Mothers and Courage

Sermon by Rev. Diane Rollert  with reflections from Abram Friedland, Marlo Turner Ritchie, Alain-Pierre Bachecongi, Nancy Eddis, Sylvia McVicarl, 11 May 2014.

This past week, I sent out a call for reflections about mothers and courage. The responses I received were so beautiful. Many people wrote that, yes, it takes courage to be a mother and it takes courage to be a child.  It takes courage if you choose not to be a mother.  It takes courage when you can’t be a mother and courage to decide to adopt and courage to decide not to adopt.  It takes courage to go on living after you have lost a mother you have loved dearly, and it takes courage to reconcile your feelings about a mother who was unable to be loving because of the challenges in her own life.  The greeting card companies may want us to believe that this a happy, harmonious day – but the truth is, motherhood is complex.

I am grateful to our group of speakers who were willing to publicly share their reflections this morning.  That takes courage.  But quite a few people wrote and asked that their contributions be kept anonymous.  Several told me that the effort to write stirred up strong feelings, but it also brought perspective.  Not surprisingly, I heard from many daughters, perhaps because we want our mothers to live up to our expectations of what a mother should be, or we worry that we will either fail to be like our mothers or end up being too much like them.

One woman wrote that she remembered the exact moment, at age 12, when she decided that she would not have children.  “I was watching my mother overexert herself yet again ... and I realized that I was not willing to sacrifice my own goals and interests to that degree.  At other times, I realized that I did not want to be the demanding, sometimes almost mean person that my mother was, and at that point in my life I could not see that I could be a different mother than she was.”

Another woman writes, “As a daughter, it took me a long time to understand that the things that bothered me about my relationship with my mother and her sometimes antagonistic behaviour had nothing to do with me. She, too, was once a child, and some of her issues were seemingly never resolved. Once I accepted that, I was able to love myself and accept my mother as she is.

“As a mother, my relationship with my own daughter has taught me a lot about how important it is to have a wide variety of personalities in the world. Trying to understand her has been a constant challenge but, even if we don’t always understand each other, I love her deeply and I admire all her qualities: her love of people, her sense of humour and playfulness, her empathy.”

Yet another woman writes, “Talking about mothers is difficult for me because I can’t have children, but I’ve been thinking about motherhood.  A woman is not just defined by her motherhood.  I try to just be the kind of woman I like to be.  I have a lot of love to give.  It was difficult with my mother when I was a teenager and young adult.  My mother was a stickler for appearances. Our relationship is better now because I worked a lot on me.  So today Mother’s Day is a good day!”

These are only some of the thoughts that were shared with me.  Some stories were too raw and personal to share, and I am grateful for these gifts of openness and insight from those who are finding their way as mothers, and as children of mothers.

Of course, there were many words of love and gratitude.  One woman writes, “The birth of my first child changed my life in profound ways.  I learned to listen to my truths, to my heart and not to be swayed by others’ opinions.  I feel deep gratitude for the gift of my sons.  They are all adults now.  The intensity of my love for them has not wavered, but they are no longer my little boys.  Yes, sometimes it is hard to witness the choices they make, but their choices are theirs, the lessons are theirs.  I am here when they want or need me.  I will always be their mom.”

There were also words of love tinged with sadness.  Someone wrote, “I had been diagnosed with breast cancer.  We had to tell my two daughters of course.  My younger daughter was nine.  She asked me, ‘Dis maman, tu ne vas pas mourir, hein là?’ (You’re not going to die are you?)  I’m in remission now, but I am thinking of all the women who at one point had to say, ‘Yes, I am going to die,’ and of all the children who were left motherless at a young age.”

My own mother died of breast cancer nine years ago.  I still miss her every day.  She was my best friend, my counselor, my confidante.  But it took us many years to get there.  We had our struggles: my teenage years of rebellion, my young adult years of distance.  Those years were really such a short time in the grand scheme of things.  Yet those tensions carry heavy weight in a life.  You know how it is.  It’s like having a collection of previously recorded tapes.  A look, a sigh, a seemingly innocent comment and something triggers you.  You put the tape in the machine and press play, and it’s as if you were 16 again.  It takes a lot of years to learn how not to get hooked back into those old thought patterns and behaviours.

