Aging is an interesting process. On one hand, we lose some of our physical skills and endurance and certainly note some cognitive decline in a variety of ways. Yet, the advantage of perspective cannot be overstated. Seeking to be a trusted elder (instead of elderly) or sage, one can take the experiences of a lifetime (its triumphs and failures, its emotional ups and downs, its beauty and cruelty) to craft a narrative and impart that wisdom to those willing to listen and partake in such knowledge. It would be presumptuous of me to assume that I have reached that stage, but I do feel that specific reflections of aspects of my life can be of some use to others. One such reflection is an assessment of the significant female mentors in my life – my three Moms.
Mothers come in all forms—birth mothers, stepmothers, foster mothers, caregiving mothers (often grandmothers or aunts) and mothers-in-law. Whether assuming the role from birth or stepping in at various junctures in the life of the child/adult, these women play a vital role throughout our lives.
Scientific information (and common sense and our humanity) tells us that safe, stable nurturing relationships (SSNRs) are the key to a solid childhood and wellness in adulthood.1,2 While never a guarantee, SSNRs start us down the path and nurture us along the way as we often wander off the path and into the unknown or potentially unfriendly territory. And mothers are most often that primary source of the Safe, Stable Nurturing Relationship for their children. (Excuse my personal bias here as the divorce of my parents led to my mother being the primary caregiver in my life. I recognize that fathers are duly capable of providing the same nurturing.)
My mother did remarkable things through very difficult times. She was born into a family of means yet found herself in an abusive marriage with little if any family emotional support. She raised her two sons despite significant challenges, and I think that she would be proud of their lives and their compassion and empathy for others. She definitely set the example, and, in some ways, it was easy for us to follow it. Physical and cognitive challenges at the end of her life at age 80 in 2002 led to some difficult interactions, yet in no way diminished the bright star that she provided for my brother and me. We knew that she had been there at every step along the way and continues to be.
My stepmother provided an anchor in a different way yet equally nurturing. Also entering into a marriage with my father that proved less than satisfactory, she took my brother and me under her wing and was always interested and supportive in all of our activities in adolescence and adulthood. And as I fathered two grandsons 12 years apart, she was equally engaged and genuinely engrossed in their education, activities and lives. Her presence was constant until her light dimmed in 2013 at age 92.
My mother-in-law passed away at age 92 in 2020. She was my “mother” after my mother’s mental faculties started to fade. Yes, she was my wife’s mother, but I always felt as if she was my mother also. She was that constant supply of compassion, empathy and love that so many of us just dream about—that so many us strive to emulate but always fall short. If you needed a smile, all you needed to do was to look at her. If you wanted to hear a kind word, you engaged her in conversation. If you wanted to hear the sweetest laugh, you just told her a joke. She could not get enough of her family. Her presence was always palpable even when many miles separated us. Now she is with my father-in-law and they have been reunited in heavenly arms.
So, I have been truly blessed. Three moms that each played vital roles in my development. Three moms that provided SSNRs, each in their own way. Three moms that always thought about others – three moms that have constantly reminded me of my duty to others.
These three moms also remind me that we are all responsible for each other and that SSNRs go beyond just our immediate family. In the role of citizen, each of us can develop and sustain SSNRs for our fellow citizens and use those skills to engage in ways to improve our communities. Each of these ladies was the shining light for SSNRs in their families but also beyond. They recognized their responsibility to others and sought to make a difference.
I am firm believer that we are never done developing, and I hope that the nurturing from my three moms and their SSNRs will continue to be the beacon for me going forward. God bless Mom, Julie and Mabel!