My husband’s step-father congratulated me on being able to celebrate Mother’s Day this year as a “real” mother. I replied that I had always been a mother in my heart, even if I just met my child this year. I truly believe that Motherhood is a state of mind more than a state of producing or caring for a child.
Some children are lucky enough to grow up in functional, happy families with a mother who lavishes attention and love upon them. I’ve worked with many wee ones who have not had the luxury of being raised by “perfect” parents, and many have looked to me to fill a much-needed gap in their lives. I have willingly “tagged in” for Mothers who were working several part time jobs, mothers who worked the night shift, mothers who were too drunk or stoned to properly take care of themselves let alone a child, mothers with so many children they were too busy to give each the Individual attention he or she craved, abusive or neglectful mothers, mothers who had abandoned their children either physically or emotionally, mothers who were separated from their children by court order, mothers who were incarcerated, mothers who didn’t want to be mothers but were forced by family or religion to keep their children, mothers who were just too tired out by the demands of daily life that they had very little energy to give to their children at the end of the day. As a woman without my own children, I had energy, time and love to give to those who needed it most.
We’ve all heard the saying “It takes a village to raise a child”. As a teacher I know this to be true. But teachers aren’t the only people who love our children into the incredible adults they are to become. And even “good parents” need the help of other loving, nurturing adults to act as caregivers, role models and confidantes for their children.
Willow’s “honourary grandmother” has no biological children or grandchildren, but she is truly a Momma. She was a school teacher, mentor and union leader in her paid career, and is a “professional aunt” and great-aunt in her personal life. She has helped to love and nurture so many humans over the years, from wee little babies to Elementary French Immersion students, to struggling school teachers who needed just as much patience and nurturing as a newborn. I’m not sure that this woman could give as much as she does to other people’s children if she had children of her own at home to return to and worry about at the end of each day.
Does the Universe put some women on Earth with the explicit purpose of helping to raise and mother the children of others? I used to wonder if I was meant to be such a person. The desire of my heart was clearly to be a mother to my own child, but I spent a lot of time mothering the children of other mothers, and it certainly made me feel wonderful to be able to do so. When we realized that my body might not be able to carry a baby to term I wondered if God had arranged it in such a way so that I would always have the time, energy and love to give to children who were not my own. Perhaps I was simply looking for meaning in an otherwise meaningless and disappointing situation, but I have met some pretty amazing “other mothers” in this life who were able to give me or my daughter just what we needed when we needed it, and would likely not have been able to do so if they had their own children to worry about.
Willow’s Godmother and Auntie has no children of her own. While I was playing with my dolls and pretending to feed them and teach them how to read my sister was observing and documenting animal behaviour and watching taped surgeries on our television. I dreamed of becoming a teacher and a mommy. She dreamed of becoming a veterinarian and living in a house with a big fenced backyard for her many animals to play in. Both of us finally have our heart’s desires.
While my sister deliberately chose not to have biological children, she made it very clear from the beginning that she wanted a niece. She literally stood outside our honeymoon suite on our wedding night chanting “Make me a niece!!” Of course, had Willow been born with testes instead of ovaries, Auntie still would have loved him, but her preference was quite clear.
Willow’s Godmother spoils her and dotes on her. She oohs and aahs over the photos and videos I send her. She is actually interested in every minute detail of Willow’s development. She will drive for six hours each way to spend one weekend with her niece. She took 20 photos of Willow in the same pose because the facial expressions were slightly different in each shot and she didn’t want to miss any of them. Would she be this enraptured with her niece if she had children at home to care for? Probably not. Would she be willing and able to travel so far just for a day and a half of baby cuddling time? Unlikely.
As Willow gets older I know that she will continue to need other women to “mother” her. She will need someone to be patient with her on days when my patience runs thin. She will need someone to listen to her tell her story about a funny incident at Daycare or school… a story that her father and I will have heard ten times already and will no longer react to in quite the way she is hoping for. She will need someone to talk to when she has her first kiss or her first crush, and it’s okay if she doesn’t want that person to be me or her father. She will need someone to complain to about how unfair her parents are when we don’t let her stay out as late as she would like. Enter the professional Aunties of the world.
Willow will be drawn to the women who can meet the needs that I cannot. She will find comfort and understanding in the arms of her role models and confidantes. Some little girls are drawn into gangs and abusive relationships of all kinds because they are searching for a sense of “family” outside of their own. My daughter is blessed to have many strong women in her life to act as her mentors and extended family, whether related by blood or by love.
Today, the day after Mother’s Day, I want to celebrate the love of the Professional Aunties/”Other Mothers”, the ones for whom Hallmark has yet to create a card or a holiday. The women who work quietly and largely unnoticed in the background to ensure that the human race moves forward in a kinder, gentler, more loving way. Thank you, professional Aunties and “other-mothers” of the world. Thank you.