An Ode to All My Mothers

The calendar has brought us back once again to Mother’s Day. I had a completely unrelated post I was going to share today, but this morning I started thinking about how hard are days like this for so many people and how fraught with difficult emotions they can be. This is very real. While many are fortunate to have plenty of cause for celebrating a day like today, many are experiencing grief, sadness, longing, hurt, and so much more.

I feel like holidays often leave me awash in thoughts of these different realities and they pool, bittersweet, in a very raw place in my heart. I know that if I decided to simply not celebrate, that wouldn’t change anyone else’s circumstances, but I can’t help but feel like surely there is a better way for us to do life together than propping up holidays that bring just as much hurt as they do joy.

Amidst this confusion, I began reflecting on mothering and all the women who have mothered me, many without even knowing it. This didn’t change the conflict I feel over today, but it did soothe some of the raw edges.

I thought of women who have been a safe haven for me over the years, who were not overwhelmed by how serious I tend to take things. Those who offered a listening ear or a supportive nudge as I’ve done deep, difficult work, without ever treating me like I’m broken or trying to fix me or telling me what they think I should do. These women shared their own journey and struggles, inspiring me in times when my courage waned.

My heart turned to a group of fellow seekers, who show up each month with a willingness to wrestle with hard questions and look with clear-seeing at our faith and beliefs. I’m grateful for how they allow me to be angry and stuck, elated and moved, and everything in between, without even a hint of judgement or dismay. I love exploring our experiences of the divine feminine and how that manifests in our lives with equal measures of synchronicity and singularity. Their presence mothers me even when we are apart.

I also thought of how thankful I am for my boss, who insists on managing her team in a collaborative, nurturing way, in contrast to corporate cultures that tend toward hierarchy and control. I appreciate her integrity, her willingness to invest in and believe in her employees, and the encouragement she has continually offered me to pursue personal and career development. This is a mothering spirit, even in a place one would least expect it.

I have been blessed with past and present female co-workers who are generous with help, encouragement, humor, and solidarity, especially in navigating being a woman in a male-dominated field. These are women who do not put their own goals and pursuits ahead of appreciating and encouraging the contributions of the women around them. I know my spirit has been buoyed many times by a kind word, a shared laugh, a treat or baked good offered to brighten my day.

I think of my priest, and the work of so many other women in pastoral and teaching roles, who keep showing up to build community that honors all. They lead with a beautiful balance of strength and tenderheartedness, nurture and tenacity, knowing that domination and control have no place in life-giving institutions. I have learned so much from their wisdom, determination, and continual work to raise up the whole, rather than seek their own acclaim.

I am filled with gratitude for all the women who have gestated a book or art or sacred space in the womb of their soul, and then with great vulnerability, birthed it into the world. I have been moved and my life shaped by the words of these women who, even while knowing that putting their work out into the world would subject them to criticism about their looks and their role as women, shared anyway.

And, of course, I think of my own mother. I am a highly sensitive person who experienced a trauma at a young age, one that my parents didn’t know had happened. As a result, I lived much of my life in a trauma response. Understandably, this complicated many of my relationships, especially with my mother, who had her own difficulties to overcome.

Despite this, I am blessed to have a mother who was determined to love my sisters and me as well as she could, all while she was working on her own healing. Many times we didn’t understand each other and disappointed or hurt each other. Yet, with time and perspective, I see now that her work for her own healing gave me an example of the importance of seeking my own. Her development from unhealthy responses and reactions to better ways of living, put me that much farther ahead for my own learning and growing.

And I see this growing, this nurturing of our own healing and our sharing it with others, to be such vital work. This is true mothering, regardless of the structure of our family unit or our familial ties. So, today, I’m honoring the mothering work. I’m practicing gratitude for every woman who has shared with or nurtured or encouraged me and for every act of mothering I have seen shared with others.

I know it is a hard day, made all the more difficult this year by a global pandemic and even more separation in our lives than usual. My heart and thoughts are with so many in all different situations. All the while, I’m holding on to a renewed determination to keep doing and recognizing mothering work, with a hope for healing and renewal for us all.

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