I no longer remember the story I was originally telling at a family gathering—perhaps about purchasing some piece of glassware I really didn’t need or spending half an hour listening to a stranger’s life story in the middle of the grocery store—but I know I ended it by saying, “My god, I’m turning into my mother.”
My mom didn’t miss a beat in her response. “You should be so lucky.”
That is exactly the reaction I should have expected. An extremely quick wit is one of the many wonderful qualities that my mother, Beverly Sennett, possesses. I would like to think that it is a characteristic I’ve inherited. I would like to believe that there is much I have in common with her. I can say, without reservation, that there is no one else in the entire world who has had more influence on me. She has been my biggest supporter and my best confidant. There isn’t a single person to whom I could be luckier to be compared.
But each year, I become more and more conscious of the most distinctive thing that distinguishes me from my mother. When my mom was my age, she had five children between the ages of six and 13. She was 45 when I was born, so she was engaged in the work of parenting young children for far longer than the average mother. She is a second mom of sorts to her youngest siblings and has played a motherly role in the lives of many of her children’s friends. Her life has been defined by being “mom.”
At 36, I am very aware that motherhood is most likely not in the cards for me. I have neither the financial ability nor the emotional wherewithal to raise a child alone, and a potential father isn’t anywhere in the picture. Anytime that someone tries to reassure me that I have plenty of time to have children—after all, my own mother had me in her forties—that person’s voice is immediately countered by the one in my head. “You should be so lucky.”
So, if I am not destined to be anyone’s mother, how do I begin to model myself after someone who is a mother above all else? Is it about seeing her as more than a mother? Is it about redefining what it means to be like her? Or is it about rethinking what constitutes mothering? I think it may be all three.
Before she had children, my mom was a woman employed in a male-dominated field. She is a mystery reader, a lover of crossword puzzles, a trivia buff, and a marvelous cook. She has always been a dedicated volunteer for a number of organizations. She is a friend to a large and varied group of people. She is a two time cancer survivor. Along with being wickedly funny, she is also dedicated, principled, kind, loving, and immensely strong. They are qualities that make her a wonderful mother, but she brings them to all aspects of her life.
I don’t have children of my own, but I have 85 students who rely on me for guidance and encouragement. I have friends with children whom I love. I have dear friends, who though they are adults, still need support and nurturing and love.
If I can strive to bring those qualities I admire in my mother into my own relationships—with my family members, my friends, my students—that is a credit to my mom. Because I have the mother I do as a role model, I have learned what it means to be both a strong woman and a mother. And I can apply those lessons to the relationships in my life in whatever ways are most fitting.
I will most likely never be a mother in the traditional sense of the word, but I still may be turning into my mother. I can only hope. I should be so lucky.