What does it mean to be a mother?

This is a question I’ve been pondering since my daughter was born four years ago. The fantasy I entertained about my first moments and days of motherhood took a hit after my emergency c-section and post-partum hemmorhage. For the first week of my daughter’s life, my husband primarily took care of her. Once I was able to go home, I relied heavily on help from my mother and mother-in-law until I was strong enough to spend time alone with her. In those early days, “mothering” simply meant “surviving,” although by much work and no small miracle, I was able to nurse her. So “mothering” also meant sustaining life – hers and mine.

As the years pass, I realize the word “mother” is heavily loaded with emotion. Just the mention of Mother’s Day brings up so many strong feelings from people. A doula I know posted yesterday, “Dear Mom, because of your influence I grew up to _________” and invited responses. Some mentioned strength, protection and love, while others expressed the desire to not be the source of the negative behaviors and beliefs they endured while growing up. Their mothers may have lacked the voice, the confidence or self-respect needed to stand in their own light. The personal pain they experienced was then transferred to their children.

In so many ways, mothers are expected to uphold an impossible ideal: be strong, yet gentle, corrective yet conciliatory, accepting yet uncritical, self-sacrificial yet self-fulfilled. When they don’t, the pain and disappointment felt by others is deeply wounding. “Mothering” and to be a mother then, is to to find and sustain an authentic voice. Once we can embrace our authentic self, we can be more loving and accepting of others too.

I was reading the May issue of Natural Awakenings Atlanta and saw the following quote from the article “Mothering the World” by Isha Judd that really resonated with me:

Unconditional mothering is motherhood without fear or fear-based control. It is neither lax nor careless, nor based on pleasing or fear of losing favor of a child. Real mother love knows how to set limits, establish boundaries, confront unsatisfactory situations and guide a child’s development with a steady, firm hand. Inwardly, such a large love is surrendered, trusting that things will unfold as they should and free of the ego-based fear of making a mistake, and so it is neither overprotective or overbearing.

Becoming a mother is not simply a result of giving birth to or receiving a child. It is a journey of spirit – of transcending our own limitations and empowering our offspring to do and be more than we could ever envision. It is a journey into the heart of what it means to be fully human and fully present for the benefit of another human being.

What does being a mother mean to you?

And…Happy Mother’s Day to my awesome Mom! I couldn’t have done any of this without you!

One response to “What does it mean to be a mother?”

  1. Thanks for this post. I really appreciate the quote…I’ll check out the article for sure! As I continue on my personal journey of motherhood I’m learning that motherhood is a “role I play” rather than who I am. Understanding that difference gives me freedom from unnecessary guilt and it helps me determine the things I am truly responsible for like basic needs, love, guidance, discipline, and the things I’m not responsible for like my children’s happiness, pleasing them, giving them what they want.

    I feel there is a movement in parenting to adhere to the principle of leadership in parenting as that quote describes. I’m just glad to be a part of it and to have friends, like you, to share this journey with!

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