Friday, May 7, 2010

Nurturing in A Different Way: Mothering In Lieu

This is a picture of my grandparents, who I credit for parenting me during my childhood. I've always found days like Mother's Day very difficult because I never shared the same relationship with my mother that all my friends shared with theirs. And it was really hard to explain.
My mother was there in body but not in any other way. She did the best with the tools God gave her but she really was someone who shouldn't have taken on the huge job of being a mom when she wasn't able to care for herself properly. But it's okay. Really. Because I was so lucky to have had four wonderful women in my life to mother me 'in lieu.' Each of these incredible women gave me a piece of what I really needed from a 'mom' to help me become who I am today.

Last year on Mother's Day, I wrote an article for Amaze Magazine called, "Mothering In Lieu" which I'd really like to share with you. Be sure to read to the end because in celebration, I'm having a little giveaway to acknowledge mothers--birth, adoptive and 'in lieu'--everywhere.


Mothering In Lieu

by Chynna Laird

I’ve learned never to take anything for granted in my life because I know how extremely fortunate I am to have gotten where I am today. Looking back, I suppose many people thought I’d end up becoming blended into those statistics where children were forgotten about or slip between the cracks of a tunnel-visioned system.

I’m sure you knew one of those kids who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks surrounded by chaos of one sort or another. Those kids who had no real way out of their situation or even had access to that one positive person willing to help pull them out from the undercurrents tugging them back in the other direction. For awhile, I knew exactly what it was like to be one of those kids.

My mother was a young, single parent raising two young children. She’d chosen not to include our father in our lives, not because he was a bad guy but more out of pride. Mom wanted to do it all on her own—unfortunately she wasn’t strong enough most of the time.

I always told people Mom was pulled in three directions: her bipolar that she refused to acknowledge or treat; her maladaptive ways of coping that she also refused to acknowledge or treat; and her music. Despite anything, Mom was one of the most talented people I’d ever known and yet she didn’t allow that talent to pull her away from the other forces. And it made life with her frustrating, confusing and, sometimes, very frightening—especially in the eyes of a child.

But unlike other kids in similar situations, I was lucky because I didn’t just have one person I reached out to, and who reached out to me—I had four. Four beautiful, powerfully strong women each giving me a piece of mothering I needed so desperately.

(1) A grandmother who was an accomplished artist and did everything a woman wasn’t supposed to do seventy years ago: traveled, went to school, lived on her own, had a career and had relationships before marriage. She battled breast cancer, twice, and survived it during a time when the odds were against her. And in the later stages of her life she fought an unforgiving disease that stole us from her memory. And she did everything with grace, strength and dignity.

Grandma gave me the gift of courage, wisdom and passion while teaching me that women had the ability to do anything, be anyone and go further than people of her era believed they should. And I hold her final words to me—when she still recognized my face—close to my heart, “You be true to yourself, Dumpling. I believe in you and always will.”

(2) An Aunt who shot-from-the-hip and never accepted, “I can’t!” from me. She taught me that a woman can be strong and feminine and self-supporting even while in a marriage. And she taught me to follow my heart and to do what I love, not what others told me was best for me or safest.

Aunt Dorothy gave me the gift of self-reliance, resilience, and self-esteem. And even in times when I believed my dream was too far away, she showed me how to get there.

(3) A Godmother whose pure, unconditional love and kindness restored my faith, repaired my soul and convinced me that my existence mattered. She taught me to trust the words, “I love you.” and that love didn’t have to hurt. She believed in me during a time when I’d lost myself and had wanted to give up. And she taught me to always see the good, even when things seemed foggy.

Auntie Lois gave me the gift of faith and love; not just for others but, most importantly, for myself because to love others we need to love ourselves—and our Higher Power (whatever that may be) first.

(4) A stepmother who loved me as her own from day one. She taught me a new level of friendship, trust and family I’d never known about before her presence in my life. She showed me how a woman can balance family, work and self while being true to each part. In her I also learned that a stepmother wasn’t a replacement mom but a “Bonus Mom.”

Mama Robin gave me the gift of acceptance, self-respect and the importance of staying true to my values.

So, even though my birth mother wasn’t able to mother me the way she’d wanted to, everything turned out okay. My bitterness faded long ago because I realized things could have turned out so differently for me. Yes, I was a lucky girl and, now, a lucky woman because I had four fantastic women to mother me in their own ways and their combined gifts were the exact dose of nurturing I needed to survive, thrive and grow. And I credit each of them for helping me to become the mother I am to my own four children.

Happy Mother’s Day to all of you mums out there. And thank you to those brave enough to be a mother in lieu.

Okay, now for the giveaway. To show my appreciation for moms everywhere, I'm giving away a $40.00 gift card to Bath & Body Works. All you have to do for your chance to win is (a) Follow "The Gift" blog (so I can get a hold of the winner more easily) and (b) leave a comment on this post. It can be about your own mom, what it's like to be a mom or anything to do with mothering--whether you're a birth mom, an adoptive mom, a special needs mom or a 'mom in lieu' you deserve this special tribute and TLC. We'll keep this open until June 1st when we'll announce the winner. Good luck and I can't wait to read your comments. =)


Heather B said...

