Sunday, May 10, 2015

Reflections on Mothers Day - what makes a mother?

Reflections on Mothers Day

What makes a mother?   Are we mothers by virtue of becoming pregnant and then giving birth?  Or does motherhood really start after our physical bodies have taken care of all the biology?  After all, it’s not like we have much to do with creation itself, other than the obvious, of course. After all, nature is pretty much in charge. Yes, we have to get through the morning sickness, feeling bloated and the pain of delivery, but what really makes a mother? 

I had an interesting conversation with my mother today and it made me reflect on this very question. My mom is almost 89 years old and while she is in generally good health, her memory has been failing and she needs 24 hour care because she suffered a fall a few years ago that required hospitalization. However, what is quite remarkable is that whenever I have spoken to my mother in the last several years, she has always described herself as being content. Given that I would never have described my mother as being “content” during the first 8 decades of her life, you can see how this might have made me take notice.

Somehow, my mother has been able to find a way to be at peace with not only her life but also with her own mortality. What is even more remarkable is that my mother has become incredibly pleasant – again, probably not an adjective that I would have used to describe my mom in the past.  Artistically gifted, intelligent, persevering, anxious, talented – for sure, pleasant…not so much. Whether it is my mothers memory limits or her emerging maturity, I don’t really know, but what matters is that she found a way to age with grace. I think that we all hope to find this kind of peace in our lives, and I am grateful that my mother was able to experience this – at least until very recently.

A few months ago, my eldest sister became very ill and almost died. My two other sisters and I worked very hard to save her life and to protect our very elderly parents from any responsibility for my sister’s day-to-day care. And yet, when I called my mother today, for Mothers Day, the only thing on my mothers mind was how much she wanted to help my sister emotionally with what she is going through. My mother was worried, anxious and troubled that she did not seem to be able to help my sister enough. It wasn’t about taking care of her physically, it was about how to help my sister deal with the emotional trauma that her life-threatening illness and months in the hospital have caused her.

And here is where I get back to my question about what makes a mother. It’s not the physical part of carrying or giving birth to a baby that makes you a mother, after all any mammal can do that. What makes a mother is all of the things we do to try to help our children to stay healthy, to have a meaningful life and to try to help prevent them from suffering.

My conversation with my mother today helped me reflect on this question. I realized that it’s not at the moment you give birth that you become a mother but rather it’s the moment that you care more about your child than you care about yourself or even about life itself - that is the crucial milestone.

The moment you are willing to give up something you really care about for your developing fetus, whether its alcohol, drugs or fast food, that is the moment that you become a mother. It is really the moment that you decide that you are willing to invest your time, energy and/or your money to ensure that your fetus has the best chance at a healthy life.  Whether it’s spending more money for the healthiest food without pesticides, going for your prenatal check ups or giving up alcohol or drugs to protect your baby’s brain, it’s these sacrifices that make you a mother.  By prioritizing your baby’s health above your time and your money, that’s how you create the conditions for your child to thrive and that is when motherhood is born.

So while going through labor and delivery might be the moment our society recognizes as the start of motherhood, I would argue that you are only a mother, at that particular moment, by virtue of your biology – hardly something you can take credit for.  Motherhood is all about the small sacrifices you are willing to take on behalf of your child. It’s taking the time and energy to make your own organic baby food, to sit up all night caring for your child with a fever or your effort to ensure that you read to your child every single night, even when you are exhausted after a long day at work.

Basically, you become a mother when nothing in the world matters more to you than your child – their health, their emotional happiness, and their spiritual growth as a soul. That is what makes a mother and that is why I was so grateful to my mother today because she reminded me just how much she loves me. Not that she was always the perfect mother, far from it, but she did try to do many things to make my life better and she has always wanted the best for all her children. This, to the point that she is willing to give up this precious time of contentment and peace that she had been enjoying in order to try to help my sister, her daughter, in her time of need. After all, once you really make the sacrifices it takes to become a mother, you never can turn back.

With all my love, I want to thank my mother and mothers everywhere who rise above the biologic imperative and strive to help their children to be healthy physically, emotionally and spiritually above all else.

Happy Mothers Day to all the great mothers on our planet – you create the conditions for us all to thrive.


  1. such a great article, thank you for your help!maybe you can share some thoughts on my blog about motherhood life/?enjoy

  2. Being a mother is really hard -- I have now understand it. Before I could not understand how my mother can be so selfless. She always puts us first, no matter what. Since the time our birth, she took care of us, even if we're very hard babies to deal with (and she always got a burnout because of us). Great article and reading for me. It simply reminds me about my mom.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.