To love and honor our mothers without questioning whether or not they are worthy—this is the charge before us on this Mother’s Day.
All of our mothers, for roughly nine-and-a-half, life-changing, and arduous months, sacrificed bodily and emotional comforts to bring us into this world. If you are breathing, living, reading this right now, you have come through the womb of a mother who nurtured your fragile and developing body. For those nine months, alone, we owe our mothers deference, and without condition.
As our life giver, our mother is the ultimate source of our Earthly experience. We are of our mothers, and there is no changing this. We are her flesh, her blood, and her DNA.
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And while some of us may have inherited her physical features or personality traits, for some, it may be that we have also inherited her trauma, her dysfunction, and her pain.
To assume that we have all been so fortunate to have positive and glowing experiences with our mothers, and to demand shining tributes on Mother’s Day, would be to smite those with different experiences, perhaps traumatic experiences that may have left them wounded.
What if our mothers have left us wounded? What if our mothers bring us pain? How are we to honor them, and do they deserve our respect?
I say, yes. Yes, we honor them, and without conditions. Here is why:
Loving our dear mothers, unconditionally, validates their sacrifice, and even their unhealed pains. Loving them unconditionally says, “Mom, I see you, for all that you are, and all that you had to give. I am here for you. I love you.” And we may even say, “Mom, I forgive you, and I love you still.”
No matter what it is that we have inherited from our dear mothers, physical or emotional, whatever she provided to us as needy and hopeful children, it was her very best. If she gave us love and tenderness, this was simply because it was her very best. And if she gave us something less of herself, perhaps leaving more to be desired in a mother, that was also her best. This does not mean that she could not have done better. What this does mean is that she gave all that she had the physical and emotional capacity to give. And how can we not value her, and simply see her, for doing her very best?
Our mothers, especially, love and honor us proportionate to the degree in which they have learned to love and honor themselves. After all, we are an extension of them.
And as we critique the love of our mothers, it is worth pause and reflection to ask ourselves, just how much have our mothers learned to love themselves? Who taught them? Or didn’t. Did their mothers, their fathers, and their caretakers build them up with confidence? Did their life experiences leave them strong and grounded, hopeful and devoted? Or bitter and broken.
Today, as Indigenous, we often speak passionately and empathetically of our collective pain, lambasting the colonial paradigm that has inflicted grave historical trauma. Yet if we link our own communal dysfunction to historical trauma, as we should, we cannot leave our beautiful and worthy Indigenous mothers out of this awareness.
Who was our mother’s mother? How did she mother them and love them? What was their experience?
If our mothers have indeed been wounded by life, by the residue of historical trauma, abuse, and pain, can we and shouldn’t we still love them unconditionally, just as we wish for someone to love us?
Sophacles, the Greek playwright, said, “Children are the anchors that hold a mother to life.”
Is it possible to love our wounded indigenous mothers back to life? Do we not owe them that much?
The choice is yours. It is your choice to love them unconditionally. It is your choice to love them back to life.
I am a mother. I imagine the pain of the sheer possibility of my son, for whatever reason, choosing someday not to love me unconditionally, but to withhold his love, finding fault in my actions, not seeing that I did my best. Every day, for my son, I do my best.
I am a daughter. I have a beautiful, gentle, naturally flawed, and silly mother. I have learned to love her without conditions, just as she loves me. For every physical and emotional sacrifice, for every gesture of love and devotion, for every tender thought she carries in her heart for her children and grandchildren, I owe her no less.
I look at my hands, aging like her hands, and I give thanks for her.
Sometimes I ask myself, how could I ever repay my mom? How do I match her lifelong sacrifice? I have finally figured it out: Love her and honor her, without conditions.
As my son grows and evolves into a man, it is my unaffected hope he chooses the same way. I hope that he can always love me, and without prerequisites, knowing that I have done my personal best.
To be a mother is not without sacrifice, it is never without love, and naturally, not without pain. Life is not without pain.
So we must remember, all of our mothers have a story. And perhaps if we show them unreserved love and acceptance, maybe they will share their story with us, and in doing so, maybe, Creator and Universe willing, they will set about the journey of healing themselves, and then loving themselves more. We all deserve that much.
So to my very own selfless, loving, and sweet mother, who has indeed shown me how to love without conditions, this is exactly how I will love her. To ipia, my beautiful mom, Happy Mother’s Day, I love you, with all of my heart. I love you for loving me, and always without conditions.
And to every single mother of the world, who carried us and nurtured our bodies, without our ever asking, thank you for giving of yourselves. You are loved and cherished on this day, for giving us love and for giving us life. On this Mother’s Day, you are honored, without conditions.
Sarah Sunshine Manning (Shoshone-Paiute, Chippewa-Cree) is a mother, educator, activist, and an advocate for youth. Follow her at @SarahSunshineM.