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On Mother’s Day, let’s redefine mothers

I grew up in a family with a single mother and three siblings. My father died young and, from an early age, my brother exhibited signs of mental illness. So I learned early on that it takes a community to raise a child – I was a child that a community raised.

As we come close to Mother’s Day – a yearly celebration of moms and all the gifts they give us – I am thinking about what being a mother truly means, and how it’s so much more than biology.

In my own experience raising my four children and now helping raise my grandchildren, motherhood gives you this whole range of feelings. It’s deep and abiding love, endless patience, tremendous pride and also frustration, fear and a strong sense of responsibility. Motherhood is about a stretching of oneself – growing to be more than you thought you could be when you woke up that day.

And while being a mother is about love and trust, it’s also about guidance, boundaries and sometimes telling the hard truths. We think of mothers as caregivers, but more than giving care, mothers help give us structure.

I hope this is something that I’ve passed along to my children – that you can wrap your arms around any child that needs it and bring them into your family and that it makes you richer.

With this definition, it becomes pretty clear that mothers aren’t just the women who brought us into this world, but that anyone can be a mother – fathers, people without biological children, grandparents, neighbors. And more often than not, it’s not just one person that fills this very important role, but a whole community 

In my life, I’ve had the fortune of being able to play this role for many people, including my own children but also others. I hope this is something that I’ve passed along to my children – that you can wrap your arms around any child that needs it and bring them into your family and that it makes you richer.

In my work, I get to see the interconnectedness of our community every day, and I get to support young parents and children, middle schoolers and adults all working to help their families. In the end, helping a community thrive is not much different than raising a family – it’s about giving support where it’s needed, providing structure and being amazed at what happens.

As I look forward to another Mother’s Day with my multigenerational family, I expect I’ll spend lots of time in noisy chaos with the people I care deeply for, and hopefully we’ll all get to take a nap at some point. I will take this day to celebrate the mothers I know, those with children and those without, and I hope you’ll do the same.

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