Posing at Philadelphia's South Street art district with a 17-year-old Kaley

Posing at Philadelphia’s South Street Art District with a 17-year-old Kaley

“All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.”

~ Abraham Lincoln

Was Abraham Lincoln declaring the virtues of his birth mother — or a mother of a different sort?

Whether the woman in question was Lincoln’s actual mother or someone else, I cannot say. However, I’m borrowing his “angel mother” turn of a phrase to consider special women today who might not claim the official title of mother, but whose spirit embodies that of a true mom.  

For many, Mothers Day is a time to venerate and gush over the traditional role of moms.  Flowers, candy, brunches and lunches are all part of the time-honored celebration. Recently, social outlets like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter add to the flood with more Mothers Day quotes, photos and special dedications.

But perhaps you have never been a mother in the traditional sense. You might feel the pangs of a gaping social hole that gnaws at you regularly and becomes especially deep on Mothers Day. 

Today, I feel compelled to address you and invite you to consider the holiday in a new and broader way. A more spiritual way that’s reminiscent of Abraham Lincoln’s quote. 

If you’re not a traditional mother, you are certainly not alone. I invite you to consider how you needn’t give birth after the societal sense to embody motherhood as a calling of the spirit. There is a special place for you in this world. 

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“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.”

~ Helen Keller

The first time I remember discussing plans for our future family was on our honeymoon. I fondly remember asking Jimmy to take my picture with a darling 5-year-old boy. One of several children, he was selling flowers along the streets of Acapulco and I became captivated by his bright eyes. I chatted with him in his native tongue, then bent down and put my arm around him so we could smile for the camera together.

In one sense, he was a perfect stranger. But in my heart, I loved this little child and could have easily made him my own. 

“Jimmy,” I remarked later, “I hope we have four children. It would be nice to have two of our own and adopt two others from foreign countries.” Jimmy was all for the idea. The thought of opening our hearts to children who had no family was a happy one. A very natural one for us, too.  

Like many things we plan for in life, our expectations for several children didn’t materialize. It took me over a decade to give birth to our only child. A few attempts to adopt children both locally and internationally also never came to be.

This weekend, our daughter has “unplugged” from all social media and even cell phone communication. I’ll likely speak to her tomorrow. And she knows there’s no obligation to pay me special respects on Mothers Day.

Kaley and I can look back on all the time we spent together during her formative years. I was both her full-time mom and a trusty home school teacher. She was the eager, purposed and sponge-like shadow who helped me cook, care for our dogs and even assisted in our family business. Our time together was brief but it was especially rich and joyful.

At just 16, she was off to Boston to complete a journalism degree and her life has taken her to several distant places ever since. Despite the distances that appear to separate us geographically, we remain tied by a very close bond. 

Chapter Break New Hearts

A curious thought passed through my mind today. I realized that every child who ever came to our home was treated like one of our own. So were the exchange students we hosted. I wouldn’t have known how to show partiality toward one child and less attention to another.

Each one who came to join us was loved, welcomed, embraced. Though I only produced one official child of my own, I apparently had a the heart and spirit of a mother.

For me, “mothering” was not so much a physical role. It’s been a spiritual one.

This Mothers Day, I’m glad to have discovered another dimension to motherhood.

Mothering needn’t be limited to those who give birth after the flesh. In its truest sense, mothering is a matter of a spirit-led heart generously extending itself to another in love. 

If you’re not a traditional mother but you long to be, look around you today. There’s a special place for you in the heart of someone else. 

Share your motherly heart abroad and enjoy a Happy Mothers Day of your own.

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Maura Sweeney is a Podcaster, Author and Speaker

Her mantra is “Living Happy – Inside Out!”

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