I didn’t realize when I became a mother that I would be thrust into a frontier of comparison. During the first few months of Henry’s life I was totally engrossed in our new and sweet bond. I nursed him, bathed him, and watched him, all with complete contentment. We started a baby yoga class, and I continued to follow our daily rituals, but I also started to notice other mothers. I started to watch how they carried or traveled with their babies, and so often I felt like the last one to practice preferred methods of care. For example, it took me months to copy other mothers who carried their infants in car seats. It just didn’t occur to me until I saw it. Later, I learned that I should bring fifty-seven different snack options when we go to the park.
I also started to discern from whom I wanted to learn. When Henry was a toddler I found myself with tons of patience, but needing vocabulary and language to help him make choices. Waldorf education was helpful, and so was listening to mothers who had the right words. This is when I felt myself yearning for “mother” mentors. I use quotations marks because I don’t think you have to be a Mother to be a mother. I’ve learned from women and men who know how to mother—even if they do not have children. I also believe that someone inspiring to me is not necessarily a one-size-fits-all model, though Instagram may make us feel otherwise.
My best friend has been hugely impactful. She has three step-children whom she loves with such intention and directness. She loves this way in general, and as a parent, her three have felt seen and heard from the day they met her. This is extraordinary to me, especially as her children enter and move through adolescence. Her parenting is inherited from her own mother, whom I have also witnessed love with simultaneous abandon and complete purpose. Their parenting includes an awareness and implementation of their own needs, boundaries, and expectations. In other words, they love whole-heartedly, but also demonstrate self-respect. And respect for their partners.
My own mother continues to be a role model, especially in terms of her work as community service director at a private high school. She is confronting so many critical challenges for parents and children, especially within a specific sector of society. Her students are mostly privileged, and her mission is not just to serve impoverished (economically, socially, disenfranchised, etc.) communities, but also to nurture her students to become global leaders who, like my best friend, are able to see and hear. How do we teach this to our children? How do we help them grow into mindful citizens? There is such a huge distinction between the classroom and the real world, and as much as our schools talk about the values of social justice, it is critical that our kids engage in it. One of the biggest pieces of action I take from my mom is this engagement. My family goes to the soup kitchen on Thanksgiving and gives presents to families in need on Christmas, but this is as much for us as it is for the recipients. My mother practices the spirit of these two days, every day. She demonstrates for me and my children that it is okay to sit down with someone. To listen. To see them. She touches people and stands close to them—unflinchingly respectful regardless of their appearance or state. She normalizes their pain, and she makes them feel loved. I watched her do this when I was a child, and it brings tears to my eyes to think about this incredible gift she gave me.
Another piece of my parenting comes from a friend in Utah. We met at our children’s school, and within minutes of talking to her I asked if she is a professor. Indeed she is, but so much more. Writer, researcher, visionary, sage, and goddess, my friend M became not only a mentor, but also a mirror. How do we help our kids see in themselves what we see in them? M spoke to me carefully, softly, slowly, and directly. Her words filled me with assurance and belief, and she impressed upon me the importance of being me and a mother. These are not mutually exclusive. I once said to her when trying to justify a babysitter so I could write: “Well, I guess it’s important for my kids to see me doing what I love.” “Yes, sure,” she said. “But it’s more important that you just do you.” Her words may have once struck me as being selfish, but eventually I learned to hold both my children and myself with gentleness and compassion.
I realize that mentorship will grow increasingly important and complicated as my kids get older. Already my concern about how to carry my baby has been relegated to the past. I sometimes miss those days, but I also relish in my responsibility to nurture not just my children, but also myself.