Honoring the Other Mothers

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(iStock Photo/Franck Boston)

The great thing about spending time with your grandmother is that (1) she thinks you are The Cheese and (2) she is the only one who knows all the dirt on your mom.

This could explain the unspoken bond between grandmothers and grandchildren. Grandmothers are powerful. I am planning to use this power whenever I have grandchildren of my own. I have already ordered those T-shirts for kids that say, "What happens at Grandma's stays at Grandma's."

I was privileged to have two very different types of grandmothers in my developing years. I had my Nana in Texas, and when my mother remarried I got the bonus of another type of grandmother. Ludie Pulliam was a chemist who was chosen to work on the development of the hydrogen bomb during World War II.

Their family relocated to Los Alamos when my stepfather was young, and their life was quite different from Nana's. Ludie had a housekeeper and cook and worked her entire adult life as a scientist until she retired and moved back to Laurel, Mississippi, to be near her family.

She was my grandmother who loved sports, card games and frying shrimp. My Nana didn't know the first thing about sports, considered playing cards a sin and never peeled a shrimp in her life. But my life is the richer for the diversity of my grandmothers.

I am grateful that my daughter is experiencing the same thing with her grandmothers. My mom loves all things domestic and my husband's mom loves all things educational.

Elyse has one of each: a cooking grandmother and a read-aloud grandmother. That doesn't mean that either could not do both, but why not just let everyone flow in their areas of giftedness?

Nana died when I was 18 years old. All the women that she mothered (daughters, granddaughters, nieces, daughters-in-law, friends) grieved the passing of a woman who felt no higher calling than to serve and encourage others.

My mom told me that she felt protective of her mother all of her life because my grandmother's health was already in decline by the time my mom was old enough to help around the house. My mother felt motherly toward her mother.

But my mom does not recall ever having any feelings of angst or resentment toward her mother, mostly protective feelings toward Nana. This is the way it works with mothers and daughters.

Complexity and tangled feelings can flip the script and keep things emotionally out of order. Regardless of the situation, the mother/daughter bonds are fierce and powerful and leave an enormous tear when one leaves this earth.

As my mom was only 39 when her mother died, she was left motherless as she was approaching middle age. It has been interesting to watch her choose her own Other Mothers. In the years since Nana's passing, my mom has stayed in contact with various women who were friends of her mother and has allowed these women to mother her.

She did not wait for these Other Mothers to come into her life. She made regular phone calls, sent cards and stayed involved in their lives.

Very Special Honorees

There is a group of women who are thrust into Other Mother status: stepmoms. Of all the Other Mothers, this role requires the most patience, tenacity and understanding. The children of the first marriage feel that the entrance of the stepmom signals the death of the first family, so they can't help but view her with distrust and suspicion.

Stepmoms are often perceived as intruders, unwanted love-stealers interloping through a house of hurt, trying to build new relationships with children who don't even want her there, much less in their lives. I have seen some navigate with grace and others crack beneath the incredible strain of being rejected day after day. God bless the stepmothers of the world. Theirs is a difficult row to hoe.

Then there are the mothers-in-law, the women who raise the men we marry. To them we owe a debt of gratitude for raising a son who knew a good thing when he saw it!

I am thankful for my mother-in-law, Vesta, and her love for John. When she recounts stories of John's life pre-me, I feel that I am getting an important glimpse into the events that shaped him into the man I came to love.

Allow your mother-in-law her own special place among your Other Mothers and let her know that she is appreciated. Without her perspective you may never fully understand what makes your man tick.

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