a bit established, we were able to host aunts, uncles, and my maternal grandmother for a while. Their warmth and caring contributed to my development. Sometimes, others would see my point of view. I felt secure in knowing a world of support was around me. On Mother’s Day, I celebrate mothering, even if it comes from aunts, grandparents, or other close relations. If we are lucky, we have many people around us that contribute to our upbringing.
Flowers, like children, can grow on their own after a particular start. This natural process is the beauty of nature, that is she just grows. However, the blossoms grow bigger, more fragrant, and stronger through nurturing. In essence, to love it takes the ability to move through disagreement with love and respect. With time and reflection, I came to see some of the difficulties in loving rooted in traumas from the past. Thich Nacht Hanh has a beautiful meditation on developing compassion for parents. Inspired by this practice, I wrote a poem to remind me (and anyone else) of struggling with a problematic parental relationship.
Happy Mother’s Day to Mommie Dearests, Mothering Aunts, Grandmas, and Mothering Humans All Around!