Breaking the Mother Mold


I don’t ever remember playing with dolls growing up. There is no recollection of tucking in my stuffies at night. Frankly, I don’t even recall having had any stuffies, or dolls - although I must have had some…

Doing that “nurturing mom” kind of thing just wasn’t in my repertoire. It wasn’t in my mom’s either. And she would describe her own growing up as less than “warm and fuzzy”.

My mom was 21 when I was born. Within five years, she had 3 more children. Four kids in five years is a handful for anyone. It’s especially a handful when you’re not even all in on the idea of having kids.

My mom was living the dream of having married the “right guy” from the “right family”. She converted to Catholicism to marry him and with that came the procreation directive. She was living that dream, but it wasn’t her dream. It was the dream that society told her she should have - my mom and virtually every other woman in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.

A mom is supposed to be all loving, endlessly nurturing and self-less - forgoing her own needs for that of her progeny at all times. Right???

This is what we’ve been told virtually all of our lives. It’s no wonder that those of us who don’t fit that patriarchally defined role feel ashamed of ourselves as mothers. We blame ourselves and find it unforgivable to be anything less than that. We try to conjure that nurturing mother when it comes to boo boos and fevers, and it just doesn’t ring true.

When my former wife and I decided to adopt a child, my agreement was based on the idea that I would be raising this child with her. Had the choice been to adopt a child to raise by myself every other day and every other weekend, I would have made a different choice. I knew that I was not capable of raising a child without her. I didn’t have the skills and, frankly, I didn’t have the desire to have a child by myself.

We’ve been divorced now for 10 years. Our daughter is 15. I heartbreakingly recall reading to my then 8 year old daughter at night and having her ask,

“Mommy, why don’t you like me?” It still brings tears today to recall this.

And I love this child, my beautiful daughter, so much. But I was not cut out to be this kind of a mother and it must have been seething through my pores.

I tried so many ways to do it differently. And believe me, I beat the shit out of myself for not being able to do a better job. But it just isn’t my nature to be a nurturing mother.

Nor was it the nature of Dr. Christiane Northrup, author of Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom and many other titles. In this book she states that being a Nurturing Mother “is not who I am – and to have tried to be something I wasn’t ultimately would have done my children and me a great disservice.”

She goes on to quote the writing of Lynn Andrews who describes the ancient Mayan civilizations who acknowledged that there were Nurturing Mothers and Creative [Spiritual] mothers. She describes the role of the Creative Spiritual mothers as that of inspiring them, rather than nurturing them.

OMG, I could feel layers and layers of blame falling away.

Dr. Northrup goes on to describe Aboriginal cultures “where all of the mother’s sisters – the child’s aunts – were considered the child’s mothers. All of the father’s brothers – the uncles – were considered the fathers. If you ask an Aboriginal child who her mother is, she will point not only to her biological mother but to all her aunts as well. Same with the father. If her biological mother feels the need to go on a walkabout – a spiritual initiation - she knows that the child always has a place in the group and is not dependent solely on her, as children so often are in our patriarchal society.”

I could finally begin to breathe…

So this thing - that I had for so long held over my head (and that of my own mother) was acknowledged in ancient civilizations but I had never, ever, been told that there were other ways of mothering!

I completely identify with the role of Creative Spiritual mother. I can be that! I am that! I can do that!

And in being true to my own nature as a mother to my daughter, she benefits in so many ways. There is no longer this lie of a role I’ve been trying to force myself into. She senses that. She knows that. She can feel that. And as a result, our relationship is so much deeper, more loving and better connected.

The form of our relationship has morphed dramatically and we no longer fight like we used to. Our time together is genuine, rich and joyful.

My daughter has many mothers, like the Aboriginal children, in the form of my former wife, my daughter’s God-moms, her step-mom and me! And as I have been on this spiritual initiation, I am immensely grateful to all of them for holding the space, for holding her, with such loving kindness and generosity.

At 15, my daughter is beginning to grok that this is not about dislike or abandonment, but about learning how to love oneself enough to honor right relationship. And that Right Relationship is vastly different for everyone. It doesn’t have to look like the mold that we’ve forced ourselves into for generations. She gets to experience what it is to love ourselves enough that, however painful it may feel to break that mold, following our hearts and our deepest soul-knowing results in true, right relationship even though everyone else might tell us we are wrong.

She feels it. She knows my love. My open-hearted love that is growing free from guilt and blame and shame. This is the greatest gift I can give my child. And she is the greatest gift I have ever received

Sharon Eisenhauer