Sunday, May 9, 2010

Call for Stories about Mothers (from Emily)

I meant to write this last night, but it's never too late to talk about mothers, now is it?

In honor of Mother's Day in the US, I'd like to invite everyone to share stories and insights about motherhood and the mothers they've encountered in their lives. I want to remind everyone too that not all people who mother actually raise their own biological children. 

The biological mothers in my lineage are very important to me, because I owe my spiritual heritage to them. The story goes that my maternal grandmother and great-grandmother each joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints while my grandmother was still young. My grandmother went off to BYU (a church-sponsored university where I'm currently enrolled in grad school), but when she ran out of money for school she joined the Air Force in order to get funding for her education. When she met and married my grandfather, she stopped attending church and never finished college, but she never stopped believing the gospel was true. She still taught gospel principles to her children.

When my mother was in high school, she decided  she wanted to join the church. She contacted some missionaries and told them she wanted to join the church - which probably made their day, their week, their month, and their year. After awhile her sister joined the church too. Meanwhile my paternal grandmother joined the church long enough to introduce her son to my mother. While that part of the story didn't turn out so well, by joining the church even briefly my paternal grandmother did bring some of her grandchildren to a stabilizing and inspiring source that they would desperately need as her son descended into a debilitating illness.

But I didn't just have my mother and my biological grandmothers - I attended my aunt's daycare while I was little, and she helped shape my character from a young age. This aunt isn't related to me by blood, but she might as well be. Then there was my mother's sister, who lived just across the road from us. She's always stepped in and helped everyone in our extended family in any way she could. Not to mention all my other aunts. And I was lucky enough to know three of my great grandmothers, in addition to having an extra grandmother (my paternal grandfather's second wife).

Outside of my family, many other women guided and shaped me. I can't even begin to list the many teachers, both at church and at school, who influenced me, so I'm going to focus on two women who never had children but instead devoted themselves to young people in their communities. The first is a Math teacher from my high school. Let's call her Ms. Z. She introduced me to Flatland, a book that changed the way I look at the world, and she always came to class full of energy and prepared. She demanded a lot from her students, but we rose to her challenge and learned.  The other teacher I'd like to talk about is Madame S., a French teacher who sadly passed away last year. She was a brilliant lady who paid for college with national merit scholarships, and she loved her students even more than she loved French. When she wasn't teaching, she spent a lot of time working with the youth group at a local church. She inspired many students during her lifetime.

The other day I was talking with some friends about how strong women are. How, despite the stereotype that women are weak and men are strong, many women and mothers find that they've been abandoned by the men in their lives and left to hold things together on their own. Whether the abandonment is emotional, social, financial or physical, it hits many women. In some communities, grandmothers are essential in helping young mothers raise children without the children's father. And programs like micro financing are increasingly discovering that they can improve a family's economic prospects more by investing in mothers than by investing in fathers. Sorry gentleman, but that's just the way it is in general. So, here's to strong women. Strong women who step in and do what they need to do in order to hold families together. Strong women who have no traditional family but build families among friends and co-workers. Strong women who fight for social and economic changes where they see worthy causes. Strong women who know how to put the most important things first.

1 comment:

  1. I too grew up in a family that has a long history of strong women, and where that narrative of "we've always taken care of ourselves" has been a source of inspiration and strength when things have been tough. My maternal grandmother had to stop her education because she and her younger sister were orphaned when she was fourteen, and she and her sister and a cousin lived together and supported each other until the cousin died (she had had scarlet fever as a baby) and my grandmother got married. My mother and her four sisters were the first people in their family to finish high school, and all of them except one got master's degrees or PhDs by working for tuition for their way through school. My paternal grandmother got a degree in mathematics from Stanford University during the early 1940s, after having to take a break from her education to work and earn tuition money. Even the women farther back in my family's history, especially on my mother's side, rose to challenges that I can't even comprehend today. My sister and I grew up knowing that we were part of a legacy of capable women who had always been able to take care of themselves, even when women's options were limited.