Often touted as a day to celebrate the most natural connection in the world, Mother's Day can be a time fraught with sensitivity for many. From those who have lost mothers and those who desired to be mothers but never had the chance, to those who have lost children. However, the inherent drive to protect and comfort those around us isn't solely restricted to conventional motherhood. Whenever we look beyond our own needs to foster and nurture the needs of others, we take on the role of mothers. Extending far beyond the bounds of biology, motherhood encompasses a connection to each other and to the world around us.
"It seems to me that there is something missing in human society," muses English paediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott in an essay titled 'The Mother's Contribution to Society'. "Children grow up and become in their turn fathers and mothers, but, on the whole, they do not grow up to know and acknowledge just what their mothers did for them at the start." While Winnicott isn't proposing children thank their parents for the mere act of having them, he reflects that a mother's contributions to the growth and development of an individual, and in turn society, often goes overlooked.
"Is not this contribution of the devoted mother unrecognized precisely because it is immense?", asks Winnicott. "If this contribution is accepted, it follows that every man or woman who is sane, every man or woman who has the feeling of being a person in the wold, and for whom the world means something, every happy person, is in infinite debt to a woman."
In a time when many of us automatically divert to skepticism over support, there is something beautiful about those who unconditionally dedicate their time and energy to aid those who are still learning to wade through life. "Motherhood for me was at first a kind of displacement. It forced me, at least partially, into a secondary position in my own life," author Zadie Smith once wrote. From relatives and lovers to teachers and caretakers, there are a plethora of people - often women but not always - who have served as a guiding force in the lives of children and adults alike. Whether it's the sharing of stories, an off-hand comment about the importance of pursuing one's dreams, or ongoing encouragement, the selfless support lent by the mothers and surrogate mothers around us cannot be underestimated.
Much like our intrinsic desire to nurture those who are still stumbling through life or beginning anew, Mother Earth shared the same views towards her inhabitants. We're aware of the therapeutic effects being present in nature can have on our physical and emotional well-being, however, for many cultures, the connection to Mother Earth runs far deeper.
"Indigenous women worldwide know where the sacred springs are; where the plants necessary for food and medicines are found; and the animals who instruct us," write the Women of Bear Ears in an article for NYT. "The women hold this traditional knowledge and pass it on to their children." For these women, nature provides a direct source of solace and support, serving as a not only the birthplace of themselves and their children but also as athe burial location of their ancestors, linking them blood to the land. For these women, people and earth are one, with ancestral land like Bear Ears thought of as both a protector and a being to protect.
A similar sentiment is shared by American author and botanist Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer who talks about the concept of becoming naturalized to place. "Live as if this is the land that feeds you, as if these are the streams from which you drink, that build you body and fill your spirit," she writes in Braiding Sweetgrass. "Live as if your children's future matters, to take care of the land as if our lives and the lives of all our relatives depend on it. Because they do."
This Mother's Day, we're honouring the women in our lives who have cared for us, nurtured our spirits, taught us how to love and be loved, and inspried us to make the world a better place.