In contemplating this month’s blog, I kept putting off writing as I needed to plan what to do for Mother’s Day. There are several mothers in my life that I would like to honour – the one who birthed and parented me, the mother of my partner, the mother of my favourite person in the world (my niece), my neighbour celebrating her first Mother’s Day, my neighbours’s dog and her 11 puppies, and a friend who has been a solo mother to many foster children. In my counselling practice, I work with many mothers who are continuously re-defining the role of motherhood and the responsibilities associated with it. Not being a mother myself, I stand in awe for their patience, humour and resilience. But I am also cautious not to romanticize the role of “mother” as it is also fraught with things that are mother specific, including post-partum depression, the cultural practice of mother shaming/blaming, and the stigma that is still attached to women who solo parent. All I can say, it looks like a daunting terrain to navigate! Elizabeth Stone said “Making the decision to have a child is momentous – It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking outside your body.” This can be both joyful and stressful. On the one hand, to see a child blossom would give anyone pause but to see them struggle produces profound pain. And so this entry is dedicated to mothers and the difficult task you take on!
Historically, mothers were often the source of blame for mental health issues. For example, it was a long held belief that schizophrenia was caused by “refrigerator” mothers. No, that term did not mean full of nourishment; it meant chilly. This was reinforced by health professionals and other “experts” who put incredible pressure on mothers to be not just a mom, but a perfect mom. While we are beyond the era of Dr. Spock, women still face mixed rules for being a mother. Breast feed, no don’t. Family bed, no independent sleeping. Stay at home, no go to work. Be a dragon, no a helicopter. Oops, helicopters are out, be a mentor. Clearly the messages are contradictory and also culturally bound making it tricky to know what to do “right.”
No matter what challenge families come with – anxiety, depression, eating disorders, sexual/gender identity, and so on, inevitably the mother will ask me if she did something wrong. If I had ten dollars for this question – often asked tearfully, reluctantly and stained with guilt – I would be retired. We know, of course, that healthy pregnancies and early years are important. But mothers can’t do this on their own; adequate physical and mental health services, day care, and community support are key determinants of health. When I work with families who have a youth struggling with mental health I always remind them that these challenges are multi-factorial. That means genetics, temperament, personality, managing transitions, and social support are all factors. It also means there is never a single finger pointed at a single person.
The other side to mothers are their children. I have seen an increase in referrals for adult children and their parents wanting to renegotiate their relationship – with intention. For example, adult females who are wanting to become mothers themselves are looking to mend past hurts and redefine boundaries. Mothers who are entering a different phase of motherhood via launching their children are consulting about how best to remain “mom” but also how to transition to being a couple or living effectively with chosen family. I also work with adult children either reconciling the death of a mother or the introduction of a birth parent. Motherhood may be intuitive but our relationship to it is complex.
My own mother is alive and well. Her parents died very young. As such, we are negotiating a relationship that neither of us have a blueprint for. I have never had an aging parent and neither has she. My teenage years may have been “the dark ages” but we came through it and I know in my heart of hearts that if I needed her, she would be there – both of us glorious in our imperfections!
So this Mother’s Day, I ask – how do you honour your mom? With time? With gratitude? With service? How do you honour yourself as a mother – whether that be to biological, adoptive, step, or foster children? How do we honour the mothers who have come before us and blazed the trail for equality, safety and dignity?
On a related note, my mother just found out that I am regularly writing the IFCC blog so chances are she came to check THIS particular blog out – I love you mom! Thanks for the chat today. Obviously inspirational.
Take care everyone, Cole and the IFCC family