Thursday, May 9, 2019

Mothering Without Children

A Few Thoughts On Mother's Day

Hey friends! Today, I'm sharing a few thoughts on the upcoming holiday of Mother's Day, a day revered for all things related to motherhood and mothering. I know that for many of you dear readers, it's a day when your children honor you for being the warm and loving Moms that you are! And for others, it's a day when you honor, or honor the memory, of your own wonderful Moms. 

My Mom hasn't been physically present for Mother's Day now for about 24 years. It's hard to believe that she has been gone that long. I miss her every day still. She was a wonderful Mother who loved her children very much. She commanded respect and taught each of us that the world didn't owe us a living. She loved pretty clothes and pretty jewelry and always looked put together even on a tight budget. Most of all, she loved her Lord and taught each of her daughters about Jesus. I feel like I got my love of reading and my interest in fashion from my Mom and how I wish I could still talk with her about things! Luckily, she gave me four wonderful older sisters who are available to talk with and share our lives together. Mom really wasn't expecting to have a fifth child when I came along. I was what you might call a "big surprise" to my parents as I was born much later in their lives. I have to admit that I thought it an "oddity" at times to have sisters who were 20, 18, 14 and 9 years older than me. All of my schoolmates seemed to have siblings just a year or two older. And, yes, sometimes people asked if my Mom was my grandmother or if my oldest sister was my Mom! But, I have to admit that it was also pretty cool to have sisters who "mothered" me in addition to my Mom and in my grown up years I have met others who had much older siblings, as well. So, I'm really not as much of an "oddity" as I thought! 

Here I am with my four sisters on a visit "home" a couple years ago. As you can see we enjoy getting together, laughing and talking. The Mr. calls my sisters his "other four Mothers-in-law!" I love my sisters very much. 

So, here's the thing about Mother's Day. It's not my favorite holiday of the year. For many reasons, the main one which is I'm not a mother. At least not in the "usual" sense of the word. And so, every year when Mother's Day rolls around I sort of feel, you know, left out. The truth is, it's hard, at least for me, being a woman who is not a mother on Mother's Day. 

The other day I was at a function when a lady sitting next to me asked the usual type of getting to know you question..."so, Debbie, do you have children?" To be honest, I hate this question when it comes up because when I say no I don't have children (which is true) it seems to leave an uncomfortable open-ended question lingering in the air. And that un-asked question is, "Why not?" I'm always a bit awkward with how much to say when asked if I have children. Of course a simple "No" should suffice. But, somehow, I always feel like I have to justify not having children. So I typically add, "but I have lots of nieces and nephews." Which usually garners a smile from the other person. And sometimes, I also add, "we have two cats who are our fur children." Which may or may not garner a smile. And, if I'm really feeling vulnerable I might add, "no we couldn't have children," which usually garners a look of sympathy. And that can be awkward, as well. Because I honestly don't want people to feel sorry for me. Let's face it, being asked if you have children when you don't have children can be a bit awkward, at least in my opinion. Especially when you are a woman. Hence, Mother's Day is not my favorite holiday. 

You see, I feel that at heart, I am a very mothering person. I feel many women without children of their own, are. So, with no "sour grapes" intended for all of the wonderful "official" mothers reading this post, I pose the following questions as food for thought. 

Does caring for your pets count as mothering? I know that I have been up and down at night, cleaned up throw-up and assorted other messes, nursed them when sick and mourned them when they passed. 

In all the many years that we have been "pet parents" to Morris, Groucho, Gracie, Annie, Max, Frisky, Cassie and Garden, I have always been amazed at how these animals seem to know the difference between the male and the female "parent." They have loved both my husband and me, but I always noticed that they would come to me for "cuddles" and to my husband for "safety." If verbal discipline was in order, my husband's voice always carried more weight than my voice. Interesting, isn't it? 

Does my 35+ years of being a teacher count as mothering? For over 35 years I taught children to read and do math, wiped noses and put bandaids on boo boos, broke up arguments and wiped tears away. I disciplined, gave hugs and taught teamwork and how to think through problems and difficulties. At Christmas time I made certain each child had a present and daily made certain that tummies were filled with food. Two memories of teaching stand out as I write this today. One memory is of a little boy who had a rough home life and near the end of the school year drew a picture for me that included a picture of me and a picture of himself. In the picture he wrote, "Hi Mom!" I still have that picture in my album. The other memory is of a little boy who came to my desk for help with some work and as I helped him he turned to me with this look of wonder and a smile on his face and said, "Your breath smells just like my Mom's!" Interesting, isn't it, how children look at the world?

Does being an aunt count as mothering? My sisters have gifted me with six nephews and nieces. These nieces and nephews, in turn, have gifted me with 12 great-nieces and nephews. So, when I tell people that I have lots of nieces and nephews I really mean it! (Apologies to family members I missed in these photos. I tried to include everyone but know I missed some! You know I love you all whether your picture is here or not!)

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When my original six nieces and nephews were little I baby-sat for them, rocked and fed them their bottles, sang to them, changed their diapers and played with them. As my greats began to come along I spent as much time with them as I was able with great distances between us. I love them all daily, pray for them and always enjoy hearing from them and about them. My sisters are the "official" Moms and Grandmothers, but I have enjoyed being their Aunt Debbie. 

