The thing is Anna Jarvis, the woman who created Mother’s Day a hundred years ago, didn’t have kids either. She was what I call an “other mother” – unrelated women we all need and cherish. The term “other mothers” goes back to the era of slavery, when caring, un-related women raised the children left behind when mothers were sold off plantation. Today it’s a much broader, nurturing term in the vein of “it takes a village to raise a child.”
There’s no biological clock for othermotherhood—something I’ve learned to appreciate after many a well-meaning tick-tick-tick reminders. Another big plus is that other mothers can be part time and still get benefits! I know, because I still think about mine every day, especially on Mother’s Day. The woman I wrote about in The Other Mother: A Rememoir—Byrne Miller—was an 82-year-old former burlesque dancer I met when I was 22 and became one of her “collected children.”
Sometimes it takes a complete stranger to show us who we were meant to be. Or, as Byrne always said, “The family you’re born with is not the one you’re stuck with.”
So in honor of Byrne, and Anna Jarvis, I’ve compiled a list of five reasons to remember your “other mothers” this Mother’s Day.
2) You may be an other mother yourself – even if you don’t have kids.
Who says diapers and strollers are prerequisites for getting Mother’s Day cards and flowers? More women are waiting to start families of their own, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t already nurturing and supporting the children of their friends, sisters, neighbors, and colleagues.
The tradition dates back much earlier than Mother’s Day, according to University of Wisconsin professor emeritus of philosophy, Dr. Carl Hedman: “You have to remember nuclear families are pretty new in all of human history. Having other mothers makes parents happier, which makes kids happier.”
3) Your mother will know she raised a thoughtful, secure human being.
Calling your mom on Mother’s Day means you thought of her. Sharing Mother’s Day with other mothers is a sign you learned something from her. My mom has always wanted the best for me and she recognized that Byrne Miller expanded my horizons and opened doors for me. In a way, my having an other mother relieved some of her 24/7 mom worry.
4) Your other mother knows all your secrets. Especially the ones you could never tell the woman who changed your diapers.
It isn’t always easy to confide in the mother who raised you. She has a vested interest in your identity. Since other mothers are selected, not inherited, they tend not to judge themselves by your successes or disappointments.
You spill your deepest, darkest secrets with your other mothers. Mother’s Day is the perfect time to remind them of how grateful you really are, without having to say ‘please don’t tell my mom about that thing we talked about.’
5) They don’t expect it – you’ll be a hero.
Mother’s Day became so commercialized, so quickly, that Anna Jarvis spent the rest of her life trying to get it off the list of official holidays. It didn’t work. Today, for some siblings, scoring the best Mother’s Day gift has become a competitive event.
Not so with other mothers. They picked you, in a sense. So remembering your other mothers on Mother’s Day is unexpected and uber-appreciated.