Sunday, May 13, is Mother’s Day. Whatever your personal qualifications may be for motherhood, you’ll astonish yourself by discovering you are more capable to handle some of what you were anxious about, while still being less prepared than you expected for other situations. So what makes a mother? Is it simply giving birth? Or is it about providing the nurturing and love as the child grows? We tend to believe that whatever our mothers and fathers did to us, we will inevitably repeat their faults. Our mothers’ shortcomings do not predispose us to follow in their footsteps, for we don’t need to replay the same mistakes from one generation to the next, if we consciously parent our children. Certainly this isn’t easy for mothers with a legacy of abuse, shame, abandonment, or chronic trauma. Whatever way our children come to us, whether through birth or adoption, they need a mother who accepts and loves them unconditionally.

Nothing truly prepares us for the many shades of motherhood. Only very fortunate parents navigate through life without some heart-wrenching incidents or terrifying events to remind them that everything can change in one moment. Before a child’s serious illness or injury, the ground might feel solid underneath us, and then it completely opens up, making us feel like we’ll never stop falling. It’s useless to tell a mother not to worry about her children; it simply comes with the territory. We cannot shut that down as our children evolve and head out into the world with increasing independence. From their first day of daycare or preschool, we entrust our children to unrelated caregivers, believing they will protect them. Then on to “big” school, where their exposure to bullying, hurt feelings, disappointments, relentless competition, and shaming are all daily possibilities. While we can care for our child’s physical bumps and scrapes, drying their tears while putting them back together with a bandage and hug, their emotional hurts are far more painful. We can’t take care of the invisible wounds the way we can the bloody knee or elbow; they instead bring us sleepless nights, heartaches and relentless worry. This is when mothers feel the most helpless. As painful as it is to witness our child’s heartbreaks, our job is not to fix their problems, as their feelings belong to them. Our job is to listen, to understand, to simply bear witness to their pain, making suggestions only with their permission.

Our children are our very best teachers, guiding us through the hurdles, our failures, and setbacks with unwavering acceptance and forgiveness. If we watch carefully, they will show us how to navigate through the most challenging terrain, revealing where and when to take breaks from worrying about them. My own children have taught me more than I could ever digest in the classroom, studying, or in professional workshops. When I paid close attention, they were telling me what they needed, whether I was understanding correctly or what I was missing. If I was distracted, their behavior quickly brought me back to the present, showing me their unmet needs. When they were struggling, it was my job to listen to the emotional root of their problems, to connect with them. As they grew, experiencing changes and challenges, I learned invaluable lessons from them for which I’m eternally grateful.

Our love cannot be measured or quantified, for there is indeed no greater love than a mother’s love for her children. This life-changing, emotional experience transforms us in ways nothing else ever will. Our children push us to be our very best, honest selves, giving us daily performance reviews. There is no rest for the weary, nor do our children give us any passes for reacting from our unhealed childhood wounds. They can trigger us, reopening unresolved issues in a split second, forcing us to decide whether we will do the necessary work to mother consciously, or muddle through their childhood in chronic chaos.

Mothers are on call day and night, often with minimal sleep when nursing a sick, frightened or distressed child. We tell endless stories, drive unlimited miles to ensure their presence at every important commitment and event, feed and clothe them, listening closely to their highs and lows. We must regulate our emotions, modeling to our children how to regulate their own. Speaking the language of connection requires learning a “foreign” language, which requires practice and determination. What do we hope our children will value most about our mothering when they are grown and have flown the nest? Did they trust we were always there when they needed us? Did we listen to them with unconditional acceptance, communicating with connection? Do they have special memories of the fun we had with them, providing time to be playful, genuinely enjoying their company? Above all, will we have communicated to our child, “I accept and love you for who you are. There’s nothing I need or want to change about you.”

“Our initial family is our most influential context, our blueprint for navigating our future relationships, and the most important system we will ever belong to. Yet, while everyone is shaped by the past, no one is doomed by it.

Nor can we make glib predictions about how we will greet motherhood based on our own history, the family we grew up in, or our preconceptions about how we will respond.” (Dr. Harriet Lerner)

This is a time to celebrate mothers. Together, we can raise a generation of leaders, educators, community builders, entrepreneurs, stewards of our planet, and passionate citizens.

Please send me your questions.