Do friendships count as mothering? Over the years I have been blessed with friendships. As we age our mothers are not with us to give us hugs, cry with us, rejoice with us and hold our hands during fearful times. Our friends step in to provide us with the warm embraces and shoulders to cry on that our mothers may have previously provided us. 

How difficult life would be without friends to step in when some "mothering" is needed! 

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Does going through years of infertility treatment count as mothering? For my husband and I, the years of treatment we went through was basically a "road to nowhere" as it can be for many couples. Others are luckier and, at the end, have a child. But, that was not to be for us. I admit to being envious at times of those couples who find it so easy to become parents. For some, they are married for a year or two and then comes the happy announcement. But, for others, it is not that way. Talking about infertility is not easy for me and, believe me, I debated even mentioning it in this post. As I said, I'm not looking for sympathy. Nor am I looking for lots of questions from curious people. But, this is my blog and infertility is certainly a part of my life and has been for many years. And, if I'm talking about my thoughts on Mother's Day this aspect of my life is certainly relevant. For a long time, I truly struggled with this aspect of my (our) life. Just seeing a baby being baptized could reduce me to a puddle of tears. As the years have passed, the pain of infertility has become less, or at least I thought it had. But now, at age 60, it has reared its head a bit. Certainly not as sharp as it once was but definitely there no less. And I believe that has to do with the fact that people in our age group are now becoming grandparents. And I have been surprised, and a bit dismayed, at experiencing the feelings of loss all over again. Please know that this does not mean that I don't rejoice when friends become grandparents. I do rejoice for you and I do want to see pictures and hear all about those wonderful grands! Perhaps in some future post I might delve more into living through infertility (or perhaps I won't) but, for now, I'll just say this much. Going through infertility, for me, was like mothering a "dream child." I pictured this little one toddling around our kitchen floor. I dressed him or her in my imagination and dreamed how this child would look and act. I imagined how my husband and I would handle all of the typical issues that come with parenting. I planned how we might handle childcare with both of us teaching, how much time I could take off to be home and how I could bring this child to school with me once he or she entered kindergarten. I even bought a little sleeper that I would sometimes hold and cuddle picturing the little one that I just knew would eventually wear it. But, at the end of the years of infertility, there was no child. I loved a dream child who never came to be. 

As an introvert, sharing personal things is never easy. And, I have to admit that there is a part of me that feels like perhaps I should click "delete" now. It kind of feels good, though, to put some of my thoughts on mothering out there. And so, I'm not going to click delete. For me, "motherhood" is a bit complicated and always has been. I'm so thankful to have had a loving Mother in my life. To have had loving sisters and friends in my life. I also realize that there are those folks reading this who may not have had a loving Mother in their life. Or those for whom being Mothers has not brought the happiness or joy that is often envisioned. Everyone has their own story. And today, I'm sharing mine. 

A few years ago, I happened to be eating out on Mother's Day and the waitress was giving all the women present free dessert. I actually felt a little guilty eating the free dessert, even though all women present were getting it, because, you know, I didn't feel "legit!" As I said before, it's hard being a woman without children on Mother's Day. 

But this year.....if free dessert is offered....I think I will just take it with thankfulness for all of the "mothering" I have been blessed to do, and to receive,  in my life. 

Happy Mother's Day to my beloved Mom in heaven....and to each of you for all the mothering you do!

Until Next Time,


Karen said...

This is a wonderful post, so much to consider and take in. Don't ever doubt it Debbie, you ARE a mother. Moms take other forms than just those who have given birth. It's all about changing your view of what a mom is. That little boy who drew the picture...that story just melted my heart. Your are blessed with a wonderful, big family, that is plain to see. Happy Mother's Day Debbie, you have as much reason to be recognized as any other woman! Even if you don't officially celebrate it on Sunday, just remember the mothering you've been doing for years! I remember that photo of your mom from past posts, she draws you in with that smile!

Debbie Styles Life said...

Thanks so much, Karen! Your words are so encouraging and supportive. Hope you enjoy your Mother's Day, too!

bonnie said...

To teach, is to mother!!! You are such a beautiful person - inside and out!!

Debbie Styles Life said...

Thank you, Bonnie, and thanks for reading my blog!!

Clearissa said...

What a poignant article Debbie. I believe you have mothered throughout your life. My daughter is a teacher and sometimes her babies (as she calls them) at school require just as much and sometimes, even more, cuddles and loving on than her own two children. So as a teacher, I feel you have had to mother throughout your life. TFS and have a blessed weekend.

Sharon said...

What a beautiful and heartfelt post, Debbie. I agree totally that mothering takes all forms. You are such a nurturing individual. Your ability to listen, to empathize, and to deeply connect are all qualities we look for as both children and adults. These are the traits we think about when we hear the word "mother", and you embody those traits. As a young adult, I felt nurtured and embraced by an older woman I called "Aunt Margie". I received more nurturing and nourishing from her than I had from my own mother. Aunts and teachers and friends all matter in a lifetime, and you are each of those. I'm glad you're my dear friend.