So What Is Mothering?

Being a mother is commemorated in the United States on the second Sunday in May and in the United Kingdom on the middle Sunday of Lent. Card-sending abounds, as does gift-giving. Restaurants are full to the brim with reservations, everyone intent on giving “Mother” the day off from the kitchen. Flower sales are brisk. Churches and other gatherings publicly recognize the mothers in their congregation or group. It’s a widely-celebrated holiday.

For millions of women, Mother’s Day is a painful reminder of what they long for and do not have: a child of their own. For them, a look at the concept of “mothering”, and thoughts on exploring the concept within your own life, now, regardless of the physical presence of children in your family, but first, some history:

Did you know that the original idea for the holiday was as an anti-war campaign in 1858? Women united against the Civil War, the United State’s bloodiest war, and did so under the title of Mothers’ Day for Peace until the turn of the century. Anna Jarvis, one of the day’s creators, never had her own children but wanted to honor her own mother.

Knowing its pacifist beginnings makes it easier to feel that any woman should be able to feel celebrated during this time.

A Definition of Mothering

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines mothering as

  • to give birth to
  • to give rise to (produce)
  • to care for or protect like a mother

Very simply, to mother is to create and nurture. The need to create and nurture is powerful and important, both in the lives of individuals and to society. Were we not driven to mother, the human species would be long gone already. Because of this innate drive, even individuals who might never have been particularly drawn to others’ children will still feel the urge to create and nurture through procreation. Where does this leave the childless individual?

Coping with one’s own drive to mother is, for those to whom a biological child is not easily forthcoming, one of the most difficult challenges of a life; however, it can also be one of the most positively transforming. Mastering the challenge is comparable in effect to mastering the art of living alone as an adult. The experiences can hold quiet pain, incredible loneliness, and awesome isolation, or they can bring wide open spaces of leisure time, growth-inspiring challenges, and new worlds of friendship and love experiences. It’s all in one’s perspective.

What You Can Do

“Right. But all I really want is a kid…”, you say? The only way to answer your mothering needs is through real-time interaction? Then let’s talk hands-on:

  • Volunteer. Whether it’s at a children’s hospital, a foster care agency, Big Sisters’ program, or church, there are children everywhere who need you. Meet their needs and you will meet your own.
  • Employment. There are numerous fields of occupation that will put you right in the middle of children’s world. Not all are well-paying and few capture much fame or glory, but you’ll go home after work with sticky smudges on your clothes and laughter ringing in your ears–some days anyway.
  • Your Partner. What man can resist being mothered in his own home, at least a little at times? Think of the word “love” as a verb, and try to create new ways of loving your spouse every day.
  • Plants & Other Living Things. If you don’t have a green thumb, maybe you’re leaving the nurturing out of your plants’ care. Add a little and see what grows. Animals, on the other hand, won’t let you get away with not caring. Pets of all kinds require nearly the same amount of mothering as small children, and there are always plenty of strays to go around–so do your part!
  • Family members. Do you have young cousins, nieces, and nephews? If they live nearby, developing a relationship with them through spending time will benefit everyone. If they are far away, get in and stay in the habit of sending letters or making phone calls.

It should go without saying (but it needs to be said) that women are not the sole proprietors of creating and nurturing. Perhaps the men, too, should take it upon themselves to explore their own needs in this area during Mother’s Day. A good way to start is by nurturing the woman in your life!

Seeing Through The Myths

Of all societal roles, perhaps none is quite so idolized, even deified, as that of “mother”. The myths surrounding mothering can be hard to get around, and virtually every culture judges women based on their nurturing tendencies.

The reality is that how we mother is influenced by both instinct and experience, and mostly by how we were mothered as children. This fact leads to the inevitable occurrence that not every woman is meeting their society’s standards. In many cases, women without children can, in fact, be considered stronger in their role as “mother” than some women with children.

Being a mother takes many forms–by definition, anyone who is producing, caring for, and protecting our world in any capacity is mothering. All of them, regardless of whether children are in their lives, are valuable and priceless.

Find and celebrate the mother in you, today!