Sunday is Mother’s Day and when it comes, it will bring with it all the complicated feelings surrounding a day centered on Mothers.
I’m very lucky. At 90 years old, my mother is still here and, both mentally and physically, vital. I’m also lucky because I’m the mother of three healthy children. And, to top it all off, I enjoy a positive and affirming relationship with all four.
But this is not necessarily the case for others. It is not always this simple and succinct.
In spite of all my good fortune, I have a lot of mixed feelings around the idea of setting aside one day to celebrate the woman who bore and/or raised us.
An obvious reason is that the concept of Hallmark holidays grates on me more and more as the years pass. I hope I do a good job showing my mother the depth of gratitude throughout the entire year and not in just one big way every May.
But another reason is simply this - there is so much wrapped up in the idea of being a mother and what that word means. Not everyone has a mother they can or would want to celebrate (and the later effects not only the child, but also the mother), and not everyone who wants to be a mother has been able to have that experience long term or at all due to the loss of a pregnancy, the death of a child, infertility, or other reasons.
For years now, I have looked at Mother’s Day as an opportunity to thank the various women in my life who have supported me in a myriad of ways. I see it as more focused on the idea of nurturing rather than a day centered around mothers.
Women who don't have children of their own (by choice or by chance) can provide a maternal influence in spite of their lack of “official” experience, and mothers with children can also be a maternal figure to those who are not their children - both in ways we rarely think about or consider when we think about Mother’s Day.
Women, as a whole, look after and care for others. Period.
Without my older sisters, one of whom never married and did not have children, I would not have made it through many difficult moments in high school and college, not to mention all the times they have held me up since. My aunt, who did not want children of her own, played a huge part in the lives of my daughters after my divorce and was always a source of inspiration and strength for me until her death two years ago. My best friend since high school, Jenny, has been mothering and counseling me for almost 40 years, and it all started when she helped me with my math homework. She has a family of her own, including two sons and an elderly mother. My house parent (never married/never had children) in boarding school - she put up with a LOT and was still there whenever I felt homesick with a sympathetic ear and a plate of cookies; my voice teacher in college (who wanted, but was unable to have children) - she had a box of kleenex just for me in her studio and always allowed me to unload my personal struggles; my college roommate, who cooked for me for two years whenever I was too tired to cook for myself and helped me fold laundry; my mother’s best friend (ran a large corporation and was a single mother of two), who gave me her beautiful designer suits when I got my first job and imparted me sage advice throughout my life. My new friends in NEPA who have reached out and helped me find a place where I can feel at home. And I could go on. All women, but not all “mothers”, and each one of them has nurtured me in an important way.
The point is it takes a village, and the need for a loving and supportive presence in our lives doesn’t begin and end with our mothers. While our mothers are the ones who gave us life and were, possibly, the first to show us love and compassion, they have not been the only ones who have held our hands and held us up throughout our lives.
We all have, or have had, teachers who have gone that extra mile or friends who made time for us while juggling their own needs in school, developing their own careers, running their own businesses, volunteering to make a difference in the world, and caring for their own families - women who make an impact in our lives with their nurturing and supportive natures.
On Sunday I will thank my mother, my sisters, my friends and others who have been there for me, and remain here with me. I will sit quietly and think of those who are no longer here.
I will also think of my friends who are struggling this mother’s day because they are unable to celebrate with their mother and those who are unable to celebrate as mothers.
As with all things in life, nothing is cut and dry. The best we can do is strive to show our gratitude and compassion, especially during these Hallmark holidays that are just a bit more complicated than they appear on paper and in commercials.