For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a mother so much that I carried my brown haired, white Cabbage Patch baby everywhere with me including her rectangular “adoption” card. And before I had kids, I had thousands of fantasies circulating around my head of what life would be like as a mom. I would never tire of my kids calling me mommy or mom or mama. I’d show up early to their school events. I’d join the PTA and bake them homemade cookies twice a week to indulge in as they arrived home from school.
I spent years (many, many years) lamenting about the fact that my mother wasn’t there for me, and calling other women in my life “mom” didn’t fit either. I dreamt that I could mold and shape myself into the mother that I never had and do it all on my own.
But this is not motherhood, doing it all alone, and allowing my “dreams” and “hopes” to carry me as a mother isn’t something that was realistic — or something that has proven to serve me or my kids in a positive way. Because motherhood is not something done alone, but with the support of the community. This Mother’s Day, I am grateful for the women I have in my life, and as I get older, I recognize who I am as a mother. While I can’t attribute to the influences of my own mother, the women in my life now make up my community. And I need them all.
A report published by the Pew Research Center in 2013 found that there were 7 million children living in the United States. Of those 7 million children, 3 million were living with a grandparent as their primary caregiver. I was raised by my maternal grandparents, and provided with the kind of love, affection, and upbringing you’d get from two southern-born grandparents. My grandmother, through her actions, showed me how to keep a home, how to provide a welcoming space for my family and strangers alike. It was my grandmother who taught me about how to find my way around a kitchen. She held an unwavering belief in love. She believed that love would conquer all, something that I hold on to today when the world looks more shitty than usual.
I often think about the words of Oprah Winfrey, who has said, “Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” My grandmother could never replace my mother; even though it was her daughter who had so many lessons to learn, my grandmother filled the shoes of a motherly figure in my life and showed up when I needed it the most. Still today, she teaches me about the power of perseverance.
While many women or couples in general have in-laws they can’t stand or choose to avoid at every cost, my wife and I are not those people. We have good, positive, and healthy relationships with our in-laws, and I, specifically, enjoy spending time with my mother in-law. She’s taught me so much about what it means (and what it doesn’t mean) to be a working mom. She texts to check up on me, reminds me to take medicine when I am sick, to wear warmer clothes in the colder weather, and most recently continues to try to help me build a healthy looking garden.
We know that as women, we have the freedom of choice and we can choose how to be in this world. Author Jill Churchill once said, “There is no way to a perfect mother-in-law but millions of ways to be a good one.” My mother in-law nags me in all of the loving ways I will one day nag my own adult children, and if I’m lucky, the future spouse of my adult children. It took many years of hard work from both myself and my mother in-law to get to where we are today. As I’ve said, relationship building is not easy, but when it’s for the good of the family you’ve built, do the work necessary. I have a good mother in-law who chooses to get to know me, who respects me, and who knows that perfection isn’t a reality for me or her.
Motherhood is certainly not what I imagined in my daydreams; it is so much more and better than what I’d imagined. It is challenging and rewarding and so many other things. Hell, I am even writing a book about it all. This Mother’s Day, I choose to look around and open my eyes to the amazing women in my life who make up my community. The relationships we build with these women are worth all of the effort we must put in, for ourselves and ultimately for our children. When we learn from, and treasure, our community of women — whether it involves our own mother or not — it helps us bring our best selves to the table.