Mother is a verb, not just a noun

This is the text from an address I gave at St Martin’s in the Fields Church, Trafalgar Square, London on Mothering Sunday, 2016. I was so very moved to be asked to contribute OUR voice to this service, which was broadcast live on BBC Radio 4. This is very tender day for so many of us who mourn the children we’ll never know, and have maybe lost our own mothers too. Be gentle with yourself today. And maybe buy YOURSELF the flowers – you deserve them too! Love, Jody x

Mother’s in our Hearts

Besides Christmas, Mother’s Day (what is called ‘Mothering Sunday’ in the UK) can be the most difficult day in the calendar for women who aren’t mothers, or aren’t yet mothers and doubt that they ever will be. Whether you are a couple struggling with infertility, or one of the many women who have been unable to find a suitable partner before your childbearing years draw to a close, or if you haven’t had children for one of many other reasons, Mother’s Day can be very raw indeed.

Perhaps it would help if we could extend the idea of ‘mothering’ to include all those women who are mothers in their hearts, but aren’t biological mothers. To think of ‘Mother’ as a verb, not a noun, as something you do rather than something that you are.

Women without children are twenty percent of the female population aged 45 and over, but our stories aren’t often told, our experience isn’t honoured and our contribution to the lives of others is often under-appreciated. We listen patiently to mothers’ delighted talk of their children, and grieve privately that we will never know that joy: first days at school, graduation, perhaps marriage and even grandchildren; a lifetime of photos we will never add to our albums. And yet so often our stoicism in the face of grief is misinterpreted as not really ‘minding’ or perhaps even interpreted as ‘not liking children’.

We non-mothers hide in plain sight, often hungry for empathy, fielding questions of the most intimate and personal nature which seem to come from all angles. But if you dig a little deeper you’ll find that we are those good women around you who make up that ‘village’ it takes to raise a child, to create a community, to sustain a safe and civil society for other people’s children to inhabit. And we do so gladly, willingly.

So, perhaps next time you meet a couple without children, hold back your natural curiosity about when they’re going to start a family. Or when meeting a single, middle-aged woman who, for whatever reason, doesn’t have children herself, try to see past the social caricatures and instead see the individual woman in front of you, one doing her best to live a life she, perhaps, didn’t expect, and doing so with dignity. If she has a cat, so what? Plenty of mothers do too…!

This Mothering Sunday, let compassion open your heart just a little wider to include all of those who long or longed for motherhood. Although we grieve in private, we are all around you.

About Jody 91 Articles
Jody Day is a British author, trainee integrative psychotherapist and the founder of Gateway Women, the global friendship and support network for childless women. She’s a founding member at AWOC.org (Ageing without Children) and a former Fellow in Social Innovation at Cambridge Judge Business School. She's the author of 2016’s 'Living the Life Unexpected: 12 Weeks to Your Plan B for a Meaningful and Fulfilling Future Without Children' (Bluebird/PanMacmillan). Gateway Women hosts online communities, workshops, retreats, courses, social events and private sessions for childless-not-by-choice women. Jody lives alone in London with her cat, a stereotype that she warmly and humorously subverts.
Contact: Website

8 Comments on Mother is a verb, not just a noun

  1. On many Mother’s days, I try to recognise a mother who I think is doing a great job or having tough times. Sometimes I send a card, sometimes a text – to show my appreciation and admiration for their mothering. This year I received a text from a mother to whom I sent such a card about 14 years ago. She wanted to tell me that every Mother’s day, she remembers the card I sent her and wanted me to know that she still treasures both the card and the recognition.She explained that because her mother had just died back then, she was struggling with the loss of being a daughter on Mother’s day – and trying to enjoy being the mother rather than the daughter. She didn’t tell me this until now.
    So in Jody’s terms, I was myself ‘doing’ mothering, without ‘being’ a mother myself, and something I did many years ago came back to me this Mother’s day in the form of a text – expressing her appreciation for me. I was very touched.
    Thanks Jody.

  2. Thank you Jody for these words needed them.
    My friend also sent me this and I would like to share.

    I found this encouragement online and thought it was appropriate to share and celebrate with ALL WOMEN on Mothering Sunday.;

    For a woman without a child of her own, Mother’s Day can be a challenging time. It can bring to the fore any pain, grief or sense of loss associated with not being a mother. Yet, we are all mothers, we all give birth to new life and create awesome things, whether it be in a physical, intellectual, emotional or spiritual form.

    As well as celebrating mothers, this Mothering Sunday I celebrate women without children, a diverse group that bring invaluable gifts of love and beingness to the world. I celebrate your mothering qualities, your love, generosity, strength, passion and awesomeness. You are here for a reason, it may not be to have children, though will be of immense value to the world. I encourage you to find your truth and rightness and express it out into the world. Let your beauty radiate outwards.

    I celebrate all women on Mothering Sunday
    Those who have children and those who don’t
    Those who from their womb space give birth to new life
    Creative life in vast myriad of forms
    Be it physical, intellectual, emotional or spiritual

    I celebrate those who are “aunts” or godmothers
    Friends, teachers and guides for the young
    I acknowledge the grief and pain
    Of many women who for whatever reasons
    Don’t have children of their own
    Yours is not an easy path
    You are of value and worth, and are truly loved

    Origions of Mothering Sunday

    Traditionally Mothering Sunday was a time in the year prior to Easter, when servants would have the day off to go and visit their families and attend their “Mother” church. Interestingly Anna Jarvis who first introduced the concept of Mother’s Day in 1914 was childless and intended that the celebratory day include aunts, godmothers and those who mother the children of others. I would like to honour women and mothering in the way that Anna Jarvis initially intended. Additionally in many indigenous cultures childrearing was the responsibility of the whole tribe and not solely that of the mother and father, so let’s celebrate all involved in mothering.

    Express the mother in you

    Women who don’t have children of their own, often mother other people’s children and have a natural mothering instinct. They are aunts and godmothers, friends, teachers and guides, who are very much loved and play an invaluable role in the lives of the children they connect with. Sometimes mothering women may mother other adults, those with additional support needs or even their own parents. They may mother friends and support mothers who need a break from the constant care involved in childrearing. Many women dedicate their lives to the care of animals or the environment. They offer oceans of love from the depths of their hearts. Today I celebrate these diverse women who play a vital role in society.

    In closing Oprah Winfrey once said “Biology is the least of what makes someone a mother.”

    HAPPY MOTHERING SUNDAY TO YOU ALL. xxx

    • Wow, thank you Sharon! What a wonderful message.
      Our mother’s day (in Switzerland) will come up in May, and since I love this text so much, I had the idea of translating it into German and posting it on my blog. Of course I would link back to here ;-). Would that be alright for you?

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