On Mothers and Mothering
June 24, 2014
I wasn’t planning on blogging about this topic, but during a long walk I was aware of a variety of feelings all having to do with mothers and mothering. I was, of course, thinking about my mother, Jane Caroline Sharpe Sander, gone now for over a decade. My mom was a woman ahead of her time. She graduated from Queens College in NY and was a high school biology teacher for years. When she married and then had children, most of which happened in the 1950’s, she chose to breast-feed all of us even though doctors and food advertisers were telling her we would suffer if she did. I never knew a piece of white bread growing up because Mom already believed in whole grains and the danger of processed foods. With the exception of lipstick, which she never left the house without, she didn’t wear make-up and she didn’t shave. In the late 1960’s my mother took me to NYC for a rally supporting the ordination of women to the Lutheran Church in America. (now ELCA). A plaque at our front door read, “ To my husband: Do not lead, I may not follow. Do not follow, I may not lead. Just walk beside me and be my friend.” All of my friends hung out at my house, including my gay and lesbian friends who knew, even though she never said she “knew”, that they would be loved and accepted for who they were. Her sense of justice, grace, and equality were palpable. As I continued my walk, I moved on to thinking about myself as a mother, and about my daughter who I miss always but especially missed yesterday. I also thought about the amazing teachers, friends, and mentors who nurtured me and nurture me still. I am fortunate in things having to do with mothers and mothering.
Turning a corner, I began to think about all the misfortune, suffering, and pain that are associated with mothers. I know people who were abused at the hands of their mothers, and some who became mothers as a result of sexual abuse. I know women who wanted biological children and couldn’t have any. I know mothers who have children, biological and adopted, who have suffered great pain at the hands of their children. I know several women who have buried children, some having even buried multiple children, who will ache every day for the rest of their lives, wishing they could be wished a happy mother’s day from their children’s mouths.
I also know women who have chosen not to have children, but who feel like mothers for other reasons. They have mothered a huge project of some sort, or have mothered other’s children. Perhaps they act like “mothers” through jobs that have to do with children. I know men who we could call “male mothers” as the mythopoet Robert Bly called those men who nurture others, specifically other men and boys, and teach them about being comfortable in their own skin and about accepting their unique masculine feelings.
Mother Earth, the planet we live on that sustains us, and The Great Mother, the spiritual Source of nurturance and sustenance, each offer to feed, comfort, and support us if we allow them, and sometimes even if we don’t.
So what’s it all about, this talk about mothers? Well, it isn’t about the sentimental holiday. That can be a nice thing, like Valentine’s Day and Father’s Day, a chance to intentionally turn our attention in a particular direction, a chance to honor things we should be honoring anyway. Fundamentally, mothers and mothering are about the nurturing of “matter”, the manifestation of creation. The latin root “Ma” literally means breast, and therefore mothers are breast-feeders. Mothers nurture and sustain. Mothers invest in others and give of themselves. Mothers may give birth to children, but also to ideas, creative projects, gardens, and communities. True mothers pour forth the spiritual food that our culture so badly needs. Wise mothers know what is real and aren’t afraid to say it. Healthy mothers know when to replenish, rest, and renew so that the vital work of giving and creating can continue.
Here’s to the mother in all of us. And mothering. Wise, spiritual, formative mothering.
Amy Sander Montanez, D.Min.
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