I imagined my first blog for this year would be about my new years resolution as I have done for the last few years. But as it seems, my spirit has still not yet settled from the transition into the new year. I like to wait until I feel confident in my intentions for the year before I articulate them, which sometimes takes me like a quarter of the year, which only leaves me the rest 3/4ths to actually work on those intentions, but hey that's me! I will say that I am feeling like this year will revolve around the concept of transformation, but I will leave that for another blog entry.
Today, rather, I would like to share some thoughts I wrote on the topic of motherhood. I wrote this as an introduction to an assignment for my students, but realized these thoughts ended up being much more profound for me that I expected. One of reasons I have not been able to write the blog about my new years resolution, is because I have been experiencing some pretty rough anxiety lately. To say that to the public is actually pretty scary for me, as I don't usually like to talk about my mental health in public spaces. For anyone who is familiar with anxiety your know how crippling it can sometimes be. And so in writing these thoughts on motherhood for my class I started to feel some relief from the anxiety, thus realizing how healing sharing my thoughts on something so personal can be. And of course as a Chicana feminist academic and social justice advocate, I know how important sharing personal stories can be toward fighting the collective struggle.
So here is it is, the introduction to an assignment I gave my students, along with the instructions for the assignment itself, if you would like to partake. The assignment is to write a letter to your mother or mother figure, so I included the one I wrote to my mom.
In my own experience with my mother, I often had resentful feelings about our relationship. When I had my own children those resentments worsened and yet I began to understand her on a deeper level. That might seem contradictory but I am trying to heal the concept of motherhood in my life. I try to consider the experience of motherhood in general within the larger context of the white heteropatriarchal world we live in. I also try to understand some of my mother’s actions and ways of being as part of a legacy of colonization that forces our mothers to fight for survival and teach their children these survival mechanisms, leaving little room for mothers and children to create holistic and thriving relationships and bonds. I am not meaning to generalize, just trying to put mother-child strained relationships in context with social injustice. When you are the product of generations of economic, political, and social disenfranchisement, parenting and motherhood is uniquely challenging to say the least. My mother wanted me to be able to survive in the world without her. She always made clear I need to prepare for adulthood which included being able to cook for myself, to keep an organized home, to be aware of the potential dangers of the world, to be strong and stand up for myself. Pretty much the qualities in life one would need to survive. Great qualities anyone would need, but compassion, empathy, vulnerability, emotional literacy were not always on that list. I realize now that my resentment comes from the lack of these softer qualities I so desperately craved and still crave from my mother. This is not to say she did not have any of these qualities, it’s to say they were not as emphasized as necessary to survive as an adult. And yet, I now her inability to fully express compassion, empathy, vulnerability and emotion, is not her fault, it really is no one’s fault. It is a result of systematic patriarchy, white supremacy and colonization that constructed motherhood through the lens of whiteness and elitism. (For more info on this history you can do some research on "the cult of true womanhood") So that working class women like my mother, her mother, and her mother before her, had to both meet an impossible standard of white motherhood including sole responsibility for the emotional and physical growth of their children, while working to put food on the table. The pressure on mothers for perfectionism is immeasurable and real! And yet mothers are still people trying to deal with their own emotional, physical and spiritual health. But they are expected to put all of that aside to sacrifice for their children. The idea of giving up yourself for your children is ridiculous because no one wins when that happens. In my own family, when mental health is talked about, things like anxiety and depression, the response is often that those things are just a part of being a mother. Anxiety in my family is hereditary, but not because it is ingrained in our DNA, it is because previous generations did not have the time, space, knowledge or other necessary resources to heal. My ancestors might not have had the language to name where that anxiety came from, to call it patriarchy or white supremacy, or capitalism. And even if they did they did not have the resources to confront it. They were just trying to live to see the next day. Of course my mother did not have time to read parenting books or take parenting classes, or listen to parenting podcasts like I do, she worked 6 days a week, had dinner on the table every night, was the emotional support for my father, and us. She did the best she could for the resources she had. My privilege as a highly formally educated women and mother has allowed me access to more resources so of course my parenting will be different. My education has given me the ability to see the challenges of motherhood in the larger context of systemic oppression, while allowing me space to strategize ways to push back against these oppressive forces, all while my mother watches my children. This perspective is helping me to heal my relationship with my mom while working toward implementing more holistic approaches to motherhood and parenting with my own children, thus hoping to heal the collective understanding of motherhood. I’m just trying to do my part, while also trying to survive.
