Mothering in the 21st Century

Another Mother’s Day has come and gone and brought with it a great subject for contemplation. Think about that word “mother” for a moment. It can bring up a wealth of thoughts, feelings, memories, social and gender conditioning, and expectations, yes? And what does it mean “to mother” in this 21st Century?

This is an era when many of us choose, create, and live within chosen families. Does one need to parent a child in order to be a mother? Does one need to be born a female?

“To mother” is “to nurture.” In my worldview, any being who nurtures is being a mother to another. One can mother children, animals, plants, projects, a home and/or garden, organizations, and so on. I like to take these types of roles beyond the limitations of gender and biology because it is liberating to do so for all of us.

I also know women (and men) who mourn that they have not experienced motherhood by limiting “motherhood” to biology and a personal story, so I invite and encourage them to consider this alternative angle. At the same time, I honor and celebrate all that is intrinsically female (and thus feminine) in our world.

Gift Economy and Nurture: To give a gift, without thought of return or exchange, is to nurture, to mother another. The Gift Economy is fundamentally based upon nurture and our mothering roots. Genevieve Vaughn speaks eloquently about the links between economy and nurture:

The shift in perspective offered here is to re view everything in terms of nurturing, or to phrase it another way, in terms of gift giving. The thread of gift giving and receiving begins in every life in the unilateral need satisfaction provided by mothers. As time goes on in the individual life and in the existence of institutions and social structures, this thread is altered, turned back upon itself, moved to different levels, used for domination, used metaphorically. The thesis here is that almost everything from nature to culture can be viewed as gift-giving in some form.

The gift paradigm has the advantage of restoring mothering to its rightful place in the constitution of the human. What has been wrongly proposed in the construction of gender, with devastating effects such as the promotion of the values of dominance, competition and hierarchy (which are non nurturing values), can be countered by re introducing gift giving as a social value and interpretative key. Both male and female human beings are basically nurturers. One gender is not the binary opposite of the other. If we reintroduce the gift paradigm into our interpretation of the world, we will find our ‘gift giver within’ which will then be validated. Women, as those who have been socially designated as the nurturers, will be rightfully restored to their place as the norm, and men can be reinterpreted in this light as those who have been socially dispossessed of that norm-al behavior but who can re acquire it by espousing nurturing values. Institutions are usually organized around the exchange and dominance paradigm, but they can be reorganized to satisfy needs. The rewards which accompany dominance can be eliminated and gift giving can be affirmed and promoted.  Introduction to the Gift Economy, Genevieve Vaughn

Celebration of the Mother with a Mini-Retreat: For Mother’s Day this year, I celebrated mothering in a few different ways and on a few different days. I now firmly hold the belief that it would be wise to celebrate motherhood every day of the year. There are a lot of good reasons for this, and you’re invited to ponder the idea.

Anyway, on the designated Mother’s Day, I desired to honor nurturing, the Mother Goddess, and Gift Economy by sharing lunch at Karma Kitchen and by giving to a friend and one who mothers. Afterward, we took a little mini-retreat by the water in Emeryville at a friend’s beautiful condo (where I happen to be housesitting and doing a Feng Shui decluttering project). We nurtured (and mothered) one another by sharing:

  • Smiles and Laughter
  • Personal Herstory and Emotional Intimacy
  • Authenticity and Honesty
  • A Lovely Manicure, with Hand Massage
  • Rest and Relaxation
  • Celebration of Beauty in Our Lives
  • Gratitude for Our Friendship

A Retreat to Focus on Mother and Gaia Connection: My daughter (16) and I also shared our first intentional Mother-Daughter Retreat this year. We share and hold a vision of co-leading Femme Fire Mother-Daughter Retreats in the future. In my next post, I’ll share more about our vision of Mother-Daughter Retreats and the wilderness connection.

We journeyed to Joshua Tree National Park and shared five solid days of much-needed rest, relaxation and mutual nurture. She is my daughter, and she also is a mother, although she has not given biological birth. She has given birth to many creative babies already through  her art and writing, and she clearly nurtures naturally.

We enjoyed time spent in close proximity to Gaia Mother in the Mojave Wilderness with camping, hiking, and meditation. Emma experienced her first two driving lessons in the campground and its horse arena — a fun rite of passage! A lot of our time was spent simply eating, gazing at our surroundings, including the majesty of star-studded night skies, or sleeping… and more sleeping… :-).

I leave you with a poem that I love by Billy Collins that is also about mothering.

The Lanyard

The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one into the past more suddenly—
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light

and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift—not the worn truth

that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.

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