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Relational Reflections: Yes, another blog, and this one’s from Dr. Nadine and Dr. Zan at True Heights

Honoring Women, Caretakers, and All Things “Female”

Dr. Zan’s Thoughts:

We would be remiss if not to acknowledge that Mother’s Day is upon us this weekend. For many this is an emotionally loaded holiday and one which I personally have come to embrace as an opportunity to honor and support all women, much in the manner that the beautiful Women Kick Glass organization does. I have the utmost gratitude for being a woman who is graced by the company of powerful, loving, encouraging women on a daily basis. Let me speak to some of the experiences of being a woman that totally rock for me. For any men who dare to read this, please know this post has nothing to do with diminishing men. I happen to be a huge fan of men, starting with a particular fondness for a very special father who did more than most of his generational peers to raise me. However, my bond with women is something timely and important to raise up.

First of all, being a woman rocks because we get to develop, as Carol Gilligan elegantly theorized, in relation. Our connection to the person who gives birth to us--another woman--does not require separation and differentiation in order to develop a gender identity. On the contrary, we can stay in close and emulate that person or eventually reject, as adolescence would have it. Yet, again referencing Gilligan, we learn to develop a web of connection, less likely the hierarchy that men are socialized to create. We are free to hug and hold hands with one another with far less concern for judgment or assumption than our male counterparts. To this day it pains me to watch men, whom I know to care deeply about one another, demonstrate reluctance or awkwardness when it comes time to greet or leave one another. You can feel the tension around the desire to express the closeness with a big old bear hug, and yet, many settle for a handshake or a brief back slapping gesture that is hard to put in the hug category. When I see two men engage equally in an affectionate hug, my heart soars!

The staying in close to a maternal figure can, of course, be a double edged sword. My mom has been gone for several years now and struggled with debilitating dementia before she passed, allowing me plenty of time to reflect upon our relationship. One of our fundamental differences was her love of formality and seriousness; my natural tendencies are expressed in a more light-hearted, irreverent style. While I often meant no disrespect to her, some was often taken. Interestingly enough, Mother’s Day was a time when our differences were highlighted. First of all, my mother wanted to have that exact title, “Mother.” I struggled with referencing her accordingly because it felt distant and stiff to me; for her it felt like the ultimate expression of love and respect. I wanted to give her a card that was funny and playful, referring to her as “Mom” or “Mommy,” but she thrilled to the perfumed, floral, rhyming verses that made me cringe. At some point I was able to ask myself, “Why can’t I just give her a card will make her happy instead of being so bent on expressing who I am with every gesture?” Perhaps Mother’s Day needn’t be about me. I ultimately felt better about myself when I could compromise on this little detail, despite my need to embrace genuineness in the rest of my life. Getting to a place of comfort with being a daughter, developing an appreciation for my mother’s positive intentions, and still being myself only happened with plenty of support and processing among best friends, sisters, and nieces--hence, being a woman rocks! We get to talk about anything and everything in great detail. I rest in the assurance that if it matters to me, it is going to matter at least to most of the close in women in my life.

Being a mom and auntie is a complete blessing for me too. I have permission and encouragement to be a nurturer, and that brings me the greatest joy. Having been blessed with the opportunity to have biological children has given me a deep appreciation for what my body can accomplish, miraculously so, and has resulted in a little less criticism about the way it looks. Social norms still leave me overly attentive to appearance, but I continue to work with that.

Perhaps you would like to join me in viewing Mother’s Day as an opportunity to honor all women--the mothers and the daughters-- and the beautiful connections that we often attribute to being female.

Dr. Nadine’s Reflections:

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t feel like a mom.  That feeling comes from long-ago, as far back as my entrance into the world.  As the first-born of my generation in my extended family, I had a predominant place among all the grandchildren, on both sides of the family.  As you can imagine, that had its ups and downs. Everything that I did as a kid was exciting because it was a new experience for my folks. My antics were enjoyed and celebrated (most of the time), as it often is when you watch a child growing up. But other times I must have presented dilemmas to my family; I can imagine my parents scratching their heads trying to figure out the best course of action to take.  I suspect my growing-up years were the template for my sibs and cousins who followed me.

As the first in line, my memory is that I was always the trailblazer and the caretaker.  I felt a distinct responsibility to take care of people around me, starting with my siblings.  When I was old enough, I became their “babysitter” when my parents went out (though they never listened to me!).  In college, I was a residence advisor for the largest floor of women on campus, and took care of their daily needs in the dorms.  Over time, I found myself planning lots of social events and managing workplace activities. I became a teacher, nurturing students’ academic and personal development.  My subsequent work as a psychologist expanded this directive to include people of all ages. Now, as a director of a department that provides counseling to university students, I take care of that group, plus the staff who also care for them.

Are you asking what this has to do with Mother’s Day?  First, I want to affirm all the beautiful ideas that Dr. Zan wrote about, in such an eloquent way.  Women who have the freedom to enjoy, embrace and affirm one another are to be honored. As part of all those magnificent things she described, I want to highlight the importance of the role of “caretaker” that mothers have traditionally held.  We can each identify at least one person who has had an immeasurable influence on us -- someone who has offered help, support, protection, encouragement, supervision, and who has provided for our needs. We may also recognize ourselves as special caretakers – ones that have done those very things for others.  Let’s not forget those of us who are “guardians” of our pets, who cherish the role of caring for our fur-babies, and for all those two and four-legged creatures who can’t care for themselves.

I want to remember that caretakers come in lots of different forms and have lots of different roles in our lives.  Your provider may not have been the person that you expected. Mothers aren’t always kind and loving; some are self-serving at the expense of their children; some are not healthy enough to effectively care for their offspring.  Others of us may have had relatives or friends who functioned as “mother” and nurtured us through our formative years.

I’m blessed to have had a mother who loved her family fiercely, who provided for us in healthy ways and who passed on values and behaviors that I hope I’ve stayed true to throughout my life.   So this weekend I’ll honor her (I’m sending one of those flowery cards that she especially appreciates, complete with perfume and scriptures. If you read my Valentine’s Day blog, that won’t surprise you).  I’d encourage you to find your caretaker and offer her (or him) the honor and thanks that have made you the great person that you are. As Dr. Zan says, “join me in viewing Mother’s Day as an opportunity to honor all women...and the beautiful connections that we often attribute to being female”.

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