Re-Thinking Mother’s Day

May 13, 2018 — Lisa Barstow


Today we are celebrating Mother’s Day and while I am very happy that there is a day on the calendar that honors women who have taken this role and have experienced its blessing in their lives, I am aware that there are many women who have either not been able to conceive or carry a child to term and many who have chosen not to be mothers. In this 21st century, it is also important to remember the men who have husbands, and with a surrogate have become fathers. They are, no doubt, wonderful Dad’s and are celebrated on Father’s Day, but perhaps one of these men in the partnership identifies more strongly as mother.  Who’s to say their maternal instincts aren’t just as strong as a woman’s? Indeed, I know men whose hearts are opened wider than some women’s.

To make my point I remember driving with my granddaughter Leila when she was around five and we passed her friend Olivia’s house and she said: “GrandLisa, Olivia is so lucky!” I asked her why and she replied “Because she has two Daddy’s and two Mommy’s!” I don’t need to explain how this worked in this message, but I do think it is indicative of the mind of a 21st century child! Hallmark may have marketed a message decades ago, but it’s not the whole message now.

I loved reading the history of Mother’s Day that Paula printed in the bulletin. I had forgotten its radical feminist roots. I believe the following quote by anthropologist Margaret Mead would have been appreciated by Ann Reeves Jarvis and her daughter Anna, who endeavored to fight the limitation and sentimentality of what Mother’s Day had become.

“ There is no evidence that women are naturally better at caring for children- with the fact of child-bearing out of the center of attention, there is even more reason for treating girls first as human beings, then as women. Every time we liberate a woman we liberate a man.”

This thinking certainly wasn’t spoken of in my family. Actually, in my family there was a certain disdain for Mother’s Day- It was thought of as “tacky” and a quick phone call of well wishes was perfectly adequate. I remember one year after my second child was born the first person to wish me Happy Mother’s Day was the kind doorman who worked in the building I lived in in New York. Of course all that changed when I reacted rather angrily that just because certain members of our family (my mother and mother in law) didn’t feel a need to acknowledge mothers I was NOT them and I wanted some well- deserved attention!

But as I began to think of what to say on this day I also thought of Mother’s who have served as symbols of compassion and deep abiding love. Women like Mother Mary and Mother Teresa, the Goddesses of fertility Demeter, Isis of Egypt and Cybele, Mother Goddess of Rome. Then of course, Mother Earth or Gaia, the World’s Mother known as the Mother Archetype who lives in all women and men. I found the following poem by Charlotte Perkins Gilman that illustrates Her importance:

“So- when the great word, “Mother!” rang once more,

I saw at last its meaning and its place;

Not the blind passion of the brooding past,

 But Mother- the World’s Mother- come at last,

To love as she had never loved before,

To read and guard and teach the human race.”

It is my belief that this Great Mother, like Father God, dwells in us all whether we have brought a baby out of the womb, or don’t have a womb at all. Would you call this a Universal Truth? I would.

I suppose one could say that Mother Teresa is a fine example of the World’s Mother who came “to love as she had never loved before, to read and guard and teach the human race.” Her Christian charity had no bounds and she saw everyone, no matter their position in life, as Christ’s children worthy of love and care. She exemplified the unconditional love of a mother. She knew from her heart and soul how to mother, even though her body never brought a new human being into the world. Instead, her love and compassion brought humans into Christ’s Love, which is a birth all of its own.

Every human being born to this Earth comes from a female and so it makes sense that when Carl Jung was writing about the concept of inner Archetypes that represent universal patterns of human nature, he said that the Mother Archetype is the most important one of all. Indeed, she shows up as Gaia- the Earth Mother, World Mother, and in myths and fairy tales, usually as a wicked step mother, or as the Good Witch, for example in the Wizard of Oz, who is able to show Dorothy that she herself knows how to get Home. Home being the metaphor for her True Self.

These Archetypes that Jung researched and wrote about show up across the cultures and reside within the collective unconscious of people the world over. They constitute the myths and religious stories of humankind, and originate in the dreams and fantasies of individuals through the ages. The Mother reminds us of the breadth and depth of Her influence on us all, whether we are men or women, and whether we have given birth or not.

As I begin to close this message on Mother’s Day I want to acknowledge that each theme I have brought up about mothers could be a talk unto itself. I understand my remarks have been quite general!  So I hope you will indulge me because I have one more example that I’d like to share:

Many years ago I was fortunate to meet and work with a priest and counselor, the late Michael Dwinell.  Michael wrote a most interesting book called God-Birthing, and the essence of his message is that while we are being birthed over and over again by the Mother- Father God in this lifetime and perhaps beyond, we are also birthing this numinous energy. This feels to me like a metaphor for the inhale and exhale of our breath, and for the ebb and flow of the tides. We help God to Become as we are also helped by God. How beautiful to imagine that in our striving to be humans in loving kindness our own vibrational field is adding to the highest good and positive energy of the God- Force I will call Love. One of Michael’s quotes in his book reads: “Understanding living is, in fact, nothing less than the labor pains of God’s Becoming.” Of course this is something we all do whether we’re biological mothers or not.

I shall end with this quote by late 13th and early 14th century preacher and mystic Meister Eckhart:

From all eternity

God lies on a maternity bed

Giving birth.

The essence of God is birthing

We are all meant

To be Mothers of God.


Thank you and Happy Mother’s Day to Everyone!