With Mother’s Day approaching we are all reminded, especially through the media, about what a special day it is and the importance of making a particular effort to show your mother your appreciation of her.
Mother figures are undoubtedly significant in people’s lives and people have all sorts of images around what mothers should ideally be like.
The usual mother stereotype is of a woman who is warm, nurturing and loving and ready to do anything to protect her child and care for her family. She is seen as someone who doesn’t think twice about putting her child’s and family’s needs above her own. But what if this scenario was based largely on myth, not just in terms of overriding alternate mothering stories, but also in terms of defining the true mother role in our society? Is there an opportunity to share a new Mother’s Day message, where mothering is redefined as awakening the mothering qualities that every woman holds within her?
Having worked counselling women during pregnancy, childbirth and beyond for many years, I’ve observed that we aren’t really prepared to acknowledge the truth about what is going on with mothering. It’s brilliant that many women do enjoy a very close, loving relationship with their own mothers. They confidently use her as a template which serves to shape several of their values and behaviours, especially with regards to parenting and relationships. Yet the other side of the story is commonly not acknowledged because the sanitised image of mothering, complete with a child feeling cherished and valued, is so much more appealing.
What isn’t openly talked about is that a considerable number of women live with a felt sense of motherless-ness due to having experienced repeated rejection, abandonment and/or other forms of abuse from their mothers.
These women are not technically motherless, but nonetheless they have found their relationship with their mother to be difficult and often very fragmented over the years. The hurt and pain they feel associated with this situation can run very deep.
The reasons are many and varied, such as a lengthy period of time spent in prison, domestic violence, choosing romantic partners over parenting responsibilities, drug and alcohol addiction, severe mental illness, a ‘workaholic’ lifestyle, being frequently emotionally and/or physically unavailable and so forth. A common longing expressed by these emotionally motherless mothers is for a mother who fits the traditional image and they usually feel special occasions such as pregnancy, childbearing and Mother’s Day to be bittersweet events when their mother is not available to celebrate with and support them at such times.
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Yet this group of women usually have tales of remarkable resilience, courage and resourcefulness as they have wound their way through childhood to the present day. With further exploration, it soon becomes evident that there has often (but not always) been someone else who undertook the mothering role with them in lieu of the woman’s biological mother. There are siblings (male and female and often from a young age), aunts, uncles, grandparents, other relatives, step-mothers, step-siblings, neighbours, friends and even complete strangers such as foster carers, who have stepped up when needed and fulfilled the role left vacant by a biological mother. At times it is others in the community – for example, teachers – who play a primary role in raising children, even though the child may not reside with them. These people have all nurtured, loved and taken care of the child to the best of their ability – which is just what we would have expected from the child’s biological mother.
These situations highlight that the term ‘mother’ cannot be neatly confined to only a female who births the child or someone within the immediate family.
‘Mothers’ can obviously be quite a generic group of people and includes both males and females. Their mothering imprint can be felt by the child across the child’s lifespan and influences the development of a woman’s own sense of self-worth and future decision making around child caring and rearing values and standards.
“Real family is about love, not blood – you can have family anywhere and anybody can be family so long as love is the founding and active presence of the interactivity.”
For those women who do choose to take the step into biological motherhood themselves, pregnancy particularly asks women to pause and pay close attention to their bodies; to make a connection with themselves that is often beyond anything they have ever experienced previously. There is an enormous opportunity to feel a still quality within their bodies and to create a deeper, more intimate connection with themselves and then subsequently with others. Within that process, it is natural to reflect on their own experiences of being mothered.
When women feel motherless and disconnected from their own mothers, what comes up can be difficult to bear as anger, resentment, bitterness, sadness, grief, shame, depression and anxiety can all start bubbling up to the surface. Motherhood is usually a double-edged sword for this group of women: they feel the grief and loss of what they did not/don’t have, while at the same time are determined to give their own child a completely different experience – but often feel overwhelmed due to anxieties and fears around possible mothering failure through inadvertently repeating the mistakes that were made when they were a child.
Thankfully, this emotional roller coaster does not need to be a lifelong sentence. Transformation can slowly begin when women start to learn to quell their fears of personal defectiveness, together with their aching sense of longing for a mother, and open themselves up to the possibility of alternate narratives about their worth and mothering abilities. It’s not an overnight change, but one that gradually unlocks when we begin to question all the mothering myths we have been fed from birth and which are perpetuated through the current Mother’s Day messages in the media.
Women also tell me that they begin to question the status quo when they open a little, talk with other mothers and are surprised to discover how many others have similar stories to themselves. Suddenly they don’t feel as alone and ‘second rate’ as a mother and person anymore and the stigma they have been feeling starts to crumble.
Further transformation can occur if women are willing to stop and observe what’s happening within and around them, even though this can feel quite uncomfortable at times. Slowing down and taking time to check in with how they are feeling in their bodies, e.g. if their body is feeling tired, thirsty, hot, cold, racy, nervous, aching somewhere etc, helps to create the basis for women to rebuild a deeper, more solid and true connection with themselves and what we could call their ‘inner essence’.
We’ve all experienced moments when we just ‘knew’ something deep inside ourselves and this is what we are learning to connect with and trust so that we use that as our primary source of information, rather than all the other usual distorted stories we’ve relied upon in the past.
There are no hard and fast rules as such; it’s learning to be kind, curious, and honest with yourself and keeping it as simple as possible! Every little bump, scrape, bruise, pain, and even our thoughts are telling us something about the quality of our relationship with ourselves and are worth gently exploring.
As a deeper settlement builds within their body, self-worth grows and so too does a women’s ability to question, rather than automatically accept all the ‘head talk’ and what has been instilled in them by others over the years. As a result, women find that they can more readily get in touch with a wealth of previously untapped mothering wisdom which is residing right there inside themselves. Mothering then flows naturally rather than being hounded by anguish and worries about meeting self and others’ expectations.
“Women are nurturers first and foremost, they must remember with that comes the responsibility – we cannot energetically offer another something that is not first lived and honoured within one’s own body”
Mother’s Day certainly raises a broad spectrum of thoughts, feelings and emotions in people – some full of joy and warmth, while for others, such as motherless mothers, what comes up may be very painful.
While acknowledging the validity of each person’s experiences, in the broader scheme of things perhaps it’s time to move beyond the traditional images we hold on motherhood.
As Mother’s Day comes around again, let’s embrace a new Mother’s Day message that honours the importance of all women as mothers, be that with a specific child or as a role model for women, men and children generally.
The ability to love and nurture ourselves and others in a sensitive, tender, gentle and caring way is a natural part of women’s lives – should we give ourselves full permission to live this way. It’s not something that is unique to the pregnancy period and/or after we have birthed a child.
As women slow down the usual rush and drive of life that many of us find ourselves living in, simply focussing on our own body and the messages it is communicating to us, we are met with our own beauty and grace. Is this not a wonderful gift that all women can give to humanity, and isn’t this what the world is actually crying out for to help restore global harmony and unity?
This doesn’t mean taking on the weight of the whole world’s problems or trying to rescue people. It’s about living life to the best of our ability in a self-loving, self-nurturing way that supports us in everything we do, which then ripples out into the world and helps to connect with, care for and share with others. Isn’t this the ultimate expression of mothering and the most meaningful Mother’s Day message for every woman to hear this Mother’s Day?
“True Mothering is an energy, a holding quality of being that emanates forth from the woman expressing. This expression is not limited or bound to the physicality of whether one births a child or not, for this quality of love permeates far greater than the physical”