What Does It Mean to Be a Mother? {And Maybe What All the Women Struggling with Mother's Day Need to Know}

I counted the Mother’s Day when I was 7 months pregnant as my first Mother’s Day. I spent extra time in the bathroom that morning readying myself for church. It felt like I had waited a lifetime to join the mass of women standing up to receive their flower at church. Mike walked in while I stood drawing lines above my eyelashes.

I waited for him to say something. His focus was on getting ready, so I thought I’d help him out.

“It’s my first Mother’s Day,” I said, my words coated with expectancy.

He paused. Lowered his voice, “Oh, I didn’t think this counted yet. Wait, this counts?” He looked at my growing belly.

I turned around, facing him. “What do you mean, does it count? Puking for months, waddling everywhere, fat ankles, a swollen face—I can’t even wear my wedding ring. All that doesn’t count as being a mom yet?”

“Oh.” He looked at the floor. “Yeah. I’m sorry, Amanda. I guess I didn’t think about that. I thought you had to have the baby already in your arms to be a mom.

I cocked my head sideways and looked at him, deciding if I should be mad about it or if, perhaps, I was being too sentimental. I took the eyeliner I held in my hand and drew a kohl-black frowny face on the middle of his forehead instead.

{I know. I’m always a model of maturity and grace.}

What is it that makes a mother?

It is a baby growing in a belly? A baby in one’s arms? A shared DNA?

Is it the sacrifices a mother makes—the always laying down? The staying home, the working hard, the laundry never quite done?

What of the women in waiting? The women aching? The women poking themselves with needles, the women praying hard, the women excavating a little more hope out of themselves each month?

What of the women who have heard “not viable” pronounced over the hope they carried, who have cramped and bled and felt hollowed out? How they began making room—in their heart and their body and their home—and how that room became a black-hole void.

What of the women who have been mothers, who feel like mothers, who have loved like mothers, but no longer have a child to mother?

What of the super aunties, the step-moms, and the step-in-and-be-a-moms? What of the teachers, the neighbors, the kind strangers?

What is it that makes a mother?

Can it be measured by sleepless nights?

In stretch marks? Or adoption paperwork?

By kisses or silly songs or how many stories you've read?

Can it be measured by mini-vans or car seats? By the number of cheerios that have been swept off floors? By plastic plates stacked up tall in your cupboards? By magic erasers that have scrubbed crayons and grubby hand prints off of walls?

My mother-in-law once looked at me chasing my little ones and told me she wasn’t very motherly. Not like you, she said. I didn’t come with that natural mothering thing.

I stopped and turned towards her, head tilted, like the leaning would help with the comprehending. Mom, I told her, that’s not true. My husband is a fine man. Maybe we are all just different kinds of mothers.

Maybe we are all just different kinds of mothers.

Maybe we are all care-takers. Helping out and raising up—offering all we know—wrestling with all we don’t know.

Maybe we are the ones who notice and celebrate the unique shape of the ones around us—who create space inside our bodies and inside our hearts and inside our homes.

Maybe we are the ones who have saved back a little for ourselves and ended up giving that too because someone needed it. Maybe we are the ones longing for an ice cream cone unlicked by anyone else, a secret drawer of fine dark chocolate.

Maybe we are the ones who have scraped the bottom of our energy reserve, the bottom of our possessions, the bottoms of our souls.

Maybe we are the hopeful ones, the believe-the-best ones, the you-are-beautiful-just-how-you-are ones. Maybe we are the safe space, the I’m-always-here-for-you place.

Maybe we are the ones with banged up knees and an iceberg faith—behind closed doors and in our cars lifting up the ones we love by laying ourselves down—Always believing and hoping for life in the unseen places in our hearts.

Maybe we all feel that grim not-measuring up. What we wished we had. What we no longer have. What we wish we were doing better. Like somewhere there’s this woman in a gingham apron making funny shapes out of pancakes and mothering is easy and natural and everyone loves her. Meanwhile our life is messy and we are just winging it. We think we are failing somehow.

I am sitting here thinking of Hagar—flung into motherhood as the handmaiden of her mistress, Sarah. Hagar, the half-hope. Hagar, the despised. She flees to the wilderness to escape Sarah’s cruelty. An angel of the Lord appears to her there and tells her she will have a son who will “be a wild donkey of man” and “whose hand will be against everyone.” Then he tells her to return. (Genesis 16). I ponder this—these hard promises, these hard requests.

Hagar gives God a name there—El-Roi—the God who sees me. Because this life—it isn’t always easy. And mothering is sometimes the least natural thing—in the way it hasn’t happened or in the way it hasn’t looked a thing like you thought it would or in the way you’ve been asked to do what you didn’t sign up for.

But there is a God who sees you. Who sees beneath the surface, all the unseen longings, the silent prayers, the places you think you are failing, the well of your soul you wish was deeper so you wouldn’t keep scraping against the bottom. My pastor says it like this: what God requires, He provides. What He has asked of you, He is the answer to.

What He has asked of you, He is the answer too.

And, dear heart, He sees you.

He sees you Mother. Lover. Caretaker. Bottom-of-your-soul scraper.

He sees you grandma, step-mom, not-yet-a-mom, empty-armed mom. He sees you even if you don’t want to be a mom. He sees you, woman. And He loves you.

This Mother's Day I have no idea if there is anyone thinking of you, but, dear heart, I want you to know I am.

Here’s to you, woman, the one God sees.


By Grace,

Amanda Conquers