The arrival of Mothers’ Day can be a trigger to many - if you have lost your mother, a child or if you dearly wanted to become a mother and it didn’t happen, it is probably a Hallmark Day you prefer to avoid.
But what is a mother? Words such as nurturing, caring, loving, fierce - we all need to channel these attributes to mother ourselves. And we need that female energy - present in men as well as women - to heal the growing divisions in our society and to speak truth to power in our quest to save our beautiful planet.
This week, in honour of Mother’s Day in the UK, I’d like to talk a little about mothers - even if we haven’t had children ourselves we all had one! So this is about our own mothers, step mothers, mother figures, our own experience of mothering and the energy of Motherhood in general.
I want to honour the women who shaped me and helped me to become the person I am today.
Sadly, I never met my mother, Carole. She died when I was just 6 days old, at the age of 21. Her unexpected loss sent shockwaves through my birth family and created a sadness in my life that still exists, almost 60 years later. I was left in the hospital by my shocked father and, I understand, wasn’t claimed for some time.
Fortunately for me, my paternal grandmother, Dorothy took me in. She was already 60 years old and I’m sure that raising another newborn wasn’t on her “to do” list! But she stepped up and I will be forever grateful to her for taking care of me in those early years.
Some of my most vivid childhood memories take place in that council house in Hertfordshire. Not all good memories, it has to be said, but my memories of Nan are all warm and loving. She had the softest, whitest hair that she sometimes let me brush and she would rub a strong smelling lineament into my little hands in the winter to ward off rheumatism. I remember that smell so vividly, of that and her lavender talcum powder and the taste of the tablespoon of sticky, syrupy paste I was given in the winter which came from a huge tub kept behind the sofa!
We had an outdoor toilet in the garden. It smelled of wet plaster and was painted germolene pink on the inside. I hated that toilet - it was draughty and full of spiders! I’m sure I’m not the only one who remembers Izal toilet paper - a waxed, scratchy paper that could easily do you a mischief if you weren’t careful! Ah - the good old days! Lol. Luckily, I had a ceramic chamber pot under my bed, so I didn’t have to brave the dark if I needed to go in the night! Boy was the rim of that cold in the days of no central heating!
Those were the days of ice on the INSIDE of your bedroom window in the winter, when you could see your breath hanging in the air when you woke up. The days of flannel sheets and scratchy woollen dressing gowns, and cold feet always at risk of developing chilblains.
But, thanks to Nan and the love she showed me, I grew up knowing someone loved me.
When I was 4 and a half, my dad remarried. I was so excited! At last I had a mummy - I’m quite sure I thought that was why my dad had found her! Her name was Carole too and after the honeymoon, I left Nan without a backward glance, not realising I would barely ever see her again.
I feel for my mum, taking on this peculiar, old fashioned little girl who was used to having her hair put into rags every night so she woke up with ringlets, didn’t like getting water on her face and thought she had to rub ointment in her hands every day! Mum is a practical person, full of life and energy and I don’t think she really understood my character.
I remember, before they were married, her looking at me trying to read an adult book and saying “I hope she won’t be a blue-stocking!” A blue-stocking, if you haven’t heard the term, was a name given to academic girls. I believe it came from the colour of the stockings word by female undergraduates at Cambridge. I never went to Cambridge, but I was - and am - most certainly and most proudly, a “blue-stocking”!
Within a year of Mum and Dad being married, I moved house, lost my nan - the only mother figure I had known until then - had a new baby sister and started school. For a child who had never mixed with other children, that event was traumatising and I developed what I now know to be an eating disorder, which meant I had to go home for lunch every day.
My poor mum did her best to help me, but it can’t have been easy for her, at 22, to cope with. Still, she loved me and mothered me in a different way, and I will always be grateful to her for taking me on.
Throughout all of this, I had a deep and instinctive bond with my maternal grandmother, Kathleen. When I lived with Nan, she would take the bus to visit me once a month and in that way I came to know and love her. I saw her sporadically when I lived with Mum and Dad, but in those days it wasn’t really done to talk about those who had passed on, so with the best motives in the world, this link with my mother wasn’t really encouraged.
Nan - Kathleen - once told me that as I left after a visit once I whispered in her ear, “when I grow up I’ll come and see you all the time”. When I left home at 18, I began to travel on my own to see her. I was never able to spend as much time with her as I would have liked, but that strong bond endured until she died.
Through her, I was able to see photographs of my mother, Kath’s daughter. I found out a little bit about her and her hopes and dreams. I am so grateful for that. And for her.
Thanks to my grandmothers and their unconditional love, I wanted to create a family of my own. I married at just 20 and over the next 10 years had 4 children. They’re all in the thirties now and I have 7 grandchildren. My role now is of a maternal matriarch. Unconditional love is my superpower and I have spent my life creating the stability and confidence for them that I lacked.
But all my life I have sought out mother figures. Role models, perhaps, but also a sense of that mothering energy that I miss so much. I have always had several friends 20-30 years older than me, and I cherish those friendships.
Back row: my Nan, (Dorothy), Dad, Mother (Carole) and Nan (Kathleen)
Mothers in Society
Dr Brenda Hunter, author of “The Power of Mother Love” says:
“Mother love shapes cultures and individuals. While most mothers know that their love and emotional availability are vital to their children’s well-being, many of us do not understand the profound and long-lasting impact we have in developing our young children’s brains, teaching them first lessons of love, shaping their consciences.”
It is a role that still seems to be undervalued in a society where we are encouraged to look for personal success and fulfilment outside of the personal. Yet the foundations of society rest on the well being of the people that live within its structures.
I have been struck over the past year how mothers have simply got on with having their school age children at home, juggling jobs, businesses and home schooling during a pandemic. It was reported recently that the greater burden of this has fallen on women, that mothers have been tacitly expected to take on that role. I’m sure that, this being 2021, there are many fathers who have also stepped up to the plate, but isn’t it interesting how employers and society as a whole still, when push comes to shove, expect mothers to step back into the home? And yet fails to support them, financially, practically, by preserving their careers, or emotionally!
This Mother’s Day, I am thankful for the women who have entered my life at various stages to mother me. Carole, Dorothy, Kathleen, Carole: my mother, grandmothers and stepmother - you shaped how I would go on to mother my own children, which in turn has influenced how my daughters are mothering theirs.
And I take my hat off to those of you whose mothering role has had to expand into teaching and 24/7 care over the past year of the pandemic. You are all amazing and I hope that your families recognise how valuable your love has been. Well, perhaps not until they are past their teens - parenting is still pretty much a thankless task!
Happy Mothers’ Day!