Mother’s Day. What comes to mind for me this year is an awareness that there are types of mothers for which there is no applicable off-the-rack greeting card. They are the ones who put the “Other” in Mother.
I had a mother until the age of 10. When she suddenly died, my father became the mother- of four kids from ages 16 to 2.5 years old. Solo parenting is one type of Other in mother. Single parents are the champions, doing both parents’ jobs. Whether it’s the mom or the dad, it’s an entirely Other kind of mother.
Both my parents are long gone. It’s been so long that I don’t think of either of them on Mother’s Day. Rather, I think of my daughter, the mother of my very special-needs grandchild. Being connected to their world, has made me connected and aware of the never-ending challenges all moms in the Special Needs community face. They continually handle so many and varied issues, which rarely include the luxury of just being a mom. They are special type of Others in mother.
For motherless people like me, another kind of Other mothers were people in our lives who stepped up to try to fill in some aspect of the void that exists. One important Other in my life was my older sister. Only three years my senior, what she did for me and our younger brother was beyond what any kid should have to do. It was a classic example of the misdirected responsibility that can fall on the oldest girl. Traversing the role between sibling and surrogate mom is not easy. As an Other, my sister was amazing. She is still one of the most self-less and kindest people I know.
Then there was my Other sixth-grade teacher. Our relationship endured into my teen years. She found the perfect way to step up without stepping on me, combining acceptance and push back at a time when my values were wobbling. After that, it was my mother-in-law, an Other mother that I cherished and then mourned when I lost her in my divorce.
However, there is yet another type of Other mother. These are mothers who, except for the biology of it, defy the definition of mother. They are not the loving caretakers and nurturers that the day’s greeting cards extol. A testament to my own life experience, I never believed this kind of mother existed, until I met a few. I met them because I know their children- good, kind, loving people. Until I met these people, I thought all mothers loved and cherished their children. I thought all mothers wanted the best of the world’s happiness for their children. When I hear my friends’ childhood stories, and we all have childhood stories- these are extreme.
I know that a therapist’s approach is to encourage us to understand that these mothers did their best with what they knew. Sadly, some never changed, grew or sought the healing they may have needed. They never acknowledged their children’s emotional pain. For some it is ongoing.
The role of mother is an indelible one. I have had many years and opportunities to consider my life of motherlessness and to compare it with those who had theirs. I realize that there are few if any perfect mothers, perfect Others or perfect childhoods. From my experience, which shapes my belief, the one non-negotiable ingredient in parenting is love. Regardless of the void in my life, I always knew I was loved. There is no substitute for that.
Here’s to Mothers and Others, you make the world a better place every day. To the other mothers and their children, I hold on to the belief that it is never too late to heal a heart.