The Spirit of Mother

As we approach Mother’s Day, a holiday designed to pay homage to our birth mothers, their mothers, and any other living relatives with the word “mother” in their titles, many people have conflicted feelings about the holiday itself and its obligations.

Not everyone is eager to spend time, effort, and money honoring this individual (or individuals). “Mother” can be a word that engenders ambivalence—that love-hate relationship that many have with their birth parent in their families of origin. For those who were adopted or whose parent or grandparent is deceased, there are questions as to how to honor or recognize someone whose existence is a mystery.

For those without conflict or ambivalence about Mother’s Day, you can stop reading now. But for the rest of you, I’d like to propose some creative ways of dealing with “mother” and Mother’s Day.

Regardless of the hours spent in counseling discussing mother, there may be some consolation in remembering that without her (and without her mother), you wouldn’t be here. For those who are deeply depressed, that isn’t always easy to be happy about, but for others, it may help to keep that in mind. Despite all of her limitations, deficits, and shortcomings, you do exist.

It may also help to broaden the definition of “mother” to include other people and concepts:

  • Those who, in the course of your life, have nurtured you. I’m talking about aunts, teachers, mothers of friends, therapists, guidance counselors, and more. Some of these individuals may have become mother surrogates or “mothers of choice.”
  • The earth as Mother. After all, we do call her “Mother Earth” for a reason. Without her, we couldn’t exist. Perhaps give a few words of thanks and appreciation for the earth that sustains us all. By the same token, we might also offer her an apology for the destruction we have caused and continue to cause.
  • Spiritual mothers. In my role as a Yoruba Priest, I pay homage to Yemonja, the mother of all waters, and Olokun, the Orisa that lives in the bottom of the ocean. Without them, there would be no life and in many cases, not much to eat. All religions have one or many prominent mother figures—Mary, in the Catholic faith, is the first who comes to mind.
  • Mothering ourselves. At some point, whether we have internalized from our birth mothers the tools and techniques of self-care or have had to learn them on our own, it is essential that at some point we take over the role of mother to ourselves. We can do this by respecting our bodies, minds, and spirits. We can be self-caring in simple and basic ways such as eating properly, getting enough rest, exercising, and having fun as often as possible.
  • Mothering others. Not codependently, but in a nurturing and supportive way. Humans are the best for receiving our mothering, but we can also mother an animal. Dogs are great for that and they give a lot of thanks in return. On a more involved level, this might also include fostering a child, volunteering at a non-profit that focuses on children in need, delivering food to shut-ins, and more.

So on Mother’s Day, whether you battle crowds, traffic, and overpriced meals and flowers, or stay home grieving the loss of an actual mother or good mothering, remember that there are many ways to celebrate motherhood.

© Copyright 2010 by Kalila Borghini, LCSW, therapist in New York City, New York. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • therapydoc


    May 6th, 2010 at 2:00 PM

    I’ve ranted about mother’s day for years, now. It hurts so many people who have ambivalent or negative relationships with their moms.

  • D.Vettori


    May 6th, 2010 at 2:55 PM

    I always celebrate Mothers’ day with my mom and both my aunts because they are no less than a mother to m e.i grew up in a large family and both of them,along with my mother,have played a good role in bringing me up and taking good care of me with each one of them being no less than a mother.I love them all the same :)

  • Barb


    May 7th, 2010 at 2:34 AM

    I have always had a great relationship with my mother and feels os bad for thos who have not. She has always been there for me when it felt like no one else was and for that I am so thankful.

  • Lorrie


    May 7th, 2010 at 9:13 AM

    Perhaps the only group of individuals who can give true unconditional love to another person are the mothers.Without mothers,this world would be a desert with no oasis.

  • D.nannes


    May 7th, 2010 at 10:10 AM

    A mother is so special and precious that even all the riches of the world combined cannot replace a mother.She is the one who brings us into this world and is the only one who is genuinely concerned about us,without any ulterior motive for her own benefit.This makes a mother unlike anybody else in this often-cruel-and-mean world.

