I am a complicated situation.
Five years ago I received a call from an emergency room informing me that there had been an accident involving one of my brothers. When I arrived, I was told that my grandfather (who took care of my three younger brothers, as my mom was an alcoholic) had died in the accident and that social services was being notified about my brothers, one of which was also in the accident. I left the hospital with that brother, then later picked up the other two, only later to receive custody of all three. Single, twenty-two … now add Mister (a mom-sister, as I came to be titled).
A year later, I’m sitting in church on Mother’s Day, totally unsure of my place. I knew I wasn’t a biological mom yet. I had never carried a baby for nine months. But I had done school drop-offs, football meetings and diaper changes for a year. I had a three-year-old little boy who called me mama. I was tucking in, meal-prepping and day planning kids while my friends were going out, dating and figuring out their dreams. I felt like I was living the sacrifice of parenting, but didn’t deserve any of the short-term rewards.
That Mother’s Day the boys were at a visit with their birth mom (our birth mom). I sat in the seats as I saw woman after woman sit down with a flower that had been handed to her at the doors. When I walked through the doors, the greeters smiled nervously, unsure if they should give me a flower or not since I looked so young. I debated on reaching for one, but decided not to. Then, to top it, the girl next to me was pregnant. My friend on the other side of me excused herself past me to intentionally grab a flower and give it to the pregnant girl on my right.
I felt … Unnoticed? Conflicted? Confused? Unseen? I can’t exactly pinpoint what I felt; but, all I know is that it didn’t feel good.
Since then, I’ve become a biological mom to two little girls. My husband and I (yes, I got married in the middle of all this somewhere), have adopted my three brothers. But Mother’s Day still makes me feel icky and unsure.
Maybe Mother’s Day, for you, is a time to recognize the woman or women’s footsteps you’ve been given to follow. That’s grace and that deserves celebration. But there’s also a population of women who might just be left feeling … icky … on this holiday.
We must treat this day with delicate hands. Motherhood and all it stands for — nurturing, femininity, triumph, loss, sacrifice — is tender and precious for anyone.
Maybe you were a mother for eight weeks before the doctor told you otherwise: You are Mama, too.
Maybe you fostered and lost a child or two and continue to step in to accept, or you’ve taken a step back to heal: You are Mama, too.
And maybe you’ve been faced with unanswered longing and waiting; month after month wondering when your turn will come: In all your waiting, in all your hope, though maybe deferred, you are Mama, too.
Maybe you’re mentoring and mazing through your teenage years as a teacher, a sister, an aunt or a friend. You’re filling a gap that was meant for someone like you and this holiday celebrates you, too.
And maybe you’re a daughter who has lost a dear mother or who grieves never knowing a good mom or a mom at all: This day is for you, too.
The list can go on for all the different types of moms and brave figures who have stepped into that role, whether through adoption, relationship or nature; we don’t have time here to name them all. But we can, together, be sensitive to the types of women we will interact with on Mother’s Day:
Don’t just stop with an Instagram shout-out to your mom. If you happen to see someone that day who has made an impact on your life as a female influence, then tell them! Affirm where you see them nurturing and believing in the people around them. Thank them for their friendship, thoughtfulness, sisterhood, connection.
You’re filling a gap that was meant for someone like you and this holiday celebrates you, too.
Don’t single out, but don’t ignore, either.
Don’t make someone feel awkward if they’ve been wanting a child or lost a child or if they don’t have a mom to celebrate; but don’t ignore that this day is weird for them. Affirm them in private, invite them to your family brunch, send them a card in the mail for their eyes only. Be conscious of their loss, but not so overly sensitive that your conversation with them turns awkward. A simple, Hey, what’s this day like for you? Or a, I’m here for you today text could work wonders.
Admit what you don’t know.
There may be a circumstance that’s heartbreaking, uncomfortable or difficult to face that someone dear to you is holding. Tell them you don’t know what to say, but you want to be there. Whether that means inviting them to lunch with your family or coming over afterwards with popcorn and a distracting movie; tell them you want to be there, that you want to understand and that you don’t want them to be alone.
And lastly, don’t take it personally. You might have tried everything. You’ve spoken sensitively, you’ve recognized the day, you’ve acknowledged the loss or pain … and your friend is still unsatisfied or maybe even a little mean in her response. Truth is, everyone grieves differently, and they still want you close in their pain. Their emotions and sadness might be ugly or scary to them, more than it is to you. Be there. Be silent. And be the strong one (now, hear me, I’m not saying to let yourself be abused…but for one day, be the strong one).
This day is complicated to say the least. But together, we can be sensitive and thoughtful in how we celebrate, honor and approach all the different forms of motherhood the women around us carry.
Images via Makayla Wagner