A reflection on Motherhood... ahead of Sunday, March 22

Mothers are heroes, protectors, disciplinarians, teachers, chefs, mentors, friends... so says LOUISE GOULD as she reflects on motherhood ahead of Mother’s Day, March 22
A reflection on Motherhood... ahead of Sunday, March 22
Louise Gould and her daughters Hannah and Ellie Donovan at Fitzgerald's Park, Cork.Picture Denis Minihane.

MOTHER’S Day is fast approaching and my mother recently turned 80 years of age, which made me pause and question the life and role of a mother.

What is a mother? A mother is someone who loves you selflessly for their entire life. She is the first person that you are ever going to know and the one that you are going to spend most of your life with, especially during your formative years.

The meaning of being a mother is virtually endless and can’t be adequately explained in one article.

Mothers are heroes, protectors, disciplinarians, teachers, chefs, mentors and friends, to name but a few, this list would also be virtually endless. They are the most loving human beings you would ever hope to have in your life.

A mother sacrifices many of her own wants, needs and desires for the wants, needs and desires of her children. Her own life is put on hold once their child/children come into the world and life as they know it will never be the same again. They must work harder than they have ever worked before to take care of their children, to equip them with the knowledge, skills and abilities to be able to thrive and survive in the world.

Louise Gould and her daughters Hannah and Ellie Donovan.Picture Denis Minihane.
Louise Gould and her daughters Hannah and Ellie Donovan.Picture Denis Minihane.

Being a mother of two, I have found it to be the most rewarding job that I have ever had. Of course, I cannot speak for all women, how could I! Every mother is different and every child is unique, along with the relationship that exists within this family dynamic. However, the one thread that binds every mother globally is a deep devotion for her children.

Again, this may not be the case for everyone, as being a mother brings about many difficult challenges for all of us. An idealised picture can often be painted about being a mother, but the love a mother has for her child is truly a blessing.

Mothers all over the world deserve so much in life and a lot of what they do for their children goes unrecognised and unrewarded. Mother’s Day, Sunday March 22, is the one special day in the year when they get back some of what they are constantly giving out.

A history of Mother’s Day

The earliest Mother’s Day celebrations can be traced back to the spring festivities of ancient Greece, in honour of Rhea, the Mother of the Gods. In Ireland, custom began to dictate that people visited the church on their baptism day and attended the mother church of their parish with gifts. Eventually, the custom expanded to include honouring one’s own mother.

The history of celebrating Mother’s Day in Ireland can be traced back to medieval times when the children from poor families were sent to work as domestic servants and apprentices in rich homes. They were given one day off from their jobs to go and visit their mother and present them with gifts of flowers, fruit and cake.

This culminated in the concept of the mothers then having the day off too, free from their daily chores. However, this custom lapsed in Europe in the mid 1930s but was revived again after the war. According to Irish Culture and Customs, this revival was brought about through the influence of U.S servicemen stationed overseas, in honouring their mothers on the second Sunday in May, which had been instituted by an American named Anna Jarvis, who had originally campaigned in America in the early 20th century for a Mother’s Day.

This brought back for the people of Ireland, Great Britain and Europe the centuries old tradition of paying homage to mothers. Anna had lost her own mother and wanted to honour her in a special way and celebrate the love and work of all mothers in America.

Louise Gould.Picture: Denis Minihane.
Louise Gould.Picture: Denis Minihane.

In 1914, President Woodrow made the second Sunday in May Mother’s Day and it then began to be adopted in countries all over the world. Once the custom had returned to Ireland, the children were said to have gone a-mothering. They picked wild- flowers which were displayed in the church and then given to their mothers once the mass was over. This tradition became known as Mothering Sunday and would usually take place on the fourth Sunday in Lent, also known as the Sunday of the five loaves and Simnel Sunday. It is traditionally associated with a mothering cake made from a rich fruit laden concoction called simnel cake and heavily steeped in religious customs.

The modern culture of Mother’s Day in Ireland no longer relies on these old religious customs. However, one tradition that has survived the ages is the giving of gifts and flowers and making mothers feel special.

What makes a good mother?

We know the infinite reasons why mothers are so special and why they deserve this special day, but what are the qualities that make a good mother? According to a study of more than 2,000 parents by psychology professor and researcher Robert Epstein, in 2010 in Scientific American; he found that being loving and affectionate while still providing parental guidance was one of the most important aspects in raising happy children.

Loving parents chose to respect, encourage and nurture their children rather than judging and blaming them by constantly affirming their love and affection, both verbally and through their behaviour. By using positive reinforcement, they build self-esteem rather than tearing it down with criticism.

My daughters are the light of my life, but at times it can be difficult. I have learned over the years to practice this theory of positive reinforcement. For example, my eldest daughter who is ten, loves to cook, especially pancakes. When she makes the batter, without help, she is so proud of herself. Although it may not be the perfect batter mix, I will say it is and the pancakes are so delicious, but maybe the next time use a little more milk and brown flour, which makes them lighter. She takes the praise and the advice and strives to make them better the next time.

Professor Epstein believes that being a skilful communicator is a quality that all parents need in order to be able to raise strong, independent children. To show genuine interests in all areas of your child’s life and be available to them when they need you.

If you respect and encourage your children to express their feelings and listen to them with compassion and understanding, it shows them that their feelings and opinions are appreciated and valued.

Instead of belittling their feelings, show them empathy by telling them that you understand them. For example, if your child is having a problem in school and it seems trivial to you, it may not be trivial to them. Listen to what your child has to say and see if you can both reach a resolution together or give advice on the best way to proceed. If your child feels that they are being listened to, it makes them feel secure, they will in turn gain more confidence in sorting out future conflicts themselves.

Professor Epstein states that acting out is all part of a child’s development and there is no avoiding this phase in a child’s life. It is how parents deal with this difficult aspect in their child’s development that matters, which he calls respect of autonomy.

Parents who value this emerging independence rather than try to shut it down and change it will have a better relationship with their children. You cannot change the emerging personality of your child, instead you should try to help them become the best young adults they can possibly be. Ask for your child’s input into decision making and learn to compromise on issues that affect both you and your child.

Louise with Hannah and Ellie.Picture Denis Minihane.
Louise with Hannah and Ellie.Picture Denis Minihane.

Being a positive role model is an imperative aspect for a child’s development. The old sayings of a monkey see, monkey do, or the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, are so true.

Children learn through observation and, according to a 2010 article on Psychology Today.com, simply put, what they see they learn. The skills adopted by the parents to resolve conflict and resolution will be employed by their children.

Be who you want your children to be; if you are the first person that they are ever going to know in their lives, don’t you want to leave a lasting impression?

I am not advocating that if you follow these guidelines you are going to raise perfect children. It’s not always the case that a child who has received love, respect, nurturing and the utmost care will not go on to lead a wayward life.

Parents have little control over their children once they reach a certain age and some children, regardless of how they were reared, will invariably get into trouble and end up going down the wrong path.

As a mother, I know that it is my job to show my children the difference between right and wrong. To show them how to respect others and themselves. To know their place in the world and to be proud of where they have come from. To work hard towards their goals and strive for their dreams while enjoying the special journey of life not afforded to everyone.

We can only do our best and then at a certain point on the parental path we must let our children go free to find their own place in the world.

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