This is the month we honor mothers—all kinds of mothers: birth mothers, mothers-in-law, grandmothers, stepmothers, godmothers, single mothers, foster mothers, adoptive mothers and those who fill a mother’s role in our lives.
The card industry along with those who sell chocolates and flowers basically have taken the day hostage. Anna Jarvis of West Virginia started the idea of honoring mothers on a given day in her church in 1908. She meant for it to be a day of respect and love. Her simple idea had become a major commercial venture, much to her distress.
Our changing social picture requires that we also give recognition to the many groups of mothers. For most of us, mothers-in-law are the first “other mother” in our lives. Despite the many jokes about these women, they are valuable assets to family life. Who but a mother-in-law understands your spouse? She helped form the person you married. For some, it has been their life’s work, and they may be reluctant to hand their child over to a new person. Even the best of mothers-in-law have traces of wanting her child to still do things the way she has taught.
When a son or daughter decides to marry, two families are joined together. With luck and some work, this may become a lifetime perfect union between two people and at least an amicable bond between the families. Sometimes the bonding doesn’t work so well, but instead of outright hostility, some sort of civil solution can be reached. I was lucky and given a very fine mother-in-law, even though I may not have been her first choice for her son. In time, we learned each other’s strengths and weaknesses and worked to complement each other.
If a marriage doesn’t work out, life can become complicated for the former in-laws and the children who may now have a new parent who has parents and perhaps children of his or her own. The issue of who’s called what—Nana, Grandma, etc—can be perplexing. The name to use for the mother in this case is even more awkward. The birth mother will always be the mother. Future stepmothers need to acknowledge this and, together with her new stepchildren, decide on what name to use.
If a third marriage occurs, then the number of people in an extended family multiplies significantly. It would be unrealistic to suggest that everyone in that extended family will be buddies. Who will now be the host for holidays and special events? How can we best take turns? And what about the children who may now have up to six sets of grandparents? The complexity of relationships formed by the friends and families of those who said “I do” needs a road map.
Not all mothers are perfect (who is?) and so we have need for others to fill in perhaps permanently or on a temporary basis. These women deserve our affection on Mother’s Day.
To all the women who have been part of the ‘mothering’ in our lives: Thanks for everything!
Robson is the author of “Over My Shoulder: Tales of Life and Death and Everything In Between.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org