May 13, 2013

Mothering in a Larger Sense

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Everyone has an opinion about mothers.  Everyone has a mother, or a couple mothers, or an absent mother.  And there are many mothers who are fathers and fathers who are mothers. It’s personal.  People feel strongly about mothers.

I was struck about the sheer volume of strong feelings expressed on Facebook yesterday.  Many of them were blanket positive, but there were many that were negative too ~ either they had a horrible mom or they can’t have children or some other combination.  Pain and anger are perfectly legitimate responses to mothers.

I don’t know how people can have a straight positive or negative response, though.  Life is not like that.  No person is perfect and fulfills our every need.  Likewise, no person is all bad.  I believe there is a continuum, and some mothers are mostly good and some are mostly bad, but our response ~ because it is such an intimate relationship ~ is inevitably mixed.  It changes over time too.  You may have been in conflict with you mother as a teenager and then realized so much once you have children of your own. 

We live in a cynical age.  We do not embrace platitudes easily.  We are happy to shoulder the negative and glory in it, but believing in something pure and good is seen as naïve at best. We wear our hairshirts proudly for all to see and we boast about it.

I would like to make a case for motherhood as nurturing.  Not a personal thing ~ not your mother or my mother.  Rather, a platonic ideal, a daily practice,  a way of life.  I would like make the case that nurturing is a powerful force for good in this world.  The maternal side in mothers and women who are not mothers and in little girls and in fathers and men who are not fathers and in little boys and in transgendered people and in single people and in people of every stripe.  I would like to hold up as an icon that part of everyone that puts the needs of others ahead of itself, that sees within the person the baby that each person was and cares deeply for them, the creator of meals and safety, the one who will face down the tiger or the bureaucracy or the abuser for  the sake of another.  All those traits we associate with the ideal mother, the ideal nurturer ~ those are the things I would like to celebrate, that I think the world needs more of.

Like David Foster Wallace said, the clichés are true.  That’s the reason they are clichés.  But that doesn’t mean they should be ignored.  They are clichés because they are no longer fresh and they don’t surprise you into feeling the emotion that they used to.  If you really thought about them, if you really let yourself feel for the other person, to put yourself in their shoes, how could you feel anything else but profound empathy, do anything else but nurture. 

I’m as guilty as the next person of pulling the chitinous armor around me and shutting it all out.   But I need to be braver.  You need to be braver.  We all need to make this world by love, not war.

Happy Mothers’ Day.

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