Mother’s Day: Who Will be My Mother? Whose Mother Will I be?

by Angela Parrino, Ph.D.

With Mom’s Day upon us, it seems only fitting to devote something to all the mothers among us, my own at the top of the list. It’s only been a breath in time since my mother passed seven months ago. She was mom to me and my two sisters, Joanne and Susan. Our mom was a self-sacrificing woman who tenaciously embraced life to the end (and contact lenses when they fell, finding them quickly despite weakened eyes and hips). She forged forward despite her many brushes with illness and ultimately, death. She was a woman whose dedication to her marriage vow of “in sickness…” found her abandoning her hairdressing career of five decades for few years to care for my dad following his traumatic cerebral event. This extraordinary woman was always a great mom. However, I’d be naïve to say that all moms are extraordinary, that all moms deserve jeweled tiaras. And, furthermore, all moms are not beloved by the children they have birthed, rightfully or unrightfully so. Certainly, I’d like to believe all moms have only unadulterated good intentions to shower on their offspring all the love they unconditionally deserve. Somehow paths get muddied, though; roads become unclear of how to best do so. It has come to my attention across the years, that sometimes the best moms aren’t moms at all, but friends, sisters, cousins, aunts, neighbors, and yes…even men. And some of these great mothers never birthed children of their own, never knew the pain and the pleasure of being a mother.

There is a children’s predictable book, the kind with limited linguistic structures repetitively presented throughout, entitled: Who will be My Mother? In the book, lamb’s mother dies and lamb (we never learn if lamb is male or female) searches for a replacement among a horse, bull, rabbit and hen to no avail. Each states the obvious: I can’t be your mother because I am not a lamb. Totally frustrated, lamb comes upon a boy and ventures to ask if he could be lamb’s mother. At first, the boy, as the others before him, says no, but when lamb breaks down crying, the boy recants and agrees to take lamb’s mom’s place. I used to use the book to model this specific genre of reading material for prospective ESL teachers once upon a time when teaching graduate students at CUNY-Hunter College. On one occasion, at a taping of techniques for a video I produced, I had the pleasure of gathering a small group of children aged four through nine. One of the children, now an attorney herself, asked how the boy could be lamb’s mother if he was a boy. We discussed what it meant to be a mother. The essence of what we talked about was this: to be a mother goes beyond the biological; to be a mother you must mother.

If you check out Wikipedia, you will find that some countries celebrate Mothering Day an event which preceded our own celebration of Mother’s Day, but which captures the essence of what the boy demonstrated to lamb in the story Mothering, is what we all seek as human beings to receive, and if we are so gifted, to give. This mothering goes beyond age, gender, and species (perhaps you have even read about Tara, the elephant who mothers Bella the dog). You can become a mother by birthing or adopting a child and mother but simple by having those titles does not mean you will mother. And to give my mom just yet another compliment, she always understood this notion of what it means to mother because each Mother’s Day she gifted both my aunt and me a rose although we are noone’s “official” mothers as my sisters and she are. I guess she believed we knew how to mother, if only a wee bit.

I’d like to close with the words of Joan Chittister, from her book, In a High Spiritual Season, who in fact highlights the notion of Mothering Day here shared. Blessings on all… those who will be mothered and will mother on Mother’s Day and beyond:

“The Irish call it Mothering Day. The title manifests the growth of an idea. The fact is that man and woman alike, parent and guardian alike, friend and stranger alike, must learn to mother. Mothering is the art of reassuring what is gentle and loving and patient and receiving in all of us.

Who are all the people who mothered, who nourished, who comforted you in life? Thank God for them.”

– Cowley, Joy. (1983). Who will be My Mother? Illustrations: Rita Parkinson
The Weight Group, under exclusive arrangement with Shortland Publications Ltd.

– Chittister, Joan. (1995). In a High Spiritual Season, Triumph Books.


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