As for my experiences as a mother myself, I cherish my memories of the early years, but honestly, they were not so easy.  As David and I remind our children, all parents are amateurs.   And then there was adolescence.  During my children’s teenage years, my mother would laugh and remark that revenge was sweet.  It was a good-natured laugh and I would laugh with her.  Still, I had many sleepless nights and many moments of feeling entirely inadequate as a mother.  Today my children have matured into two wonderful young adults. I am grateful for our closeness and for their friendship.  They have been my greatest teachers, and every day I give thanks for the love we share.
So today we offer you many reflections on mothers and courage from a variety of perspectives.  May you find a bit of your own story in the stories of others.  Yes, motherhood is complex and it touches all of our lives.

Today is Mother’s Day
Abram Friedland

You delivered the order
But it wasn’t you who placed it
You went through the pain
And over the years, you almost went insane

But there’s a new adult
Here to give and take
Another mouth to feed
Another soul to read

There’s nothing wrong with that
You did all the hardest work
You wouldn’t let yourself shirk
And now there’s a new person at bat

Take pride, cry, laugh, and celebrate
Take some time alone before it’s too late
You were the farmer, the giver, the nurse, the teacher
And most of all, you were the hardest worker

Today is your day
It’s warm and it’s May
The sun is shining
Where would you like to go dining?

Being a New Mom
Marlo Turner Ritchie

I have never experienced a time and place where I have to be so fully present and engaged, while 'letting go' at the same time.  There is only so much that I can do to ensure my son's comfort and development.  The rest is in the winds.

The identity shift that I have experienced is so intense. Moving from 'me' to 'we' where there is a little being so completely dependent on me is freaky and wonderful all at once. 

When people ask me, 'Is he a good baby?' I respond that yes, he was born good and is always good.  He may keep me up at nights, freak out anytime I try to put clothes or a diaper on him, but he is the purest kind of good that exists.
When people ask me how I am enjoying motherhood, I reply honestly and a bit rawly: it is beautiful, miraculous ... hard work.  I am bowled over every day by how much I love my wee baby and how much energy it takes, day-to-day, to be the kind of Mom he deserves.

I should also add that I am only able to be as present and positive as I am with Zachary because I have an incredibly supportive partner.  He is rocking and singing to Zachary by the stove fan right now, so that I can actually have time to send this e-mail!  My love for him has grown exponentially, as I see him stepping up, into daddy shoes.  Such a complex role in our society, and one that he is managing with such ease (incredibly so, given that he has 'zero' experience with babies!)  

My heart goes out to mothers who are in dangerous, isolated places or moms who have babies or kids with illness, special needs or situations.  I can't even begin to imagine.

Une belle journée
Alain-Pierre Bachecongi

Une journée avec ma mère est une belle journée,
au café, au jardin, à la maison et à l'hôpital;
La journée demeure tout simplement belle !

Une journée avec ma mère est une journée ensoleillée,
avec la pluie, les tonnerres et les éclairs;
la journée demeure tout simplement ensoleillée !

Parler  avec ma mère est une expérience inoubliable, culture et arts sont au rendez-vous;
Les secondes, les minutes et les heures passent,
Mais la discussion  demeure tout simplement, inoubliable !

The Courage to Try Again
Nancy Eddis

My mother was a caring nurturing mother. As a child, I was brought up using the Unitarian children’s books, Martin and Judy, by Sophia Lyon Fahs, because they dealt with some of life's issues for children so well.
I have memories of my mother making chocolate fudge using my grandmother's recipe for me to sell to neighbours to raise money for the Humane Society. Mother often had stray dogs home for a day or two until the owners were found.
Mother made wonderful jam and Dad and I would sit on our back porch with baskets of strawberries to hull -- quite a few got eaten before the jam was started!
My mother made many of my clothes, including my wedding gown, and they were lovely.

As for being a mother myself I guess it took courage (for both Charles and I) to have a second child since we lost our first at 2½ months to crib death. It did prepare us to be able to help others in similar situations since we had had direct experience.

The Joy of Adoption
Sylvia McVicar

It’s always nice to explicitly include mothers through adoption. Families formed by adoption are real families composed of real mothers, fathers and children.  Motherhood is the best thing that ever “happened” to me, not that it just happened! If I couldn’t have been a mother, I couldn’t have been the real “me.” As infertility affects more than 10% of couples, let’s recognize what a gift children are and how lucky we are to get them one way or the other (when we want them, of course).

Letting Go and Reaching Out
Finally, a very powerful story was shared by a mother who had put her son up for adoption and was reunited with him as an adult.  It could not be published here. We laughed and we cried this morning.  There are some things that you cannot reproduce in print.  You had to be there.


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