Mothers in the Shadows

Mother’s Day is usually not a big deal for me. I don’t have children and let’s just say that my mother and I have managed to put together the best superficial relationship that is possible, given what we have to work with.

But this Mother’s Day, I’m thinking of the thousands of mothers I’ve come to know over the years who are battling the odds, usually in the shadows, to do the best they can to heal broken lives (including their own).

For example, there’s someone I’ll call “Nora.” I don’t know much about her childhood, except that I expect she didn’t grow up dreaming of becoming a prostitute and drug addict. But that’s what happened. Along the way she had three children who were physically abused and sexually assaulted by the myriads of men who came in and out of their lives.

I met Nora shortly after she got out of prison and was reunited with her children. Its hard to describe the woman I saw without sounding hyperbolic. She was a force to be reckoned with and had a fierce determination to be the mother her children needed.

There was no pretense with Nora and she was clear about all the damage she had done. But she wasn’t about to sit around and wallow in guilt either. She was like a sponge wanting to learn all she could about mothering and how to get her family at least moving on a different track. She knew the road ahead was going to be difficult. But she took it all on with a level strength and courage that I have rarely seen in any human being. It was a pleasure just to be around her and try to keep up with her momentum.

And then there was Jackie. I don’t know a whole lot about her childhood either, except that on a couple of occasions she alluded to abuse that was almost beyond my comprehension. Jackie had found some healing in her life and wanted to pass that on to other children. So she adopted two little girls who had experienced similar things.

When I met them, her daughters were 14 and 10 years old. During our first meeting, I remember thinking about confronting Jackie with how insensitive she was with her daughters. But something told me to pay a little more attention before doing that. Boy, was I glad I listened for awhile!!! Over time I watched as these two girls threw their pain at her in moments when she was most vulnerable. But instead of responding in kind, she embraced them. It was one of the most humbling experiences of my life to watch her and marvel at her love and strength.

At our last meeting, Jackie presented me with something that has become my prized possession…a poem. I’d like to share it with all of you as a testament to those mothers who demonstrate their strength in the shadows – away from the spotlight of our attention. Every day women like Nora and Jackie do the small quiet work of healing the brokenness that has too often been passed on from mother to child. And today, I’d like to honor them.

First there was the pain.

Sharp, searing and rushing through our lives.

Pain calls us you know,

some pains carry our name

from generation to generation.

We brought it in with us,

blaming, yelling and desperate for some relief.

We opened our mouths and spit it at you,

yelled it at you

and you found the reason to smile.

Each blow was warded off

and placed where it belonged.

Like a puzzle where slowly

the pieces begin to fit.

Not just one puzzle but three.

Not yet put together,

but beautifully begun.

First there was the pain,

and the ache of a thousand years of mothers.

Then slowly came the wonder

and some days even the joy.

– Jackie


  1. of a thousand years of mothers…our future just might depend on it.


  2. Moms are just routinely roasted, toasted, is that we (ie American culture) idealize motherhood and family life through a tightly controlled middle class suburban lens which it is clear many of us did not have. So when women step out of that while trying to figure out how to mother they get slammed.

    Also, I gave the traditional tribute to Mom in ek’s diary. She also did some stupid shit that hurt and angered me no doubt because of the unintentional wounds her mother gave to her. Example. It never occurred to my working class grandparents that my mother who got straight A’s and had a very high IQ then she should go to university. Now. They made the offer to my Uncle who was also bright but totally damaged in other ways. You just did not “waste” an education on working class women in those days.

    Later my mother went to university as an adult. I found out my grandmother still felt guilty about not recognizing my mother’s obvious intelligence for absolutely years.

    The point is not to hold grudges especially about the unintentional woulds but to have the guts to forgive (all in our own time I would never suggest to somebody that they must forgive right now) of course because when we are honest with ourselves we wound others and think nothing of it.

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