Mother’s Day and Father’s Day has come and gone. But I have been thinking a lot about what it means to be a mother (stay with me everyone – I’m not talking about simple biology).
I’m going to argue that motherhood is about so much more than a biological event. We don’t have to have born children out of our bodies to be a mother to ourselves or others. Motherhood is a complex state of being. It is a role with many aspects. In my mind, it is defined by compassion, by a nurturing spirit, tenderness, loyalty, by becoming the calm center for others in the storm, by firm but gentle teaching. Mothers smooth the rough edges for those they love. They nurture and they, themselves, never stop growing.
Some of us grew up with this person in our lives in the form of a biological parent, or perhaps an adoptive parent, or kind and nurturing grandparent, aunt, teacher. You see where I am going with this. Each of us has the power to be a mother for those in our lives who need us. Some of us did not grow up with a firm, reliable mother figure. My mother, a chronic, high-functioning alcoholic, was not available emotionally. She was unreliable and though I can remember moments where she shined (sick with measles, high fever, she sat with me, put cool washcloths on my head and read to me to distract me from the itchiness), generally her best left me feeling like I was asking too much to have my needs met.
When we experience something traumatic, like betrayal by a loved one, we take stock. How are we treating ourselves? Are we being as patient, kind or compassionate with ourselves as we would be with another in this situation? This was a major reckoning for me. I knew, somehow, that the best way out of the pain, for me, was to become the mother to myself that I had always needed.
It’s okay. You showed up. That was good enough for today.
You will not always feel this way.
You are worthy of love and belonging.
You are enough.
Today was a difficult day. Tomorrow can be better.
It’s okay to ask for help.
You don’t have to fix everything.
You need to take care of yourself first.
I know you regret that choice. You can do differently next time.
You are doing the best you can, and it is enough.
You are loved.
These are things I had to learn to say to myself and mean them, to believe them in my heart. I came to it in two ways. One was becoming mindful of my self-talk. Was I judging myself or was I being compassionate with myself? How often I had to interrupt the negative spiral of self-blame. I'm still a work in progress but so much kinder to myself. I completely believe that I am worthy of love and belonging. The other path to healing was through helping others. So many of use here have reached out to someone who has just washed up on the beach, disoriented, lost and hurting. We’ve told them they will be okay, that we’ve got them, that is sucks and they are entitled to their pain, that they are allowed to determine their own path forward. And as we write those words to another, are we not writing them to ourselves? Each of us heals a part of our own soul, when we allow ourselves to step into our innate motherhood and hold someone who needs it. When we tend to others, we tend to and nourish ourselves.
I encourage all of us to continue to be the mother we need, in the present and in the distant future. When all this is a memory, how much richer will our days be if we can treat ourselves with love and compassion? I imagine myself moving through the world softly, showing up gently for the people I love and being relentlessly kind to my own perfectly flawed self.