Mother’s Day has come and gone again. Another year of crayola-smudged, home made cards, a half-burned breakfast in bed with stone cold coffee, new plants for the garden, and sweet kisses that warm me up inside and out. It is wonderful to be recognized for the act of nurturing a child.
To me, motherhood is all about getting attached and letting go, over and over again. We get attached to our round belly, and then let go into birth. We get attached to our baby, and then choke back tears as they climb on the giant bus to kindergarten. We get used to a sentient child that is fun to talk to, and then let go into the turbulence of teenagers. Always a hello, and a good-bye.
This year, I realized Mother’s Day is not all about me. I think about how many women “mother” my children in some way, and realize I just can’t take all the credit. I believe mother’s day is a great opportunity to acknowledge the circle of women who shape and mold their lives, and mine. Women like the aunts, neighbors, teachers, counselors, mentors, or special ballet instructors- all of them deserve to be recognized for their role of mothering.
I am a mother of four, and all of them challenge me beyond my singular skills. Luckily, each have been touched by various women who see in them something I can’t, relate to them in a new way that amazes me, or teach me something about myself that helps me to become a better mother. Can any woman mother alone? Ask one, and she will tell you it’s impossible. It takes a gaggle, a village, a LOT of people to raise a child.
The attachment part is thinking we can do it all. The letting go part is surrendering to the wise hands that come along, and accepting help with gratitude. We are trained to believe mothering equates to super hero skills of single handed competence. Yet, life for women is more of a tribe than a race, and we simply must pull though together.
Sometimes the journey of motherhood involves the hello and good bye of our husbands or partners, and we are left alone to mother. Sometimes motherhood is the tough pill to swallow of having a new woman in your kid’s lives, and letting go of being the only mother figure around. It’s a process of attachment and letting go that can be raw and intense.
This is a tricky subject. The world is watching Elizabeth Edwards as she faces marital affairs, cancer and a relentless public eye. She is the epitome of resilience and a model mother to their children. It’s easy to jump on the bandwagon of finger pointing and blame.
But, for many couples who split up, eventually the pain starts to ebb, life moves on and new relationships form. Divorce is excruciating- I know. Watching someone you love find another is gut wrenching. I also know that eventually, an acceptance comes that another woman’s hands are shaping the children, and with it a choice to take the high road or the low road.
Many women who mother our kids are shoved in the dark labels of our collective female archetypes: Step-Mothers and Ex-Wives. I believe they deserve a little credit on Mother’s Day too. Where’s the acknowledgement or gratitude for their efforts? Nobody gives the step-mother a card – you can’t even find one in the Hallmark store. Certainly no one would dream of giving one to the ex-wife, are you crazy?
I am a mother. I am also a step-mother, and an ex-wife. I was a single mother too. Each role carries its own rules, regulations and expectations. You are supposed to hate the women who come after you in relationships. You are supposed to mistrust them, ignore them or say every bad thing you can think of about them. Kids are not supposed to like their step-parents, even if they really want to.
But, sometimes, with time and mindfulness, these women can be a gift to our kids. Our instinct as women is to tend and befriend our families and our children, regardless of circumstances. Kids benefit if both women can rise above resentment, and embrace the moving on. For me, one of the triumphs of motherhood is the letting go and allowing ex-wives or girlfriends to gift my children with their time and special attention.
A majority of families today are blended in some way. Single parent households or remarried households are standard fare. Yet, the myth of the “evil” step mother and vengeful ex-wife continues unabated. Wives are NOT supposed to fraternize with Ex-Wives. Ever. Step-parents keep their level of intimacy at bay.
I am very fortunate to be dear friends with my husband’s ex-wife. We spend many holidays at her house, and we both are very grateful for the mutual respect and camaraderie we have developed. She has no ties to my children, and every reason to ignore us all together, yet my allows my daughters to romp through her shoe closet, and engages in intellectual long talks with my older son that he savors.
I also have a great relationship with my ex-husband’s girlfriend, who teaches my daughter how to make Italian dinners that are beyond my culinary expertise. Both of these women have played a significant role in helping to shape my children’s lives. When do they get flowers? When is it going to be ok for mother’s to officially band together and raise our children in the village it truly is?
People often look at me as if I have two heads when they hear about our strange family ties. For me, it is source of pride, hard work, surrendering ego, and reaching for the highest common denominator. Happy Mother’s Day to all the women who dare to mother outside the lines.
Originally published May 2009