On Mothering

Mother’s Day is in seven days. Many of us have conflicting feelings about this holiday, varying from the cynical to the sentimental. On the one hand, it’s a marketing campaign to sell cards and increase restaurant revenue. It’s a means of seducing or guilting us into buying more stuff. On the other hand, it’s an annual opportunity to acknowledge our mothers or mother figures. Maybe we don’t thank them enough for all they do, so at least on this day we can buy a nice gift or take them out to lunch.

Any combination of these positions is possible and acceptable, of course. For me, though, the approach of Mother’s Day is an opportunity to more deeply contemplate motherhood itself.

Simply writing these word gives me pause, though. After all, the ubiquity of motherhood (we all have or have had mothers in some fashion) seems to, by definition, undermine the need to call attention to this life choice or station. We get married (or not), have kids, do the best we can, and life goes on. Women have been mothering for millennia.

Still, even those of us who proclaim we don’t care about a day set aside for special acknowledgment can get caught up in cultural sentimentality. We can say we don’t want flowers, cards, and gifts on Mother’s Day, but we most likely do appreciate them. Perhaps we even secretly expect them. (“Seriously, is it so hard to buy a card?” we might say under our breath, or maybe out loud if none appears by noon on the designated day.)

As I contemplate larger themes associated with mothering, though, the holiday itself doesn’t much inspire me. I don’t care much about the pastel-colored-card expressions of motherhood with their rhyming verses printed in swirls of calligraphy.

I am, however, deeply intrigued by, and devoted to, the much more profound and influential idea of mother—how she is shaped; how she influences, and is influenced by, macro and micro culture; and how her sense of herself almost inevitably determines her children’s understanding of themselves and their place in the world.

With this in mind, I offer a quotation, which presents the idea of mother, not as a loving, self-less caretaker, but rather, as an emerging, empowered force. By birthing children, she is not only offering something, someone, new to the world, but she is, just as significantly, birthing and re-birthing herself. She, too, is made new. She, too, becomes an expression of new energy and creativity. Somehow, we have lost or ignored the implications of this profound co-creative process. We have been socialized to see motherhood as worthy and significant only when a woman empties herself to such a degree that she is weary and worn. And from what? From loving? From supporting and helping others? From assisting others in experiencing joy and becoming themselves, while she loses her own sense of truth and value?

It is time, way past the time, to reject this notion and see mother as strong and creative–an ever-renewing force of power and abundance. Not just because she is giving life to a new human, but because, in so doing, she is also being born again.

Birth is not only about making babies. Birth is about making mothers–strong, competent, capable mothers who trust themselves and know their inner strength.

Barbara Katz Rothman

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