Celebrating Moms/Mother Figures

Mother’s Day is one of those holidays that elicits the range of emotions. Some people consider it a Hallmark holiday designed to pressure us into buying gifts, creating Instagram-worthy visuals and artificial moments. Others are reminded of painful losses, or relationships that never quite measured up to expectations.

At the same time, those of us who have been blessed in the mom department may feel that one day could never be sufficient to express our gratitude. And for those of us who are fortunate enough to be dedicated and hardworking moms ourselves, it can feel gratifying to have a day that acknowledges our efforts. My view of Mother’s Day has evolved over time. As I’ve come to understand motherhood more intimately over the years, I’ve come to appreciate this opportunity to shower love on my mom, my mother-in-law and other moms who are important to me, as well as to accept some gratitude from my kids.

I remember back when I was a little kid growing up in Kentucky, people used to ask my mom if she was “foreign” when my younger sister and I were running errands with her. Although we knew my mom was born in the United States, we suspected why people asked this question: with her dark hair, heavy New York accent and loud voice, her origins might as well have been another country to our Central Kentucky community in the early 1970s.

Long before Seinfeld’s brand of humor brought New York culture to the far corners of the United States, my sister and I were a long way from the Italian enclave in Queens where my mom had spent the formative years of her life. In Kentucky, my sister and I were well-adjusted and comfortable with friends, but I’ll admit we sometimes were a little less so when my mom was around.

On one long-ago trip to visit New York relatives, my sister and I became so overwhelmed by the volume and gesticulations of my mom’s family that we situated ourselves under the dining table for an entire afternoon. My father later explained to us what we had experienced was simply the way my mom’s family communicated with each other. He assured us they cared deeply for each other, and that we should not be alarmed just because it was loud. We began to understand our mom better after that.  

Despite our differing communication styles, my family was always close. My mom was very loving, and a fierce defender of my sister and me. She was always brave about traveling and trying new things. During the years my dad’s work moved us to Europe, she navigated our lives overseas knowing only a word or two of the local languages.

With a curious mind, my mom is still an avid reader and listener. She never forgets anything or anyone. She’s incredibly wise and competent. Throughout my life, I’ve always gone to her with my millions of questions–sort of like my own personal google, but kinder. She generously listened to me complain during my college and early working years, but it was when I became a mother myself that I fully began to appreciate the depth of her knowledge and care.

I think motherhood has to be one of the most eye-opening, life-affirming–yet terrifying–human experiences. After a very long and painful delivery with my first child, I was lost. Gazing into the eyes of my tiny colicky newborn and feeling like I’d been hit by a truck, I knew my mom was the only one who could help me get through this. As a nutritionist who had specialized in infant feeding, my mom was a far better source of information than any doctor or lactation consultant. Her expertise was invaluable during my early motherhood experience, and having her support felt like I’d hit the mom jackpot.

After recently reading Jennette McCurdy’s memoir I’m Glad My Mom Died, I was reminded that not every mother deserves to be celebrated. Motherhood is a vitally important but complicated role and unfortunately, some women screw it up royally. Some people overcome this by seeking out other mother figures in their lives.

In Julia Louis Dreyfus’s new podcast, Wiser Than Me, the former SNL and Seinfeld star sets out to interview women who are older than she is to learn from them. She also includes some brief clips discussing with her mother some of the things she’s learned from these interviews with older female icons, including Jane Fonda, Darlene Love and Isabel Allende.

It is just stunning to me that older women are so easily dismissed and made invisible in our culture … We all have a lot to learn from these wise women.

Julia Louis Dreyfus

This podcast got me thinking of the women in my life, those who are mother figures and role models. Alongside my mom, these women have shaped me, and I continue to learn from them. Mother’s Day is an opportunity to honor and thank all the women who have been a guiding force in our lives. We encourage you to reach out to that mom, biological or otherwise, that you are thinking about today and let them know how much they mean to you. And Happy Mother’s Day to you, however you chose to spend it!

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