May 13th, 2018. The best of us will have it marked off on the calendar, gift and plans firmly at hand for the celebration of the mother in our lives. Just as likely, you fall among the crowd that reaches for the phone as the sun is setting, a weighing sense of failed expectation settling upon your shoulders as you type your mother's phone number.
Perhaps, this day will sneak up on you and pounce when you are least expecting, bringing with it a mixture of anxious excitement and unwanted shame. Perhaps this is not a straightforward day for you because it carries a reminder of loss - maybe your relationship with your mother is broken, in repair, distant. For me, this day brings multi-faceted reflections and a plethora of thoughts - the humbling realization that I do not always love my mother well, the stark reality that both my mother and I bring hurt to our interactions, and the recognition that I still deeply desire for more in my relationship with my mother.
The challenge of approaching Mother's Day with sensitivity is a great one. Even in this space, I struggle to find the words to appropriately acknowledge the complexity of experiences that we each bring to that word: motherhood. There is not a long enough list of descriptors that one could use to describe it: pain, joy, delight, loss, anger, comfort, rejection, strain, protection, victory, neglect, love. Perhaps ironically, the challenge of engaging with this day (that so many see as synonymous with flowers and celebration) speaks to the nature, the very essence of motherhood itself.
We all have mothers, whether it is their absence or presence that has affected us, whether we are in relationship with them or not.
Many of us experience motherhood from multiple perspectives and roles: as daughters, mothers, and grandmothers, whether each of these has been a joyful or sorrowful journey.
But none of us have walked the same story surrounding motherhood, whether we feel alone in that journey or not.
Rather than constructing a perfect, single representation of Mother's Day, I instead offer you here a collection of stories, stories of mothers and daughters, stories that have landed in our palms here at the7dayringproject. I do not offer a single narrative, but a mosaic of narratives, from an eclectic group of women around the world. While I wish we had the time and resources to fully explore the wide and varied landscape of motherhood, an exploration of which I would be utterly incapable of doing justice, all I can offer is six different women's responses to the question "What does motherhood mean to you?"
My hope is that, if nothing else, you might find here in these pages a voice of motherhood that is new to you - one you have not heard before, one that enriches your heart on this journey of womanhood.
The words of Salem: mother, entrepreneur, and friend of the7dayringproject. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
I went into the mothers' work area and spoke to them and asked them about what it means to be a mother. One woman volunteered. She was one of the senior mothers. She doesn't know her exact age but my guess is that she would be on either side of 70.
Her name is Birtukan Wondimu. She is a mother of three sons, two of which are twins. The one brother is married and has a family. She is also a grandmother of an 8 year old daughter.
While talking about her life as a mother, she painfully and vividly remembers raising three young children all alone.
About thirty years ago, during the Derg years, her husband joined the military. From what she recalls now, he was deployed to one of the fronts where there was civil war and she never heard back from him. To this day she doesn't know whatever happened to him.
Since she did not have any source of income and was relying on her husband for their livelihood, she struggled very much in the beginning. She earned income by making and selling injera (fermented crepe-like flat bread) and different types of bread from her home.
Motherhood, for her, was responsibility, nurture, hard-work, the biggest reward being the success of her children.
With her children all grown up, and all that hard work behind her, now she is a content mother. She is very grateful to God for bringing her this far in her life.
Motherhood to me is the greatest gift God has bestowed over women. I am a mother of 3 and motherhood has given me joy and love that I would have not known otherwise.
While I was pregnant with our firstborn son, a woman friend of mine said to me, "Pregnancy and motherhood means taking part in God's Creation. God is creating the person in you and He has given you a part in that." I thought and still think what she said is so profound and true. Feeling a person growing in you and then going through the intense birthing process in itself is the greatest miracle.
The bond between my children and I is so powerful. We understand one another even if words are not spoken. Their pain is my pain and their joy is my joy.
I am very grateful to God for creating me as a woman and blessing me with motherhood.
The words of Chandler Davis, daughter and dear friend of the7dayringproject. Vancouver, B.C.
