I had the good fortune of being raised by not just one excellent mother but also an entire community of them. And I’d have to say I’m the better for it.
I remember when Hillary Clinton’s book It Takes a Village came out several years back, the accompanying uproar from conservatives was deafening. Many people saw it as a communal manifesto for socialism—where society takes over raising our children and we give up our parental power.
I have to confess that I’ve never read her book. I might have been too busy raising my kids to read about all the people it takes to raise kids.
But regardless of what you think of Hillary’s book or her politics, the girl was sorta right in this one regard: If you are born female, it certainly does take a lot of mothers in your life to be fully mothered and well-mothered.
It is hard for me to admit that there might be something my daughter, Elyse, needs in her life that my limited experience or expertise cannot provide for her. But I truly believe that no one should have to mother alone.
Mothers, Mothers Everywhere
My mother’s guidance was important to me, but I also had the input of my grandmothers and aunts and family friends and mentors. I am old enough to recall when you could get in trouble everywhere in your town by any female adult who felt motherly toward you.
If someone caught you doing anything immoral, illegal, disrespectful or even questionable, they were not deterred by the fact that they did not share your particular DNA. If you were wrong, they felt a social obligation to step in and mother you correctionally.
This might have involved giving you a good talking to, possibly applying some immediate form of discipline and assuring you that, should you choose not to confess to your own mother upon your arrival at home, your mom would be told. And this was followed by a burning up of the party lines (for those of you under the age of 40, skip it—party lines are too hard to explain) faster than the speed of light so that, when you did arrive home, it was old news and your mom already had her speech ready and some form of discipline lined up.
You could waste your breath explaining, but the shame of someone else catching you misbehaving was unbearable for her. It was now her job to make it equally unbearable for you.
That was the downside of a community full of mothers. The upside was that you could also have a cadre of women who would love, support and encourage you in areas where your own mother did not have a background for input. This is the aspect of having “Other Mothers” that allows young women to excel and spread their wings beyond their own heritage.
Sometimes it’s easy to discount the praise or encouragement of your own mother because you suspect that it isn’t exactly objective. But when women who are not bound to you by relational duty look into your life and tell you that you are gifted you tend to believe them.
I believe it is a tragedy that we are losing our sense of this in our society. There used to be a time when you could be mothered not only by your own mom but also by a stepmom, your grandma, your auntie, your schoolteacher, your Sunday school teacher, your friend’s mom and even your mother-in-law.
In some church cultures they appoint “church mothers,” and these powerful, God-fearin’ women are deputized to ask you embarrassing questions and basically get up in your business. It’s their spiritual imperative.
My friend Skip is a spiritual mother. She is single and has no biological children, but she has many people who look to her for wisdom and guidance.
One special relationship with someone who asked Skip to step in and help her to heal from the estrangement from her biological mother has been particularly rewarding. Skip’s “daughter of choice” is a woman whose life looks very different from her own, but they have mutually chosen to enter into this relationship and have the freedom to be honest with each other at all times.
Skip was an adopted child and describes her own mother as godly, gracious and tied in to her community as she taught school for decades and kept up with her students through the years. Many of these same traits can be said of Skip, and her life purpose is to nurture believers into mature disciples.
Her own mother’s example coupled with Skip’s vocational choices (she is a nurse, speaker, author and life coach) point to her love for helping people. But when Skip was approached about being a spiritual mother to a younger friend her first reaction was reluctance. But as their bond grew deep, Skip realized that “spiritual mother/daughter relationship” more accurately defined what was happening than anything else.
A Grandmother Is a Gift
Sometimes your Other Mother is there out of necessity. My mom’s mom was my first Other Mother. Nana wasn’t highly educated in book learnin’ (I think she may have finished the eighth grade), but she had done her “post grad” in the School of Hard Times and had her honorary doctorate in How the World Works.