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Column: How many 'mothers' will you be celebrating this Mother’s Day?

Our changing society brings it’s own challenges – with some children in blended families celebrating more than one mother figure, writes Joanna Fortune.

Joanna Fortune

MOTHER’S DAY IS this Sunday (10 March 2013) and for lots of families this is not as simple as a day to bring your mother flowers – because, for lots of people, there are additional challenges associated with living in blended families and having more than one “mother” to attend to while being cognisant you don’t inadvertently offend anyone.

It is important to remember that Mother’s Day is a way to celebrate and appreciate our mothers and mother figures, which can include godmothers, grandmothers mothers-in-law, step-mothers, aunts, foster-mothers and the all-inclusive card I saw this week “You’re like a Mother to Me”, which covers any woman who serves this role in your life.

Changing families

I grew up in my family home with my siblings and parents in one house with my grandmother and aunt living next door. We had two different front gardens but the same back garden. We very much had an open and shared mothering experience, with there always being someone to tell you what to do and equally someone to offer you a shoulder to cry on – indeed we could pick the shoulder to suit the particular situation. My mother did the cooking and my grandmother did all clothes washing/ironing and we had open doors between the houses so that we could come and go easily from either. I consider myself very privileged to have had this kind of mothering while growing up, and am happy at this time of year to have not one but three mothers to buy Mother’s Day gifts for.

But this is not always the case for children, or even adults, who find themselves with more than one mother to appreciate at this time of year. One child recently said to me that they always got an “uh-oh” feeling (what we call anxiety) around this time of year because she didn’t want to upset her mum by making a card and gift for her step-mother and equally didn’t want her step-mother to think she didn’t love or appreciate her by leaving her out so she didn’t know what to do.

This is too much for children to manage, their attachment process is ever-evolving at this stage and, as much as is possible, the adults in a blended family must take responsibility for ensuring this is easier on the children involved. Even if the adults on not all on positive terms with each other perhaps a mum or dad can step in and suggest a compromise of making a Mother’s Day card for their mother and a Mother’s Day picture for the step-mother so that the child knows they are not causing anyone offence or themselves unnecessary upset.

The role and influence of mothering

A search for a clear definition of what is a mother throws up “A mother is a woman who has given birth to and/or raised a child but because of the complexity of a mother’s social, cultural and religious definitions and roles it is not possible to provide a universally acceptable definition for the term”. So there you have it, each of us will have a different understanding of what constitutes our mother based on our unique social/cultural and/or religious beliefs… and this is ok!

If we can take a step back and hold in mind what Mother’s Day is intended for, it may help us better understand how and with whom we choose to celebrate it. For me, and I suspect most of us, Mother’s Day is a day to celebrate and acknowledge the role and influence of mothering and maternal bonds in society and in our individual lives, and this can extend beyond the one woman who gave birth to us and even the woman who raised us.

We have increasing numbers separation/divorce and, by association, of second relationships in Ireland and there is an ever increasing number of children who are growing up with more than one mother figure and I hope that we, as a society, can get to a place where we can see that this is not necessarily a bad thing and that we can make such occasions as these easier for our children. I grew up with three maternal figures but always knew who my mother was and who had the final word on things, it’s about boundaries and clear communication between parents and their respective partners and children always do best in families where there are clear, consistent boundaries with open communication.

So, stop and think this year how many mothers you might want to acknowledge and know that whatever that number is, is exactly as it should be for you and if you are a parent in a blended family situation try see how you can make this easier for your children to manage.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the wonderful women who are mothering in a variety of ways to raise the next generation of children as best we all can – because that certainly is something worth celebrating!

Joanna Fortune is a clinical psychotherapist working with children and families for over 12 years. She is the founder and director of Solamh Parent Child Relationship Clinic in Dublin. For more info, call 01 6976568 or follow on Twitter: @solamh

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Joanna Fortune

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