I hope we can reflect on the history of the social constructions of motherhood so that we understand how the pressures mothers face today are a direct result of white cis-hetero-patriarchy. Not to mention the ways in which capitalism de-values and endangers mothers, particularly mothers of color. When my cousin shares her story in her blog of struggling to find her own path as a mother, without judgement or expectation, she is articulating patriarchy’s impact on the real lives of mothers, even if she does not or cannot name it that. When I read this, I thought, yes!, this is a great example of the experience of many moms. She is validating the often unnamable feelings of so many moms. Her story is important because when mothers tell their stories we begin to see the collective struggle, and hopefully learn how to support each other, and demand support from society and institutions.
In that spirit, let us recognize and honor the moms who are pushing back on these oppressive forces everyday on a powerful level. Please go to the following website and check out the work of these mothers, what they are fighting for and how they are doing that work. They do a great job of combining survival techniques, with scholarly context, with ground level social justice.
I would also like you to write a letter to your mother, or a mother figure in your life, whether alive or deceased, whether near or far from you. Validate their struggles by acknowledging the challenges this person has faced in their lives. Validate their power by acknowledging how they overcame these challenges. Validate their beauty by acknowledging all the qualities in them you admire. And lastly, validate their love by making a list of the things they have done for you and how much you appreciate them. End with a note of your love for them. You can either send it to them, read it to them, or fold it up and burn it sending it to the spirit world. If we are to decolonize motherhood, we must first heal mothers, let this letter be an act of healing.
I am writing this letter to you as part of an assignment that I created for my students, and thus wanted to partake in the activity as well. The topic we discussed in class is motherhood, and I will let you read the assignment another time so you understand the inspiration for this assignment. To sum it up, however, I want to emphasize how important it is to validate the experience of mothers in the world, the struggles, the adversity, and the love mothers have every day. Sooo…
Mom I see and recognize the challenges you have faced in your life, especially as a mom. You found yourself a young mom, while your husband worked around the clock leaving you alone with your child much of the time. I see how difficult that was when you had to work as well, and try to meet the needs of a young child. I see how hard it was to work a lot just you could afford to give us the best possible education. I know it must not have been easy to miss out on our games and races because you had to work, I know you would have love to have been there for every moment. And you survived all of those challenges to see a brighter future. You raised a son who passes on many of the lessons you taught him to his own children. You raised a daughter who learned from you how to be a woman in a sexist society and still be confident and unapologetic about who she is. You raised both your children to reach for their highest potential, both of us completing doctoral degrees!! That’s a big deal for YOU mom! Those are as much your accomplishments as they are ours. Those lonely nights without dad when you were struggling with my brother by yourself, those long work days when you relied on others to pick us up from school, they were all worth it. And I see that, and am so grateful for all of that sacrifice, for all of the hardships you endured and your ability to overcome adversity. I admire your courage to speak your mind with such confidence knowing you stand on a lifetime of wisdom, knowledge and life experience. I admire your ability to talk to people with such patience and genuine care. I admire your talent in your career, marked by the trusted loyalty of so many of your clients, including myself. I admire your devotion to God and your faith even in times of despair and heartbreak. I admire your commitment to family and always showing up for family when you are needed. I admire your heart for charity and giving even in times when you yourself might have but little to give. I admire your confidence in who you are physically, emotionally and spiritually.
I can never thank you enough for everything you have done for me throughout my life and even today. For watching my kids, I know that is not easy on you, for feeding them, for caring for and loving them. I thank you for always supporting me financially, working your whole life to give me the opportunity to do what I love, and you continue to make that possible. I thank you for washing my dishes and my clothes, giving me a few less chores to think about during a hectic week. I thank you for all the life lessons you have taught me throughout my life, as you have become a voice of guidance when I am lost in life even when you are not there. Mostly, thank you for loving me for who I am, for allowing me to fly even when you were scared I might fall. For being the unconditional support for me when I dare to take risks. For giving me a place to call home I know I will always be able to go back to no matter what happens in life. I love you so much mom.