written by Kendall Manwill, CSW
In the world of childbirth and postpartum support, “mothering the mother” is a term used to describe the work of a doula or birth support person, whether during labor or postpartum. It encompasses the idea that mothers need to be supported as they transition to motherhood–that the new mother should be taken care of and comforted the way she is taking care of and supporting the new life that has joined her family. And it works. Mothers who have the support they need are less likely to experience postpartum depression. They are less likely to experience postpartum complications. They get better rest and recover more quickly. It is easy to see why a woman would need support in a time of such great transition, but what about during other times of her life?
From my work with women during all parts of their life cycle, and from personal experiences in my own life, I have come to learn that we never outgrow the need to be mothered. When we are single, navigating school and work, perhaps fearing that we may never get married and have a family (or perhaps fearing judgment because we may never want those things), we need to be mothered. When we are newly married, caring for our spouse and learning to navigate the challenges of joining two lives into one, we need to be mothered. When we have children, and are grappling with the great responsibility of parenthood, we need to be mothered. As our children grow, and the challenges we face change as they develop into adolescents, teens, and adults, we need to be mothered. When our children are grown and we are once again on our own, rediscovering who we are as individuals, we need to be mothered. When we are dealt difficult life circumstances, like unemployment, financial insecurity, illness, and loss, we need to be mothered. In short, there is not a time in our lives when we do not need mothering. But how do we meet that need?
First, we need to understand what is meant by mothering. I am not necessarily referring to receiving care from one’s own mother. The concept of mothering really refers to love, connection, and support. In order to find those things in our busy, hectic lives, we need to create community. Here are some ideas on how to do just that:
- Family—if you are fortunate enough to have a loving, supportive family, use them! Make an intentional effort to connect with your spouse, siblings, parents, or anyone you have in your family who you feel close to. Make sure to communicate your needs clearly.
- Friends—In our fast-paced, busy lives it is easy to have many acquaintances, but little true connection. Take inventory of the people in your life you feel you can trust. Work to develop the relationships you already have so that you can provide support to one another. Odds are, the people around you are in need of some mothering, as well.
- Playdates—If you have children, invite your child’s friend AND their parent(s) over for a playdate. Better yet, invite the whole family over for dinner or meet at the park for a picnic. This gives you the opportunity to get to know each other better and potentially develop needed friendships.
- Book Clubs—A book club may seem a strange place to meet a need to be mothered, but conversing about books is a great way to really get to know others. Good books touch our hearts. When we discuss those books with others, we share thoughts and feelings that may not come up in casual conversation. In this way, book clubs can help meet the need for connection that we all have. If you know of a book club in your community, join it. If there is a group of other people that you regularly interact with, suggest starting a book club. If neither of those are options for you, look into the programs your local library offers.
- Library Storytimes/Baby Groups/Breastfeeding Support Groups—If you have a little one and are feeling isolated, there is no better place to find people who understand how you’re feeling than at gatherings specifically formed for the purpose of connecting new moms. Members of groups that meet consistently often form attachments that persist beyond the infant years, becoming true, enduring friendships.
- Social Media—While I am the first to admit that social media is not typically used to create true connection, I would argue that it still deserves a place on this list, if you use it correctly. Too often, we use social media for superficial connections. We want to be a part of the world, yet keep ourselves at a safe distance. However, social media has the potential to lead us to people who are like us, with similar interests, beliefs, and feelings. Use social media to find your people, then go beyond the superficial to create real relationships that meet your mothering needs.
- Mother others—when you make yourself available to support the other women in your life, they will most likely respond by being there for you in your time of need.
Every one of us needs to be mothered, and every one of us has the ability to mother another. As women we are wired for connection, but too often we let our lifestyles keep us from fully developing the relationships we so desperately need, which can lead us to feeling isolated, depressed, and anxious. When we make a conscious effort to connect with others, we can form communities that truly love and support one another.