If I'm perfectly honest, I grew up needing to look for role models in other women, and it was challenging to find not only someone who I connected with, but could be inspiring simply by who they are. Enter Francine. My friendship with Francine has been nothing short of a gift, and it's not because she is a phenomenal cook or knows how to pick a great find from a farmer's market, but it is her encouragement, her resilience, and her love of caring for other people that continually astounds me. She has been an incredible mother to her son Eric, and has mothered me and my sister countless, undeserved times. From university, where she helped me through one of the most challenging situations of my life , to caring for me after I was sick post wisdom teeth removal, Francine lives into what she believes is her calling to care. It is these maternal elements in living a life that is generous and hospitable that I can only hope I can do in my interactions and friendships. Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers, and exceptional mother figures like Francine Parker!
Two stories of mothers from Mele Gagula, Ethiopia. Many thanks to our friends at HOPE International for sharing Adanech and Abebech's stories.
Adanech Ayele lives in Mele Gagula, a small community in the hills of Southern Ethiopia. She has six children. Access to clean water has made a big difference in Adanech's life. The largest change for her is the amount of time in her daily life. This extra time has allowed her to join a savings group and break out of the cycle of living day to day.
Adanech joined her self help group and started to learn about how to participate in decision making, how to start a small business, and how to engage other members of the community about social issues. Adanech used her training and knowledge to open a small restaurant in her village.
The entire experience has allowed her to begin to earn income for her family, create strong relationships with the women in her group, and improve the health and sanitation of her family. Through the hygiene education that complements the water system, she has also learned the importance of vaccinations, using improved sanitation facilities, and the benefits of family planning.
Through access to clean water and starting a small business, Adanech is now able to provide for her family and continue to break the cycle of poverty. She and her husband are working to make a better life for their children and themselves.
Abebech also lives in the Mele Gagula. When HOPE International Development Agency met Abebch, her husband and 7 children walked 15 - 20 km just to get water. Every day they walked hours just to get water that had the potential to make them sick. Every year women like Abebech die from water like this. In fact more women die simply from water that they have no choice to drink than from any form of violence.
The good news is that through the help of many generous friends of HOPE International, the community of Mele Gagula received enough support to build their own water system. This means that Abebach and hundreds of other women and their families have the strength, health, and freedom to start focusing on building a future instead of just trying to survive each day. Abebach has been able to join a self help group with other women in the community to take loans and start small businesses such as tea shops, retailing potato seeds, collecting coffee to sell in other markets, and different individual and group businesses. Abebach was able to build a small tea shop that helps bring income to her family.
We asked Abebech about how things have changed over the last year. "It is so amazing to me because I have water so close to my house. It's given our family more energy and time to make money. I have been so happy seeing my children become stronger. My family' health and hygiene has increased and we can now look forward to a better future."
Thoughts from Pips Ebersole, mother, daughter, and dear friend of the author. Turlock, California.
For me, motherhood is a calling, something I was supposed to do. It has been both the greatest privilege and toughest job of my life. This role is a beautiful gift, but it certainly isn’t always easy. On the bad days - amidst the temper tantrums, the stubbornness and the disobedience - even then, perhaps especially then, I am called to love.
I realize now how much your childhood shapes you. Even though it is proportionally such a small percentage of your life, your childhood is intrinsically connected with the adult you become. What’s happening now in my children’s lives is so fundamental, so foundational, so shaping and growing... and it’s scary because I’m human and flawed. There is beauty in that thought, that I get to be such a key part of laying the foundation, but there are also so many external factors outside of my control that the pressure to be a perfect mother can be overwhelming. I have learned a lot about grace, and about letting go.
I keep thinking with each new season “now this is motherhood” and yet that feeling is surpassed by the next season and the next. I truly have learned how seasonal life is and how I always need to be learning and surrendering.
One of the hardest parts of motherhood has been how often my own struggles and insecurities have been magnified and pushed into the spotlight. I remember first processing this during the newborn stage with my first child. I was so struck by the uniqueness of motherhood, and the realization that it was a different calling even from fatherhood. There was now someone totally and entirely dependant on me; I was no longer just me, no longer autonomous. You come face to face with your own selfishness in motherhood, in areas of yourself that you didn’t even know existed. It’s a beautiful thing, for there is joy in this sacrifice, but it’s definitely a process: a long, good journey.
Motherhood is a beautiful and complex part of being human - thank you for journeying with us. Whether we experience mothers, mother-figures or motherhood itself, let us use this day as a locus for conversation around what it means to be women: growing, thriving, and flourishing, and what it means to raise women with the tools to grow, thrive, and flourish.
JACKIE HART SMITH
External Events + Public Relations Coordinator at the7dayringproject