Friday, May 8, 2009

Mother's Day Reflections from a Non-mother


Yesterday (Thursday) at my regular physical examination I was lamenting my inability to lose weight, despite the fact that I have been foregoing potato chips and cookies, and adding significant minutes and speed to my daily walk. I'm not asking for a lot: one or two pounds, just to give me hope, would be nice.

My doctor told me that my troubles had their roots in evolution: long ago, women in my age group (that is, post-menopausal) were considered the least valuable to the group, and so got the least amount of resources alloted to them. Therefore, we learned to "conserve what we had", or so she said. That's why it's hard for me to lose weight.

Later I thought about what she said. "Women in my age group" means women past child-bearing age.

In other words, women who could no longer have children had lost their value.

I know some women who are not mothers by design. They never felt strongly about having children. (Some of them felt strongly about not having children.) But that's not who I am. Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to be a mother. In fact, at certain ages, I was positively obsessed with having a lot of children. I read Cheaper by the Dozen and Who Gets the Drumstick and thought it would be wonderful to have a large family. I wrote stories about families with lots of children.

I know, I am a step-mother, and my two stepsons are wonderful people. I think very highly of them, and I have felt privileged to be in their lives, and for what I have received and (I hope) given to them. But, I don't think it's the same. At least, that's what I was told by a student intern who is also a mother. She looked me straight in the eye one day and told me I couldn't possibly understand what she was going through because, as she said, "I'm not a real mother."

This Sunday is Mother's Day, a day about which many people (including me) have complicated feelings. There are those whose relationship with their mother is painful, those who are grieving the loss of their mother, those who are grieving a relationship they will never have, but wanted, and those who are grieving because they message they hear on mother's day is, "a woman's value is primarily in her ability to have children."

Part of me believes that, too, and that is my struggle every Mother's Day. If I can't feed and raise and discipline and praise, if I can't bring life and watch over it, if I can't comb hair and say evening prayers and worry, who am I?

22 comments:

Rev SS said...

Yikes! I don't even know where to start. I hate Mother's Day ... because of the "...if not a mother, who am I? question." I am not a mother ... and do not believe that being born a woman meant motherhood is what would define me ... I am a beloved child of God ... and follower of Jesus, who said "who are my mother, brothers and sisters? ... these who do the will of my father in heaven!" Not every man will be president ... not every woman will be mother ... those are just two of many roles we humans play!

mompriest said...

oh, Diane...I can't believe anyone said that to you...(or anyone else, for that matter)....sigh...

although I am a mother to two children I birthed into life I have a complicated relationship with my own mother (now deceased) - who was, well, not really a mother even though she birthed me...

In other words, giving birth does not necessarily a mother make...and being a mother does not make a woman "better"...

yes...Mother's Day is complicated and filled with a lot of different feelings and emotions....

Diane said...

P.s. of course there is the part of me that DOESN'T believe that.... that's the struggle, for me...

LawAndGospel said...

And to the mix I add that when I had our older daughter I was sitting in church with my newborn and the pastor's wife said, she could not believe what a "good" mother I was- she really didn't think of me (a lawyer) as being "like that." When I read your post I thought of all of the step-parents who have been given all of the responsibility of caring but get none of the credit. I thought of all of the people who "mother" others in need even though the recipients of their love are technically not "theirs" sometimes making up what the "real" mother or father could not give. And I think of how the softer qualities of God are called the "mothering" or "feminine" aspects of God. Love is a troubling emotion but this Mother's Day and every other day, I give thanks for all who nurture, especially those who urge us to ponder the feelings of others. And Diane, I too need to lose those pounds that seem to be hanging on now that I am spproaching my reproductive expiration date.

Songbird said...

Diane, that intern is not a real pastor. I hope her words to you get/got into an evaluation somewhere. Brutal.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

I'm with Songbird. That woman has no business being anywhere near a congregation until she learns some empathy, compassion, and tact. Yikes!

Diane--you "mother" every day with your congregation and here too. There are so many ways to mother--I think it's criminal that so many people limit it to one. (Jesus even compared himself to a mothering hen...so I think that widens the field, don't you?)

I carried three children and bore two of them alive--and I hate Mother's Day, because it is nothing more than a cheap, commercialized way of trying to pretend that this culture loves mothers. It doesn't. If it did, we'd have supports like healthcare for everyone, job protection and wage equalization so that mothers aren't penalized for caregiving, and reliable respite care for moms who need a break. A $4 Hallmark card and a bunch of over-priced flowers from the local grocery store don't cut it for me.

Pax,
Doxy

Diane said...

well, it was a long time ago (with the intern, and not our intern, another church's), so I pray that things are different.

zorra said...

Diane, I am so with you.

asthedeer.com said...

At times I've been in groups of parents who are talking about their children, and invariably one will say to me (a non-parent), 'You wouldn't understand this.' I never know how to read that comment. I don't presume to offer advice to parents, but why the need to note publicly that I'm not part of that group?

