THE BLOG

What Makes a Mother?

05/11/2015 12:01 EDT | Updated 05/11/2016 05:59 EDT

Another Mother's Day has come and gone, and it has me reflecting on what it is that makes a mother. In my own life, I've been lucky to know many women who've been like a mother to me.

There was my devoted grandmother, my "Baba," who was mother to a large extended family; my loving aunts who were models of courage, generosity and perseverance, and all my women teachers over the years who shared their knowledge and experience with me and nurtured my curiosity and creativity.

There was my own mother, of course, who carried me, raised me and imparted the most important lesson to me; that of how a woman can do anything she wants to do in life, as long as she works hard at it.

In my years as a psychotherapist, I've often seen a very different, and sometimes shocking view of motherhood: the narcissistic mother; the extremely neglectful mother; the exploitative mother, the hateful mother. It gives you pause.

Thinking about all the deeply wounded individuals I've worked with over the years, and the inadequate, distracted or hurtful mothers they grew up with, I've realized one important thing about motherhood: it has nothing to do with biology.

In the lives of people all over the world, mine included, women have stepped in to take on a maternal role on so many occasions. Women are mentors, guides, supporters, even rescuers. Women nurture, affirm, encourage, give solace and give us a reality check.

Many of these women aren't our mothers, but we wouldn't be where we are today without them.

The sad reality of my work has been to acknowledge the number of biological mothers who've failed at their task, for one reason or another. Most of them had been wounded themselves; some were mentally ill; a small few were just bad people.

The upside to this tragic reality has been witnessing how many other women have been willing to step in as surrogate mothers, giving these "unmothered children" the affection and support they never received from their own moms.

What is it that makes a mother? To me, it's simple: they should love their child and care deeply about her or him. They should think about their child's needs and act in ways that benefit the child while doing their best not to cause their child harm.

A mother is someone who wants her child to grow up to be a happy, healthy, successful adult. A mother pays attention to her child's particular nature and responds to the specific needs of each child.

A mother accepts her child for who she or he is, and forgives her child for their mistakes, big or small. A mother is there for her child when he or she needs her, whenever that might be.

The truth is that not every biological mother is up for the task. It's easy to have a child; it's not always so easy to care for one.

The good news is that, even though some biological mothers might be unable to do the job they're meant to do, if we look around, we'll most likely find some other women who will be happy to step in give us the mothering we need.

To all the mothers in the world, those who gave birth to us and those who didn't, I want to thank you and tell you how much I appreciate you. Your love, care and sacrifices will never be forgotten.

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