By this time next year, I’d like to be a mother, or expecting biologically or through adoption. Today, a weird day, Mother’s Day, I am thinking about what kind of guardian I will be.
I’ve encountered lots of phrases to describe the experience and effort to parent young souls in a manner that indulges in love, fairness, reality, protection, and forgiveness. “Feminist Mothering” is one of those phrases. That phrase is alright, but a bit inflexible. It’s not like I expect Adonis to say he will be practicing “Feminist Fathering.” It’s just called parenting, and for me, a mindful vigilance and fight against the kyriarchal powers at work in society, school, and our family. Regardless of how much I try to work out my own crap and not project errors onto my children, or heap unfair expectations on them, or push them too hard, or take things too personally, or take too much shame and pride in them – I know that I will frequently stumble.
There are many ways to be a mother, I realize. Feminism, someone once said, is about being surrogate mothers to each other from time to time. While much of my exposure to feminism has been about promoting sisterhood, the idea of being a surrogate mother from time to time is more appealing to me. There are so many aspects of who I am that is mature, wise, and loving, but then there are the bleakly immature and under construction areas. These areas have benefited from the surrogate mothers who have stepped in with their fierce understanding that we all need space to stumble before we get it right, we’re all in this together, and there’s no one right way to be yourself. Surrogate mothers walk the labyrinth of feminism with the knowledge that building another person up outweighs the benefit of tearing anything or one down.
My surrogate mothers have been strangers and friends, relatives and teachers, mentors and lovers. They’ve been editors and writers, co-workers and supervisors, students and young(er) womyn who have taught me grace, when to let go, and how to forgive others as well as myself. Feminist surrogate mothering is not about just giving good advice or showing up when no one else does.
Surrogating mothering is a radical belief that the path we are on to gender equality and liberation, the path to a conscious society, the path to collective transformation is fraught with danger. And surrogate mothering is opening oneself to the possibility of being stronger for the sake of the other, letting someone rest when needing, appreciating what went unnoticed, and celebrating the totality of someone’s natural gifts. It is about moments of divine leadership and self-emptying compassion. It is not about recognizing the convenient moments when you would like to be a surrogate mother, but identifying when someone else is in need.
I can identify more moments when I have been gently corrected or when my fire has been tended by someone else than when I have given of myself. Call it selfishness or my youth. Or greed.
This Mother’s Day, I am quietly vowing to look beyond myself.