For a few years I had neither a mother nor children of my own. During the 6 years between my mum’s death (when I was 19) and the birth of my first son (when I was 25) March was a pretty tough month. I have lived with depression since my mid-teens and, generally speaking, Spring is a better season than the preceding one. But for those 6 difficult years, the month which started it off was in fact filled with more tears and more darkness than all the other months put together. The reason for this was: Mother’s Day. Dwelling in the wilderness of both motherlessness and childlessness, especially at such a tender age, was raw and gut wrenching and nowhere I desired to be. On more than one occasion during March I found myself running out of a card shop in tears; everywhere I turned I was faced with saccharine greeting cards and teddy bears and all manner of other stuff adorned with the word “mum” or “mummy” – pointless merchandise I used to buy myself to gift. Only now, I couldn’t partake. Whilst the rest of the world (it felt like) had a reason to celebrate, I was left out in the cold. And all the Mother’s Day accoutrements on display only served to remind me of the gap in my life.
Whilst I know not the pain of losing my mother as a child, I have lived pretty much my entire adult life without her. My graduation, my wedding day, my career successes, my pregnancies, my struggles with newborns and potty training and discipline as a parent, my exciting house moves, my changing body… All of it in the shadow of my loss and all of them milestones that beckoned to shore another wave of grief. How often I have longed just to pick up the phone and share a story with my mum about one of her grandsons’ achievements or experience what it’s like to treat my mum to a mother-daughter afternoon tea or enjoy the warmth of a family celebration passing on traditions to the next generation as we sit around the table with mum at the head. Like many, I experienced my mother as my main protector, champion and encourager. She wasn’t perfect. My teenage years were complicated. But as a child she was my centre of gravity. And with her death, came a certain loss of who I was as her daughter, no longer being able to live that out in any tangible way.
In those years between losing my mum and gaining my children, every single Mother’s Day was tough. And, although there is a renewed purpose to it now, there remains a distinct and very profound knowing deep within my soul of all that I lack. The fact that there is nowhere to pour my affections on that day is, well, quite frankly, painful. Despite the passage of time.
And honestly? I still feel as if I am stumbling around in the darkness, searching for that light which is my mum. Even (almost) 19 years on. Where is the person who will guide me through this thing called womanhood? Where is the person who I can say, “is this normal?” to? Where is the person who will boast more than I will about my achievements? Where is the person who just ‘gets’ how I’m trying to raise my children because we have a shared culture of family? Where is the person who can teach me what being a wife means or how to make a cheese sauce from scratch? Ok, maybe that last one is a bit of a stretch: my mum had many gifts but not primarily in the kitchen!
My mother was not without fault. But she was there. I perhaps didn’t fully appreciate it until she was gone, but I had a sort of security within me because she just simply – was. And it didn’t matter how many times she let me down, or irritated me throughout the year, she still got a sentimental card and some over priced token of my love on Mother’s Day (which, looking back, she was an absolute expert at looking appreciative of). Because I did indeed love her. With all of my being I loved her. So. Very. Much. And this particular day is, in many ways, just a reminder of how rubbish my life is without her.
I confess to still being a bit jealous of other people with their mums at times. When I see others sharing the load of raising their children with their own mother, it stings a little. When I see photos on social media of friends with their mothers out on girly shopping trips, it smarts. When I see the flood of adverts each year in my inbox of various Mother’s Day Offers it’s like rubbing salt into the wound. Yet I still count myself amongst the fortunate, because I didn’t need to wait many years before I became a mother myself. This milestone felt rather like I’d won some competition for which the prize was entry into a special event called Mother’s Day, again. After years wandering in the wilderness, finally I could be let in. So for the last 12 Mother’s Days I have been the happy recipient of many splodgy finger paintings and wibbly wobbly crafts and dubious looking breakfasts-in-bed to warm the cockles of my soul each time it has come round. And they really are warmed. It’s not the same as being able to pick up the phone to wish my own mum a happy Mother’s Day, but there is definitely something about having four smiling faces beaming at you at the side of your bed, presenting the results of their labours, knowing you are the sole subject of their endeavours, that certainly goes a long way to filling the gaping hole in your life marked “mother”.
Why am I sharing all this? Well, I guess I just wanted to reach out this Mother’s Day to others who find themselves in the same gap that I did; in a place darkened with both motherlessness and childlessness. I want to say: I see you. I was you. I know you. As the rest of the world goes about buying and receiving cards, marking the day with a special meal or visit or phone call, know that I have your back. I am acutely aware of your status. Perhaps, like me, this is but a season. Or maybe you are all too aware that this is a campsite your tent is now pitched in permanently. Either way, my love, you are seen, and you matter. Not just to me, but to a mothering God who, regardless of how great a presence our own mothers have been in our lives, will never leave our side.
Please, please know, that earthly mother or not, our prime cheerleader, encourager and source of all things is always there, banging a drum for us. We are not orphans. God, our Father is also the one who adorns affection on humanity as “one who lifts infants to their cheeks” and “bend[s] down to feed them” (Hosea 11 vs 4). God our Father is also the God who is the “Rock who bore you” (Deuteronomy 32 vs 18). God our Father, as Isaiah reassures us, will no more forget us than a “woman forget her nursing child” (Isaiah 49 vs 15) and will gasp and pant as a woman in labour whilst intervening with out battles (Isaiah 42 vs 14). Even Jesus portrays himself as a mother hen (Matthew 22 vs 37-39 and Luke 13 vs 34-35). So trust me when is I say that whilst calling God “mother” might be an uncomfortable reach for many, we can at least say with certainty that we have a mothering God in whom we can rely. (For more on this and a helpful blog series check out Sacraparental)
And as for the missing “mummy” label from your life, your importance on this earth remains robust. You have always mattered and you always will. Your worth in the eyes of your Creator does not depend on motherhood, whether your situation is chosen or happenstance. Further, mothering is not reserved for those who can give birth or adopt into their homes little ones. As true disciples of Jesus, we are all called to lift the weak ones up, to bend down low to meet their needs, to intervene and fight for the oppressed with as much grit and determination as a woman in labour and to do the job of gathering where we can in a disparate world. Male, female, young, old, parent through birth, parent through adoption, single, married, able-bodied, disabled, gay, straight, wealthy, poor, mummy label or no mummy label… We are all called to the action of mothering.
But yes, I do appreciate that in so many ways, receiving that rally cry is not the same. So to all those who find themselves in the gap this Mother’s Day –
May our mothering God enfold you, support you and encourage you.
May our mothering God, the source of all life, bring life to you in the struggle.
May our mothering God, who has known you from the womb, whisper truths to you today of who you really are.
May our mothering God release you into a needy world as someone truly connected and truly seen.
May our mothering God call you in to opportunities to mother the motherless with the comfort you have received.
May our mothering God this Mother’s Day reaffirm your place in the Kingdom and your seat at the table.
You are welcome. You belong. And you are loved with a motherly sacrificial love that has limitless resources to bestow.
I say it again: you are welcome, you belong and you are seen.
Take heart my friend. Our mothering God is with you and for you, both today and every day.
Shalom, my love. Shalom.