In many creation myths, the Mother is synonymous with the Earth and the Father, the Sky. In the Maori culture, for example, Rangi (Father) and Papa (Mother) are joined by their children born between them before separating to their natural realms. In Greek mythology, Gaia (the Earth) created Uranus (the sky) to cover her; their union bearing the familiar gods and goddesses still referenced today. Native American traditions reveal a similar story. It’s no surprise then that both Earth Day and Mother’s Day fall during Taurus season every year. Taurus is Fixed Earth: sustenance, sensuality, and the beauty and fecundity of the physical realm.
The Mother is Life. And yet, our experiences and relationships to mothering are not singular…far from it.
For many women, of course, Mother’s Day is one of great celebration. A day, perhaps, where they are lavished with breakfast in bed, or a massage, or bevy of handwritten cards and drawings en route to the kitchen fridge, a day of love and delight. But for many others, like myself, it’s a fraught or complicated affair. The reasons for this are plentiful: the loss of a mother, infertility, miscarriage, death of a child, yearning for a child but unable due to a lack of partner, sizable funds, or the proper circumstances to have one.
I am, myself, childless. Sometimes this astounds me. In high school, I was the go-to after school babysitter for coaches and teachers. So much so that even the interim principal approached me, asking for my services. I used my free classes to volunteer at the local preschools. I devoured parenting books and magazines. In college, this continued and after college for years, too.
“You even ate more spinach because it has folate,” my college roommate and best friend reminded me, alluding to the nutritional requirements of a healthy pregnancy. I was, in other words, obsessed. Motherhood was my primary motivation, the identity I was seeking.
But life had other plans. As a very late bloomer, romantic relationships proved more agonizing than I had imagined. In my twenties and early thirties, I chose poorly — always in chase mode, unable to receive, running head first into the failure of attempting to commit to the uncommittable before succumbing to the realization that I had much work to do. It turned out, it was I who needed the mothering. The deeper I dove, the more healing was required — on the personal front, but also within my relationships and in the art of intimacy. Now, at 40, I’m not sure motherhood is in the cards for me.
Statistically, in America at least, birth rates are dropping. Crippling student debt coupled with soaring living costs are having an impact, no doubt. But so, too, the social climate. Choosing childlessness is no longer as taboo as it once was. But it’s still perceived as outside the norm. I am less of a statistical abnormality than I would have assumed, but the question, “Why don’t you have a child?” doesn’t trigger me the way it may others. Motherhood is what my body and biology is wired for, ontologically speaking and it’s a question I wrestle with myself. One I seem still unable to answer, but which I feel increasingly comfortable with.
The media, in all its insistence on pitting women against one another, doesn’t seem to acknowledge or recognize women like myself, women who don’t fall on a particular side of the mother/career woman continuum. I wouldn’t call myself a career woman, per se, though my career, if you can call it that, has been, much to my delight, far more successful than I had anticipated. And I cannot, for both obvious and subtle reasons, place myself firmly in the domestic goddess camp, though if you had asked me twenty or even ten years ago, I’d certainly have leaned towards the latter.
What this manufactured battle fails to recognize is that one’s relationship to motherhood is inextricably linked to our relationship with our own mothers, and the society and cultural environment in which we were raised. My relationship with my mother, like many women I know, is devastatingly complex.
My mother is at once exceptionally strong willed and incredibly fragile. She met my father, then a traveling salesman, at 19, leaving behind a life of torment. Her childhood, from what fragments we’ve been able to gather, was emotionally and sexually traumatic. My father, whose bones are built of responsibility, has been her lifelong rock. Having children, she’d always felt was her purpose. She had four over the course of 18 years, even having her tubes tied after my birth and then untied when I was eight. As the family story goes, she got pregnant with my brother on the first try at 41.
My mother is excellent with babies and toddlers. Observing her with my niece and nephew when they were small was a great balm, seeing her at her best and most capable. It’s when we began to speak, to question, especially when womanhood came knocking, that she folded into herself and left us wanting. Her childhood — and its trauma — caught up to her in our faces, our growing bodies and hearts, our sharp wits. My father stepped in and became the breadwinner, our father, and our mother. But he’s an old school Brooklyn guy. Intuitive and wise with great instincts, but not enough to make up for my mother’s extended days spent under the sheets. His own relationship to womanhood was paradoxical. From our vantage point, he was content to have my mother dependent upon him, but insisted on our independence. No make up was allowed. Fashion was deemed frivolous. Education was everything. We worshipped our father and, to this day, despite his protestations, he remains on a pedestal of sorts. We excelled in the ways asked of us, but remained addled in regards to all the rest.
