I am learning to mother myself. Why mother? Why not be-friend, or father, or pastor, or entertain? Mother is: nurture, good, acceptance, pride, God-like, open, supportive, unconditional loving, teaching, preparing. The infant cries and the mother picks her up and by just holding her, creates calm. The baby cries and the mother coos, ahhhs, comforts, feeds, cleans, plays and smiles. With eyes of love and curiosity, they peer into each other creating attachment, safety and ecstatic joy. Who wouldn’t want a little of that for their growing self, at any age?
When I am critical of myself – the kind of criticism that stops me in my tracks, from taking a chance, from being creative and even from brushing my teeth -- I think of my mother. To complicate matters, my mother did nurture, care and feed and educate me. She served as mother and father for three of us. We ate three meals a day, we always had clothes to wear – even if they were ill-fitting and worn. We went to school; we had doctors when we were sick and dentists to do the most basic care of our teeth. Three of us. When I think of it from where I sit today – she was frigging amazing! She enlisted friends and family to help us along but it was she who was our leader, our caretaker, our judge and jury. I am sure I never gave as much respect and gratitude as she deserved.
Returning to my inner life, I often only remembered my mother’s weaknesses, especially as a young mother. She ruled by fear – by the superior morality of good and bad. If you were good – it was great. If you were bad, you were fucked. So I tried to be good so as not to get punished. I met the mark externally for many years, but what was going on internally and under covers was a very different story.
How could I tell her what was happening when I was so afraid of her. Parents and children in the 50s lived in separate worlds. It was common for parents to be totally ignorant of what their children were doing. This cultural phenomenon carried from childhood into young adulthood.
So I went searching for a mother. Luckily I met women who were mothers and who were kind, fun, brave, intelligent and accepting. They taught me through their sensuality, spirituality, intellect, luminescence, and from their inner delightfulness. They inspired the energy that propelled me to see possibilities and to take chances, little ones, but chances none the less.
When she was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, all the garbage in my head about her dissolved. None of it had any power over me. The only thing that mattered was to be with her, to be at her side for as much time as I could. I saw her love for the poor, her hysterical sense of play, her generosity of spirit and her gift of imperfectly being there for me and my brothers. My mother was in hospice about a week before she left this earth. During those days sitting with her through her fear, agitation, worry of one more thing to do and finally calm and resolve to meet her son in heaven, I got to see my mother all over again. She told me she loved me and took me to her breast and held me close. That was all the mothering I needed.
My own childhood sexual abuse created an atmosphere in my head that was toxic. It is common among us. That toxicity worked its way in, and despite all the good that was set upon it through the years, it created many punishing thoughts that limited my world. It was good at blaming everyone else. I have wiggled and wrangled those thoughts out of my head with recovery, therapy and coaching. Now I choose to be a good mother to myself. Even if my own mother couldn’t quite give that to me early on with her own life’s troubles, I can give it to myself. It actually works. Today I close my eyes and using my imagination, I hold myself like a mother holding her beloved child; today that is the salve that heals me.
Do you know who your mother is? Do you see her? If you didn’t have a good mother, can you be your own?
*Are You My Mother? Written and Illustrated by P.D. Eastman, (New York) Beginner Books, Div of Random House (1960)