[This post appears by courtesy of the 2013 Mama's Day Our Way campaign of Strong Families, a national initiative for policy and culture change in support of all families, for which the post was originally written. -- Editor]
In January 1990, after giving birth to my one and only child, I saw Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” video for the first time. I asked myself, “What have you done, bringing a child into this imperfect, troubled world?” For nine months, I had been inseparable from my daughter. Yet moments after her birth, the realization that she was someone separate from me hit home. She would have different experiences from mine, her struggles and triumphs would be different, and she would live in a future world I could not even envision. Some mothers hold on to the belief that their daughters will grow up just like them—that looking at their daughters will be like looking in a mirror. Thankfully, I never held that belief or even that desire.
Nancy Friday wrote a landmark book, My Mother, My Self, in 1977, about daughters separating from and distinguishing their identities from their mothers’. She says a mother’s greatest gift can be an unquestionable love, so firmly rooted that daughters know they will never lose it in spite of making independent choices about important things such as careers and whom to love. I had that kind of unconditional love from my mother, who always encouraged me to be true to myself. My mother was not perfect, but she sure knew how to love. She died when I was 13, but my older sisters and brother filled in in her absence, providing a strong love that has held our family together for the decades since.
Being true to yourself is not always easy. My being a non-Christian has sometimes caused my Catholic and Baptist siblings concern. Divorcing a husband and raising my daughter mostly without his parental guidance sometimes was scary. Being true to oneself is not always easy, but I think it beats the alternative.
My daughter and I are Unitarian Universalists. In our faith tradition, we often talk about giving children roots and wings. The roots anchor a child. They are the foundation, the unquestionable love Friday speaks of. The wings allow a child to fly…wherever they need to, even knowing that those wings may take them to places where we cannot follow.` I was fortunate to find a faith home in which I could raise my daughter to be true to herself. Our Unitarian Universalist community is not perfect, but it is a community that believes love is the most important action we can take. It believes that all families deserve respect and support and to be true to themselves. I know that my daughter’s and my religious community and our family have given us the courage to be the people we are today.
Looking at my daughter in the mirror, I see that she holds many of the same identities I do. She is female, Unitarian Universalist, able-bodied, English-speaking, a Southerner, and a lover of cats, horror movies, and ice cream. Yet she is still her own person and carries other identities I do not share. She is lesbian, biracial, and grew up middle class. Far from being the cause of consternation, it brings me much joy to know she has received the message of “Be thyself” and flown off with it.
Yes, when I look in the mirror of motherhood, I see myself and I see my daughter, for all that makes her unique and all the traits we share. I also see the best thing I have ever done.
The UUA website offers resources for understanding and celebrating Mother’s Day/Mama’s Day.
Jessica York is the Youth Programs Director at the Unitarian Universalist Association and a proud black mama of a 23-year-old.