I have talked myself out of this collection of essays at least one hundred times. I blush knowing I may be the least capable to share motherly wisdom. I cuss. I struggle with church. Love my career. Get cabin fever at home. And, I don’t love the PTA.
Off-record, I don’t get invited to speak at women’s teas awfully much. I didn’t volunteer at my children’s school as often as I should have. I never learned to braid my daughter’s hair and my son cleaned cafeteria tables in junior high so he didn’t have to involve me with his lunches.
I’ve not proven much more graceful as a spiritual mother. As it turns out, bearing and/or raising children, nurturing others and gracing the world with Presence is not for the faint of heart.
When I say as much, I find that we are rarely aloof about moms, and often a bit terrified of being one. Some mothers are tender, others severe or not available, maybe overbearing. And in reality, mothers are usually a mix of both sinner and saint, with all these characteristics in differing measures wrapped into one. And whether we like it or not, our mothers are somehow in us.
This was not a book I planned to write, but I can no longer deny being circled by it, like an Australian shepherd rounding me up, nipping at my heels. Much of my writing is through the lens of being a mother (of course, you say) and when I tried to pen my spiritual memoir for my doctoral degree, I found that whenever I tried to explore where God was most present in my story, I wrote page after page about my mama. What a quandary I found myself in when my academic advisor insisted that memoir needed the writer of the story to drive the story forward.
Why was I penning stories about my mother instead when trying to tweeze out my faith journey? I wrote some more. Crumpled up many pages. Started over. Wrote half-truths and untruths, tested them, and tried again. Of course, I was confused, angry, sad, intimidated. I laughed and sighed. Forgave.
I find most people circle back to their mothers when talking about their own identity. And most often that process involves a measure of disillusionment and heartache. Many of my friends suffer from misunderstandings or feelings of being estranged. Whatever they become, they want a measure of Mother, or a version of her, but they are assuredly and uniquely other. Another group feel they won’t ever measure up to their mothers. How are we to celebrate and/or grieve her? And, how are we to become our fullest selves?
Eventually we come to a place when we are at last free to question not only who we are and why, but who will we will choose to become. After many hours at the keyboard, I realized that Mama was in many ways my most visible representation of both God, and the woman I wanted to be.
When I say that Mama was the person I wanted to become, I don’t merely mean my own Mother, but the fullest essence of Motherhood. We need a broader definition.
Mothers come in all forms and fashion, ethnicities and cultures: sometimes birth mothers, sometimes foster or adoptive moms, sometimes grandmas, authors, nannies, saints, aunties, the Church, alma mater, desert mothers, servers of Eucharist, Holy Spirit, and sometimes even [Vegas].
Mother Teresa, one of the world’s most beloved mother who never physically conceived a child, and yet celebrated motherhood to its fullest wrote, “We are here to be witnesses of love and to celebrate life, because life has been created in the image of God. Life is to love and to be loved” (No Greater Love, 1997).
Motherhood has been one long search, a craggy, winding journey of identity for me. Namely because Mother in its broadest sense—in Mother Teresa’s way—is Vocation, not merely the result of intimacy on a good day and nature’s trick otherwise. My struggle is not only with how to provide healthy snacks and help with homework, balanced with being smart and business savvy, being patient and present for music recitals, soccer, and bedtime. I wonder instead, how to create art and sanctuary, how to open the doors of my house, and push the walls out with hospitality for the world. How might I care for the earth and its creatures today, and of course, how I might age gracefully.
Yes, broader definitions are certainly needed. One small lifetime is simply not enough for all the wisdom we crave. No matter our age, we need a village of Mothers in a variety of capacities. We have lost mothers, and some have lost children. Some of us lost the dream of what we thought motherhood would be. What about those who want children but cannot have them? What about those of us who are career-minded or desire to co-parent? Does one deny the core of her physical being, ignore this monthly cycle or a child’s raging fever in the night… Has the choice somehow become too dichotomized, too painful?
Men are as shaped by their mothers as women are. And, men are now actively getting involved with nurturing. Thank God. My husband was a forerunner to dad’s staying home with little children. Then he taught l in the public schools: first, second and third grade for nearly 25 years. Yes, he nurtured 28 to 50 children between the ages of 5 and 9 at any given time. He’s fearless and a hero in the lives of many young families.
Who will speak to us about these things? In this collection, I will seek the wisdom of several Mothers. I’ll also share what little I know, and not at the exclusion men.
Together, men and women are pressing in not only for their own offspring, but for their local communities and the world. Both men and women know the lack of sleep before a long workday, trying to convince ourselves we are not crazy, that our child will not end up in prison, and that if she doesn’t eat quinoa or arugula, it’s not the end of the world. “Large doses of humor required,” the label should read. Parenthood whether by choice, oopsie, adoption or communal choice is complicated and very often lonely. Indeed. I’m writing this book because we need one another.
Nothing about mothering is conventional. Let’s say no to guilt. I honor you amidst the messes, the bewilderment, anger, and delight of motherhood in whatever form it may come. In the unfolding of God’s plan. . .uniquely your own. So, how are we to carry on? How are we to be intentional in our love for one another and shared strengths? How do we live in the tension and bless one another with our daily focus, energy and creativity?
Mother You, Mother Me is a collection of essays and blog posts – mine and others – centered around what it means to give and nurture life at home, in friendship and vocation.