Chances are you think your mother is the greatest of her kind. Me too: mine is beautiful, wise, compassionate, and seriously smart. My mom has spent hours and hours of the last two years on the phone with me while I cried or complained or unloaded fear and hurt. She never turns down a hug or says she’s too busy to listen. She works to make sure everyone in the family has what he or she needs. As I write this, tears of gratitude spring to my eyes, for I am blessed with such an amazing mother. I love that a twenty-four-hour period is set aside for my family to give her an extra dose of special treatment. Mothers Day is a sweet time.
Mothers Day church services are a different story. To those of us who aren’t mothers, it can feel a little like not being tapped into a sorority. The beginning of the church service I was in last Sunday was like this. One of the pastors asked the mothers to stand as he thanked them on behalf of all of us. “Ladies, you make significant sacrifices through the years, and we rarely recognize it. You have answered the highest calling a woman can have: raising children. We want to bless you and thank you for your service to us.” He said other things—he spoke for five or ten minutes—but that’s the gist. My issue with this is not that it’s necessarily untrue: my own mother does some serious sacrificing, and she deserves appreciation for that and so much more. So do all mothers. Across the world, women spend their days cleaning up spills that no one else sees, mending tears in clothes, administering medicine, crying as they rock their children to sleep for hours on end when the little one just won’t cooperate. Mothers are strong, so strong.
But I do not believe that raising children is a woman’s “highest calling.” If that’s true, a sizeable demographic will never reach its female potential. In this subset, some have chosen not to have children for very valid reasons, and some have chosen against wifehood, as well. Some want desperately to have children, but for a reason that mystifies the doctors, it isn’t happening. Some have had surgeries rendering them infertile. Some have hormonal abnormalities, chronic illnesses, or other medical factors that bar them from motherhood. Some have watched in horror as their dreams of motherhood ended abruptly in the bathroom. For some, this holiday is a reminder of the loss of life or the inability to give it, not its celebration.
However, there is much more to the concept of “mothering” than giving birth. Some women who have not and will never bear children have left an indelible mother’s mark on the little ones in their lives. Aunts, stepmothers, grandmothers, nurses, teachers, big sisters, babysitters, family friends—these women and others like them have the same capacity for “significant sacrifice” and “service” to children* as the women whose biological offspring are involved. Mothering, I would argue, is the art of cherishing and guiding children, an art that does not require a functional reproductive system. Mothers encourage. They spend time with children. They cause smiles and laughter. They provide for children’s needs and wants. They teach. They love. Women with unused wombs are just as capable of these functions and eager to fill them as their childbearing counterparts. Many of these mothering-women have played important roles in my life, as I hope to in the lives of others.
So maybe the entrance qualifications for the Mothers-Day sorority can be modified. Rather than honoring only biological or legally adoptive mothers, perhaps we can include all mothering-women who nurture and care for the world’s younger people. While only one woman births us, many, many women along the way help us become who we are. One such woman in my life was A.M., a family friend who spent a lot of time with me during my childhood. She took me out to dinner (and as a good Southern girl, I almost always picked Cracker Barrel), she took me mini-golfing, she invited me to spend weekends with her in her apartment. Many evenings she made us hot dogs and we talked and laughed while eating in her kitchen. A.M. reached out to me: she loved me, cared for me, and looked me in the eye when we talked. I knew I was important to her. And there is no greater gift a mothering-woman can bestow than the message “You’re significant. You’re special. There’s something wonderful inside you that I love to watch and be a part of.”
For A.M. and all the other members of the mothering corps out there, whether you are biological moms or moms of the heart: thank you most sincerely for the love and guidance you so freely give, and a very happy Mothers Day to you.
*Although I use the word “children” throughout, certainly some women mother us when we are already old enough to have children and perhaps grandchildren of our own.