Only after I became a mother in the most basic, literal sense, giving birth to my son and a few years later my daughter, did I dedicate the time needed to realize that raising children represents only a modicum of true mothering. It is a much bigger, holier, metaphysical concept than I give it credit. Each year, around this time of year, prompted by advertisements for spa-days and chocolate-covered fruit and whatever other gifts marketers dictate as appropriate for mothers, I pause and think about how I have embraced mothering as a whole.
With each annual exploration the understanding of what it means to mother–beyond gender or responsibilities or frustrations or fears–opens itself up a little more to me.
In recent years, there has been a larger movement to recognize that the syrupy, Hallmark-fortified version of this holiday leaves out those who have been unable to bear children, those who have lost a child, lost a mother, or those who have non-existent or damaged relationships with mothers in their lives. As my expression of motherhood evolves, I have come in personal contact with all these challenges, experiencing them myself or when supporting others.
My role as a mom raising two kids is something I still struggle with everyday. I struggle with my identity outside of my kids’ lives and nurturing my own and their independence. I pray for them everyday; praying for their safety and wisdom and that they might represent and give unconditional love to everyone they meet. I remind them constantly to stop picking their nose. They hand me a booger.
Two ideas struck me today with words better than I have to offer, and I have learned that part of mothering is recognizing other’s good work and lifting it up, celebrating nurturing ideas that feed humanity.
The first comes from Jen Hatmaker. I am sharing this is a little late, considering most of us have finished church for this Sunday, but the sentiment is timeless and useful for future Mother’s Days. The biggest takeaway is the permission to walk away from our prescribed traditions without risk of our sacred communities turning their back on us when we return. We need to find the joy that brings us closer to the divine, which is what our Mother would want for us.
Dear People of the Church World, tomorrow is Mother's Day which for some folks is a lovely, happy day and for others it is a nightmare. As a friend and sister and daughter to people for whom "motherhood" only means loss, unfulfilled dreams, or bruised memories, may I say this: . If going to church on Mother's Day is simply an exercise in holding in your tears until you can unleash them in the car on the way out of the parking lot, just stay home tomorrow. It's okay. You won't lose your salvation and the church won't fold. You aren't the only one that has to white knuckle through the traditional Mother's Day sermon, because it leaves you out of a story you deeply wish you were a part of…or you miss being a part of. . Go to brunch with people you love. Shop at your favorite book store. Take a walk on the prettiest stretch in town. Watch your favorite movie. Be kind and nurturing to your own self. Send a text to some of the mothers in your life you admire; generosity out of pain is a special brand of healing work. . The rest of us: think through the people in your life that might benefit from a short moment of acknowledgement tomorrow. A few years ago, I sent a long email to five of my closest girlfriends on Mother's Day, all of whom lost their moms at really young ages. I told them how proud their mothers would be if they could see them today and what beautiful legacies they were carrying on. I affirmed their pain and reminded them it was okay to still be sad all these years later. . You are deeply loved and seen. You are valuable and a gift to this world, even if "motherhood" is a painful space. Be so kind to yourself tomorrow, beloveds.
The second idea comes from the story on the origins of Mother’s Day in the United States, which has been posted on multiple sites today, more than I remember in recent history. Each account cites Julia Ward Howe’s Mother’s Day Proclamation from 1870, calling women together to work together to address issues of global peace. A stanza in the middle of the piece reads:
From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says, “Disarm, disarm! The sword is not the balance of justice.” Blood does not wipe out dishonor nor violence indicate possession.
I’d happen to guess that greeting card companies haven’t quite figured out what font to use when re-printing that phrase on the front of a Mother’s Day card. The entire proclamation reminds me to view my role as a mother as to serve the children of the world–all ages, all locations, no exceptions. It’s a humbling charge, one that can’t be fueled by a bouquet of chocolate-covered fruit.
And finally, because the Internet can be good (despite all of its clickbait and makeup-free celebrity photos) when we use it with the right intentions, a bonus thought, discovered as a related link to Howe’s proclamation. It’s a reflection on spiritual motherhood, captured by Dr. Alice von Hildebrand, a Catholic philosopher and theologian. The finale of her article reads:
You are called to motherhood right now. Not next week, not next month. I’m absolutely convinced that God has placed people in your path and called you to motherhood. Your task is to love those that are weak, unhappy, helpless, and unloved. Sometimes you can do this just by saying one word. At other times you’ll just have to listen. In every life there is suffering; most people keep it inside. When they feel loved, they will open up and tell you about their suffering. Then you will find that by carrying other people’s suffering your own suffering becomes lighter.