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  • joannaburridge

On Mothering Sunday...mothering/smothering...what the heck is it all about anyway?

If you're in the UK, this year Mothering Sunday falls on 27th March. Mothering Sunday has different origins than Mother's Day (which is celebrated in the USA) and is a much older tradition. The original Christian Festival was about remembering Mary, the mother of Jesus,(scope for a whole feminist theology blog there) and the 'Mother Church'. It's always on the 4th Sunday in Lent, and became a day when servants would be given a day off to go back to their mother church, which generally involved a visit to their mothers too. So, the origins aren't really anything to do about mothers or mums, but the focus has changed over the years so that it is often about celebrating our mothers.

Okay - this doesn't mean that we have to celebrate, or do anything in particular. There are all kinds of reasons why some people will not want to mark this day. Their own mum may have passed away, or their own child. They may have a complicated relationship with their mum or children. If we are adopted, or bringing up step-children or unable to have children, that brings additional grief and challenges. If we were unable to bring our children home, or never met them - that again is tragic too. There are many more reasons and circumstances why mother's day can be difficult. It's okay not to mark it, it's okay to feel ambivalent or sad.

I think for me. some of my musings are about quite what are we celebrating? And why? Have we fallen for a rose-tinted image of our mum as the perfect mother? Do we see ourselves as perfect mums? Or aspire to be one? There's often quite a mismatch between the fantasy and reality. Before I had my first child , I thought I'd spend at least some of my maternity leave crafting some precious baby items, and once they were born, walk around serenely with them in their baby sling...(I failed to make one baby item , let alone the range I had contemplated ) Over the years, through hearing the experience of others as well as my own, I think it's fair to say that pretty much all of us are far from perfect - being a 'good enough' mum is really good enough.

And there isn't an ultimate blueprint for how to be the good enough mum - everyone is different. Everyone will parent differently, and make different choices as we are all parenting different children. It's good to share our experiences and things that are helpful, but we don't need to be prescriptive.

Typically, mother's day can focus a lot on what our mothers do for us. Now there's certainly nothing wrong in that - it's good to appreciate our loved ones - ideally more than once a year though :). But I think it's important not just to focus on what our mums do for us, but the person they actually are - mums are humans too :) They certainly aren't perfect, or saintly, they screw up, they get things wrong. They have a life and personality beyond 'mothering' and it's important to recognise and celebrate that too. They also bring their experience and personality to the way they parent.

Our relationships with our own mothers is one of our most formative relationships and can impact upon the people we become. Depending on whether we felt mothered, smothered or ignored and abandoned may shape our relationships with others - and how we feel about ourselves - for years to come. As mothers ourselves we may repeat the cycle, or do the exact opposite. It can be a tricky path too as our children grow to get the balance right- I can be the 'bad cop' of the parenting combo, but also fighting my children's battles - with maybe a hint of smothering :(

In counselling, there's lots of different ways people might explore these dynamics and relationships. For many clients, the hardest bit can be getting started because we can often feel incredibly disloyal about talking to someone else about our mums,our families, irrespective of the quality of the relationship and whether they are still in our lives. But a lot of clients can find this work incredibly helpful. And counselling gives you that safe space to do the work. It's not a place of judgement, blaming or taking sides...

And, whether you are a mother or a child - or both - make time to look after yourself and 'mother' yourself today too.

(Please note inclusion of a nice bunch of flowers below)

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