I’ve written a lot about maternity, an interest derived from my clinical nursing practice and an interest in the intellectual and political ways in which women’s bodies have been mobilised in nationalist state interests. My interest in ‘maternity’ (the initial life-changing journey of being pregnant, giving birth and nurturing and the corporeal processes of the transition to motherhood) is supplemented with an interest in ‘mothering’ (the work of meeting the needs of and being responsible for dependent children) and ‘motherhood’ (the context where mothering occurs). All of which are shaped by the historical, the cultural, the political, the social and the moral.
Mother’s day is one of mixed emotions for many. It brings sadness for those who have lost their mothers, mothers who were never there and for mothers who were present yet absent, who didn’t fulfil the sentimental fantasy. It’s also a day when particular idealised mothers are invoked while others are made invisible as Ali Smith points out in her collection of 40 portraits of mothers in the act of mothering, Momma Love:
I am sick to death of the blandness of the “family mystique.” We all know that every family has cracks in it, and that some of those are profound. Silence, secrecy, disillusionment, lies, in my experience, are the most poisonous ingredients in any family and can exist in traditionally picture perfect households too.
I can’t stomach the lack of diversity in pop culture. I can’t stomach one more TV show that has a single character “of color” on it being considered ethnically diverse. I can’t stomach another public discourse about whether or not members of the LGBT community are complete human beings who deserve the same human rights as straight white men. I can’t stomach these things and so, I chose not to participate in them. I went the other way. I portrayed the world I see, which includes challenges and love in a variety of situations.
The ironies of celebrating this day are also pointed out in Ann Lamott‘s powerful essay about how mothers are simultaneously exalted and vilified. Her critique of mother’s day extends to the ways in which women who mother are viewed as superior and more evolved for having ‘chosen’ a more challenging path. More importantly she points out how the focus on individual mothers means that the sociality of mothering is forgotten:
But my main gripe about Mother’s Day is that it feels incomplete and imprecise. The main thing that ever helped mothers was other people mothering them; a chain of mothering that keeps the whole shebang afloat. I am the woman I grew to be partly in spite of my mother, and partly because of the extraordinary love of her best friends, and my own best friends’ mothers, and from surrogates, many of whom were not women at all but gay men. I have loved them my entire life, even after their passing.
So with these two beautiful pieces in mind, I thought I would acknowledge the gaps and silences in the pop culture version of mothering and acknowledge those who mother on the margins, without acknowledgement, without the support of the State or who mother while vilified by the State.
I dedicate this day to those who have birthed and brought into being projects and works that were a labour of love into the world in forms other than flesh. I acknowledge those who grieve for their mothers, for those whose mothering is painful, for those who can’t be mothers but contribute to their communities and families. I acknowledge fathers, extended family, grandparents and “other” mothers that mother. I pay tribute to those mothers who mother against the odds, who mother while in detention, under occupation, in war, in poverty, in prison, in marginalised spaces and places. I salute the mothers whose mothering knowledges have been marginalised by colonisation, by assimilation, by racism, by the medicalisation of the body. I bless the animal mothers we share this earth with, I give thanks to our Earth mother who nourishes and sustains us all. Let us all acknowledge those who create and bring to life, those who nurture and sustain life and those who plant seeds, care for and protect.
Dedication: This blog is dedicated to both my grandmothers who died in May 1965 and who I never met, but whose presences have been with me. For Joyce and Kadogo Ayagwe, always in my heart.
Acknowledgements: Thanks to Rosemarie North for reminding me of the plural, to Alison Barrett for reminding me of Anne Lamott’s great piece and to Danny Butt for sharing the Momma Love link.