It's like a forward Madeleine L'Engle wrote for an edition of C.S. Lewis's A Grief Observed. She makes what seems to me a little slap at Lewis's marriage, since his lasted only a few years, and hers lasted forty. It's as if it didn't qualify as a real marriage in her mind -- it was only a taste, not a meal.

There's a difference between a short marriage and a long one, sure, and there are differences between people who've not been parents and those who are, as there are different kinds of parenting itself.

But it seems to me there arises a subtle pride in a particular experience, and along with it a need to draw boundaries of who is inside and who is outside that experience.

What is missed is the belief that wisdom can come to us through varying experiences. Each person learns something in their life and has something to share.

Chris

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

Mother's day has prickly edges for many people, as your commentors have shown.

But when it comes right down to it, we can't understand many aspects of the lives of others because we haven't walked a mile in their shoes. I used to think about how my husband's former boss had no idea about his job because the boss left the building at 5:00 but my husband still had 4 hours of work to do nearly every day.

I'm a birth mom and an adoptive mom. It has been amazing to me how much that is the same, even though the adoptees weren't little babies when they arrived. Maybe being a step-mom is more like having son or daughter-in-laws: you just get to know them as young adults. Those can be wonderful relationships.

Thank You God that in this day and age we women have worth and roles beyond that of being a mother.

afeatheradrift said...

Yep, I'm conflicted too. No kids, wanted them here and there throughout my "productive" years. Have a non-existent relationship with my own, never had the mother I wanted, don't find it good enough to be "mother" to 6 pets. We ignore the day now. Can't say I like it, but can't figure out an alternative. Thanks for posting. I don't feel so "unique" now. I suspect it's why I get along so well with elderly widows at church. LOL

angela said...

Many step-moms have more influence in their children's lives than the biological moms. Speaking as one with two moms and two dads I'd say after a very short time I accepted all of them as parents on an equal par.

I used to dread mother's day and definitely did not go to church. It has changed for me because we were asked to adopt. Still, if a big deal were made, I would look around for the ones who felt like me before. There are many women who have mothered me and never been biological mothers too. I just wish I could hug all the women like them. Grace and Peace.

Katherine E. said...

Your post evoked so many feelings in me, Diane. Never having born children but now stepmother to three, I always feel unsure about how to "be" on Mother's Day. Am I or not? It's a sensitive day for me, I admit.

I'll be holding you in prayer tomorrow...

Sarah S-D said...

(o)

Ivy said...

Diane, I'm sure your a wonderful step-mother and given your step-sons as much love as any mother would. In Reformations last week, we saw the movie "Elizabeth." Our prof said that it was Henry VIII's last wife (whose name escapes me)who loved and raised Elizabeth. It was that woman who imbued the strength into the young Elizabeth. It was her step-mother who loved and tutored her as her own.

And what does that intern know anyway???? What she said to you was from the pit of hell and not from our loving Lord.

Blessings.

amethyst said...

I am glad to know that I am not the only one to suffer during this holiday. I misscarried a baby in my 20's. I was not able to have children after that. I tried a last ditch effort to have a baby this past year but suspected uterine cancer put a stop to that. I have stepsons, but that does not fill the hole. The oldest is distant, the middle nice, the yougest has been reminding me all day that he got his mom a card and gift. The mom who walked out on them. I have started looking into adoption, but I am 46 and have been told the chances are slim. I will spend Sunday regretting and crying. The first question I will ask the Lord when I meet him is why.

Magdalene6127 said...

If I can't feed and raise and discipline and praise, if I can't bring life and watch over it, if I can't comb hair and say evening prayers and worry, who am I?Being a mother does not give value or take it away. It is value-neutral. Who are you? Someone who loves. That is the sum total of what makes us most truly human. you love. your spouse, your congregation, your step-children, your family. You love, and pour that love and creativity into everything you do.

I'm sorry for the idiot who made you feel less-than. I'm sorry that you feel the pain of this day.

((Diane))

Barbara B. said...

I totally agree with Magdalene6127... Yes, value neutral. I can't say it any better than that.

(((diane)))

Lauralew said...

Wow...(((Diane))). I have no other words; those before me have spoken so eloquently.

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

I struggle with Mother's Day every year. Double whammy--a mother who nearly crippled me and the desperate desire for children that I never had.

I have Smokey instead, but it's not the same.

DogBlogger said...

I wrote this piece a few years back as a way of dealing with it.

Rebecca said...

I'm just now reading this---October 3, 2009---but want to offer a comment. I have had a chronic disease since I was 3 and never thought I could have children. This was a heart ache for me. But, after many years, God blessed my husband and me with two children through adoption. There are thousands and thousands of children in foster care waiting for a mother to truly love and care for them. I always think of them on Mothers Day--wondering how they feel on such a day. May I suggest that we, as chosen children of God, open and hearts and homes to these children? What a blessing it would be for them! What an instrument for God we can be!
Rebecca