Hmmmm. Mother’s Day. No brainer or complicated, multi-layered, emotional, loaded opportunity?
I’m a mother, and I have a mother. I actually have two—two moms—my mom and her partner. When I was a kid, and it wasn’t cool to have gay parents, I didn’t really know what to call her. They weren’t even out (much) let alone married. I worried about how to honor her and also hold the day special for my mom. I thought she should have her own day. I modified cards, putting a line through the word “Mother” or “Mom” and penning her name in.
I was raised, in many ways, by this woman. She stepped up when my own mom needed her to and she has had my back for 40 years. I know my mom is grateful for it, as am I. When I became a mother, they both became grandmothers. My kids have never fretted over honoring Grammy as they do Grandma. Grandma-Grammy are a package deal and there are plenty of Hallmark cards for Grandmothers.
While my childhood story is different from my own kids’, we do share the experience of being mothered by someone who is not our own. My children have a step-mother: Their dad’s wife. And since my kids spend about half of their time in their daddy’s custody, they are by default or intention being mothered, sometimes, by another woman.
Some mothers are chill, cooperative, groovy, not threatened in the least and want that kind of assist. Some mothers are incapable of caring for their children full-time, or at all, because of work, illness or a myriad of reasons this life throws at us. I imagine these mothers easily appreciate the sisterhood step-moms and other mom-types offer. Then there are those of us who fall into endless other categories—we are a full spectrum. We range from slacker moms to helicopter moms and everything in between.
We are moms who couldn’t have our own kids, or chose not to add to the population, so we raise children who need us. Some of us have lost our children, and though they are gone from us we are still their mothers. These moms have had to learn an acceptance that some of us will never know.
And in all of us, there is what I refer to as Mama Bear.
Territorial to a fault, daring to be challenged, fierce beyond measure: This is my baseline. At my best I stand in my power center as strong, prepared, protective, and confident. At my worst I am defensive, controlling, contracted, and scared. I am neither sick, nor limited much by work or other circumstances out of my control. My children are alive and well and so am I. I am not incapable of caring for them, of raising them, of dreaming with them, or planning for them. In fact, I am overly capable, committed and highly invested in them and what I see as my role as their mother.
Allowing for the possibility that there is alternative mothering in my children’s lives has not been easy and one of the greatest challenges of mine. Because I am alive and well, and so are they, I have had to find bigger reasons to make peace with letting go.
How do we let go of mothering while still honoring our motherhood?
We moms know that we have to take our time to replenish, renew and care for ourselves so we can be resourced for our kids. Whether we live under the same roof or not, there are benefits children receive from a relationship with their father (or other parent) that involve the day-in, day-out work and joy of family life. I was determined my kids would get more than an every-other-weekend dad. This is good for him, good for them, and good for me. The time they spend away allows for nurturing and guidance from their papa and I get a break to recharge my batteries. When the kids come home, I am thrilled to see them. Maybe I’ve been writing, biking, working, taking more time on the mat, or with my partner or friends. I am more inspired, patient and prepared to be the best Mom I can be.
It’s easy to see why it’s good for kids to be with their dad, but I struggled when he decided to remarry and share his parenting journey with someone else. It’s no surprise I was desperately unhappy and at odds with my children developing a close relationship with someone I didn’t know and was threatened by. Of course I was. They are parts of my heart walking around in the world, living with and being cared for by someone I did not choose. When we are tied up in ego, protectiveness, competition and fear there is limited time for much else, and I wasn’t doing my children (or myself) any good by being so bitter. I did what any true Mama Bear would do: I made a friend of the other woman. It’s not easy letting someone else have that kind of access to my babies, and I stumble often. By choosing love instead of fear and truly putting my children’s well being ahead of my own limitations, I find ways to enjoy sharing them with our expanded family instead of resenting that I have to.
When I think of motherhood, I start with myself and my story. The fact that mine is a complicated one, does not make me unique. In fact, it invites me to consider a greater view of being a mother. We may be mothers by choice, or necessity. Some of us are on a long journey with our children, and for others among us our time is cut way too short. Maybe we are raising other people’s children, maybe we are supporting mothers who need a hand, maybe we are fathers that have to take on being mothers, too. I couldn’t do this alone, nor would I want to. My world is bigger and better for all of the mothers who have raised me, as will my children’s world be.
Letting go is an essential part of being a mother, but it certainly does not rob us of our motherhood. When we can allow others to care for our children while we take time to care for ourselves, when we can prioritize our children instead of fear, and expand our hearts to all the ways mothers show up, we see that even when we let go we are not alone. We are surrounded by a massive tribe of Mama Bears helping us grow up and watching our backs.
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