  • Nigel


    May 7th, 2010 at 7:59 PM

    My mother is long deceased and our relationship was a difficult one. Thank you Kalila, especially for this line: “Despite all of her limitations, deficits and shortcomings, you do exist.” That gives me a fresh way of looking at it.

  • Bernard


    May 8th, 2010 at 11:27 AM

    My mother never had a giving nature and I could have been the same. She was selfish and always suspicious of everything and everybody. When a neighbor did anything nice, she’d wonder for weeks why and what they were up to. I didn’t want to be like that! I chose instead to be the opposite. I give of myself whenever I can and accept what’s given to me gracefully.

    When you’re an adult, you can choose. You don’t have to be a carbon copy of your mother.

  • Hope


    May 8th, 2010 at 3:15 PM

    I never gained an appreciation of what being a mother entailed until I was one myself. It’s a largely thankless job and a hard one. It’s not too much to ask that we do something nice for our mothers one day a year and celebrate them, even if we don’t wholeheartedly embrace the day.

  • Wanderer


    May 8th, 2010 at 7:51 PM

    “The commonest fallacy among women is that simply having children makes one a mother—which is as absurd as believing that having a piano makes one a musician.” – Sydney J. Harris

    Excellent article, Kalila.

  • Claire W.

    Claire W.

    May 8th, 2010 at 11:49 PM

    I used to stand in front of the Mothers Day cards and wonder why I didn’t have a fabulous mother like the cards talked about. I could never pick one because they all were too sentimental. It was years before I could let go of grudges I’d harbored about my mother. Therapy and good friends taught me how.

  • Karen


    May 9th, 2010 at 6:42 PM

    Thanks to you all and Kalila for showing me I’m not alone in my less than perfect relationship with my mom. It helps me to remember that she just does the best she can and in her own way. My inflated expectations of what a mother should be won’t change that.

  • marie


    May 10th, 2010 at 3:02 AM

    I have a love hate relationship with my mom- we love to both hate each other.

    Not really sure where we went wrong in this whole mother daughter journey but our paths in life were not meant to be taken together.

    She did too many mean spirited things to me when I was a kid for me to ever be able to forgive her and of course according to her I was the one who caused her to behave that way even though she was the supposed adult in the situation.

    So I hope that all of the really good moms out there had a wonderful Mother’s Day yesterday, but for me it was just another day.

  • LaScala


    May 11th, 2010 at 12:00 PM

    Friends of ours care for their grandson. As he’s getting older, Mothers Day is becoming more confusing for him. His grandparents have brought him up and loved him as their own. His mother is a disgrace, in and out of jail for petty crimes that feed her drug addiction. The courts gave him to them when he was less than a year old. He’s only 4 and sees her once in a blue moon. They dread Mothers Day because she always flounces in and is nice at first. The day inevitably ends in a fight, with her ranting to the child and his grandma that she’s his real mother, not her and not to forget it. The child’s never been told she doesn’t exist and always knew who she was. Yes he calls his grandma Mom. That’s because he wanted to, not because he was told to. This infuriates their daughter, who doesn’t bother with seeing her son even when she’s going through a relatively normal period. It’s a very difficult situation.

  • Valerie


    May 12th, 2010 at 4:14 PM

    I’m so lucky to have a mother that has always been there for me through thick and thin. She’s my best friend. I never thought about how hard Mothers Day must be for others that don’t have that until I read this article. Thank you for opening my eyes to that.

  • Penny


    May 12th, 2010 at 7:08 PM

    According to my mother her life would have been so much better if I’d not been in it. Was I trouble? No. Was I cheeky? No. I just existed. She thinks I’ve held her back.

  • Pauline


    May 13th, 2010 at 7:24 AM

    My mom rocks! She’s my best friend and confidante. I’ve never been let down by her and wish I could say I’d never let her down either. I have. I stole from her when I was a teen and I will regret that the rest of my days.

    And she loved me just the same. It’s amazing. I don’t know if I could have been as forgiving.

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