They say that we carry our ancestry within us, that intergenerational patterning is encoded within our DNA.
My maternal grandmother committed suicide while my mother was three months pregnant with me, after decades upon decades of suffering. My father’s mother was cold and unloving, and died when I was eight. My mother, having never healed her relationship to women, remained friendless, apart from my father, for most of her life. My father had two brothers, neither of whom we spent a lot of time with or connected to in any real way. My maternal aunt was deeply disturbed from their childhood and, though now deceased, left scars of her own we had to contend with. My mother has a brother, a nuclear physicist, who is married with two daughters, both highly accomplished but to whom I have no connection. When I sit in a circle with other women, as I have done countless times, and am called to connect with my female ancestors, I feel hollow. I don’t mean to make it all sound so grim. There was a great deal of laughter and love in my home and the true comfort of financial security, but my sisters and I were left to navigate womanhood alone. It’s been a messy, confused, and sometimes cruel affair but life has a way of astounding us. Our greatest challenge can yield the greatest gifts. “Things get broken, and sometimes they get repaired, and in most cases, you realize that no matter what gets damaged, life rearranges itself to compensate for your loss, sometimes wonderfully,” Hanya Yanagihara writes in my favorite modern novel, A Little Life.
It might not come as a surprise that I have traditionally been drawn to motherless women. Many of my closest friends lost their mothers early, or were in some way void of their presence in their life. The female friendships I have today are the result of enormous healing on my part, and they sustain me in ways I could never have imagined. Most, though not all, of my friends are older — much like my sisters, who are seven and 10 years my senior. Some are mothers, some are not. Many struggled, like I did, to find the nurturing absent in their earlier years. I have other close friends whose mothers have always been a close and constant presence in their lives. I have learned a great deal from these women, from their comfort around other women to their overt femininity.
My relationship with my mother has also undergone considerable transformation over the past decade. She is now, at 75, in therapy for the first time in her life. “I keep my own counsel, Dan,” she once said to me. Now, she is allowing herself to be seen. My niece, now a teenager, has the grandmother we all longed for. They text and talk all day long. They spend hours together, connecting, reveling in each other’s company. My mother’s hardened shell has softened, her wisdom rich and layered and now made more available, at least to our family, if not the world.
Sometimes I think that this journey into sisterhood, rather than motherhood, has been the great learning of my life, my ultimate purpose. But life is as long as it is short and I cannot say what life will bring, nor would I want to. I have been late to all things and perhaps I will still be too motherhood. I prefer to live my life with an open hand rather than an iron fist. It’s always served me and those around me best.
What I’m left with now is the fulfillment of emotional depth and intimacy, the arc of growth itself.
We are not defined by where we come from, but we are informed by it. Our relationship to our mothers and to motherhood itself cannot be decontextualized. They are eternally interwoven. Perhaps we would be better served, individually and collectively, if we acknowledged this fact more often, in more open and honest ways, with greater compassion and understanding.
Growing up, I was well aware of the judgment against my mother. I don’t recall anything ever being said to my face, but a child can sense these things. My friends’ mothers, who were of the tennis and country club variety, were limited in their worldview and concerned with their own social status and standing. I don’t blame them. My mother wanted nothing to do with it, preferring literature during the day and theater at night as a way to make sense of the world. Someone once referred to her as a blocked artist, which was a bit of a revelation. But that is indeed what she is. In college when I moved down to the East Village and surrounded myself with actors and musicians and bakers and painters, my mother said to me, “We should have raised you down here. I would have been so much happier.”
We are, every day, creating, or we have the opportunity to in ways large and small. Whether we are mothers or artists or businesswomen or activists or lawyers or spiritual healers or crafters or community members or any variation thereof, we are creators. That is our biological imperative, our birth right. It’s when we lose touch with that life giving force that we lose touch with ourselves, when we start focusing on the “shoulds.” It’s the transformation, the willingness to change and be changed, that is at the root of our being. My mother was right, of course. If she were happier, we would have been too.
But what she was also saying in that moment was “I see you. I accept you. I should have accepted myself.”
That she finally did has been the greatest gift of all.
Danielle Beinstein is a psychological and intuitive astrologer based between New York, Los Angeles, and New Zealand. She currently offers one-on-one sessions as well as her monthly online membership and courses program, The Cosmic Compass. You can find more on both offerings at daniellebeinstein.com, and for more regular astrological musings, make sure to follow her on Instagram.