Honoring Those Who Have Mothered Us

Barbara Child

I don't know about you, but I'm a little bit skittish about holidays that seem to have originated with the greeting card people. That's not true, in fact, of Mother's Day. At least as far back as the 18th century in England, for instance, people celebrated what they called Mothering Sunday, taking a particular kind of cake—a gingerbread man—to their mothers and seeking their blessing.

Still today Hallmark and Company have a way of imposing on us whole constellations of feeling that may or may not relate to our own experience and the feelings that flow from them.

Some of us greet this day with great joy, as a time to honor our mother, who is at our side or at least no further away than the other end of the telephone wire. Some of us have lost our mother long enough ago that grief has been transformed into the quiet joy of memories that warm our aging hearts.

But some of us encounter this day with more sorrow than joy. Some have so newly lost their mothers that the wounds are still raw. Some know they are on the brink of loss. And for some this day produces unsought reminders of the mothering that for them never was—their relationship with their mother having been severed in anger or wrung out through years of painful, torturing disagreements and misunderstandings. Some of us know little or even nothing of our birth mother, having grown up with another's care.

So, when the Hallmark people shout into the deepest recesses of our willing or unwilling ears that now is the time to honor our mother, it is no wonder that we don't all respond in the same way.

Yet we have all been mothered by someone sometime. Yes, of course, perhaps by the woman who brought us forth into the world. But perhaps what we remember of our mothering was by another. By a grandparent or aunt or uncle perhaps. Yes, men can mother too. Can love and give and teach by modeling how to be in this world. Can lift us up when we are beaten down, can hold us when some monster threatens. Can wash our bloodied knees and spirits. Maybe the mothering that comes to mind this morning was by a teacher or a friend.

I invite you now to take paper and pencil from the basket and write the name of someone who has mothered you. You might write a one-sentence message: Dear Mother (or whoever), I honor you today because you ________.

[pause for people to write]

And now, because speaking our words may make our ritual of remembering more powerful, I invite you to come forward if you wish and read aloud your one sentence. (And then later, if you can, I hope you will give or send your message to your mothering person.)

[pause for people to come forward]

Honoring the Mothering We Have Done

Mother's Day calls up powerful feelings in us also because of the vastly different experiences we have had as mothers ourselves—or as not being mothers. Some of us are happy mothers on this day with our children at our side or calling to send us their love and good wishes.

Some of us though—some of us, of any and all gender identities—have never birthed a child. Some of us have never even once been pregnant though we have longed to be. Some have miscarried in spite of all our best efforts to give birth. And for some, Mother's Day calls back to the front of the brain memories of letting go—of abortions or of children killed or dying long before their time, or of our children adopted by others or taken from us by others in or out of court, or our children estranged from us for reasons we may never fully understand.

Yet, just as we have all—sometime by someone—been mothered, so have we all mothered—our own children or those of another. Even if we have never birthed a baby, we have birthed perhaps a book or a painting, a garden or a song. Somewhere, sometime, we all have sown seeds of gladness.

So I invite you now to take paper and pencil again and write the name of someone or something you have mothered. And write a one-sentence message to yourself as mother. For instance, I would write: Dear Barbara, I honor you today because you have _________.

[pause for people to write]

And now, because speaking our words may make our ritual of remembering more powerful, I invite you to come forward if you wish and read your one sentence.

[pause for people to come forward]

What we have done here this morning is a rite of passage. We have looked back on our lives and paid attention to the mothering in them—the mothering we have received and the mothering we have given. In so doing, we cast our lot with the human family, past, present, and future. With spirits joined, we "touch the earth" and "reach the sky."* So may it ever be.

*From the hymn "Touch the Earth, Reach the Sky!" by Grace Lewis-McLaren. Singing the Living Tradition #301.