What a beautiful piece that you wrote! Everything happens for a reason. Your mom couldn't mother you but you were given some truly amazing women to help you out:)
I have a similar story, though not as extreme. My mother has undiagnosed mental health issues that do not allow her to care for anyone other than herself. I have only recently learned to love her for who she is and be thankful that she was strong enough to bring me, my brother and my sister into this world.
Thanks for sharing on this Mother's Day weekend! Hope your Mother's Day is great!!

Chynna said...

Thanks for sharing some of your own experiences, Heather. That's awesome that you are in a better place with your Mom. I find that very inspirational. =)

I was very lucky to have grown up with those amazing women. I didn't turn out too bad. ;)

Talk to you again soon. And have a wonderful Mother's Day.


LuAnn said...

I didn't have a very good relationship with my mother when I was growing up. Since my father died a few years ago, it's improved tremendously, but I worry it will be too short-lived. She's in her 80s now.

reading_frenzy at yahoo dot com

Chynna said...

Hi LuAnn. It's so good to 'see' you here. How brave of you to share your experiences with your mother. I can totally relate. But at least, no matter how short the time may be, you got another chance to try to make things work with your mom. That's amazing!

I hope we see you again here on "The Gift." It's ALWAYS great to see you.


Gayle said...

What a beautiful post! Thank you for sharing this, Chynna.

Krysten said...

That was a great tribute to the women in your life and all you learned from them. I find even though I lost my grandmother many years ago, I'm still learning from her after the fact. As I get older, I realize how much more I'm like her than I ever realized.

Chynna said...

Hi Gayle! Thanks so much for 'dropping by'! =)

Krysten, I know what you mean. I'm still remembering all her 'pearls of wisdom' and am finally able to get what she was trying to tell me all those years ago. Thanks, Krysten.


Cathy C. Hall said...

Chynna, you always seem to find the positive! I'm very fortunate to have my mom still (she just turned 85!)'s been a heckuva mother-daughter ride-but I wouldn't trade it for the world!

Tracy said...

I had a great relationship with my mom. She was my best friend. She died young. And there are often times in my married life that I wish she were there to ask a question to, but instead, I have to ask my Dad. Which can sometimes be as awkward as watching a tampon commercial with him when I was little girl. But I have the memories that I will cherish forever. Thanks for the great post Chynna!

Chynna said...

Cathy, that is SO AWESOME that your mom is still with you and that you guys have had such a great 'ride'. That's wonderful to hear. (You should write a book! =D)

Tracy, that is heartbreaking yet I can relate because I did the same thing with my grandparents! I am so grateful to you for sharing your story and thoughts with us. And how WONDERFUL that you had your Daddy. =')


Annette said...

Chynna, what an amazing story. You truly are so fortunate to have had those women as supporters and role models in your life.

My mother was never the motherly type nor the grandmotherly type. She had/has absolutely no interest. My father was my source of support and strength until he died when I was 21. A Mormon woman (my son's babysitter from 0-7) was my model for mothering. She was mother, mentor, and friend to me--and still is 22 years later.

Margo Dill said...

Hi Chynna:
I might be too late for the gift card thing but I wanted to tell you what a beautiful post this is. Being a stepmom myself, I think it is really nice how you noticed her, too. :) Thanks for letting PGers know about this.


Linda said...

Lovely post, Chynna! My Mom died a year ago and I miss her so much. Mothers day was filled with warm memories and the joys of my own grandchildren, one of which was just born five days ago!

Blessings! Linda

Chynna said...

Hi Annette, Margo and Linda. I'm SO Happy to see you guys. =)

Annette, you had me tearing up. I didn't realize you had a similar story with your own mother. But it's awesome you had such a wonderful relationship with your dad, though. And I love that your son's babysitter was such a powerful 'mother-like' figure. The women in my own life taught me that you don't have to come from someone's body to feel a 'motherly' love; they just need to care. And look at what a fantastic mom YOU have become! You are so inspirational to me as I struggle through these preschool/elementary ages.

Margo, I've ALWAYS considered my step-mom to be a 'bonus' mom. She has done, and still does, incredible things just because she cares. And THAT has meant so much to me over the years. She's ALWAYS been in my corner. They really should have a 'step-mom' day. =)

Linda, it's always hard to get through these days, especially when you had a closer relationship with your mom. But how WONDERFUL that you've gotten to enjoy the other part of being a mom: becoming a Grams! (And congrats with the birth of your newest grandchild!)

Thanks to all of you for commenting and celebrating our 'mothers in lieu'. Jaimie and I will draw the winners name just before her bedtime then I'll announce it on the Lily Wolf Website.


When you buy Chynna's books, you're helping children in crisis.

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Proceeds from each of Chynna's book sales goes directly to Chynna's favorite charity, Zebra Centre. Click on the zebra to learn more about the amazing things these people are doing to help children in crisis be all they're meant to be. Thank you for your support.

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