Happy Mother’s Day to moms, step-moms, birth-moms, adoptive moms, foster moms, grand-moms, and everyone who has ever been a primary caregiver for a child. Thank you for your service to humanity!
Interesting fact: Did you know why humans are so much more helpless than babies of other species? Apparently, for us to come out as fully functional as other mammals who can root around to find a nipple, stand, and even walk within hours of birth, we’d have to stay in utero for two years! Yikes, that sure would slow down the birthrate, wouldn’t it?
So why don’t we gestate longer? Our heads are too big! What with all that creative and analytical thinking, our brains have tripled in size over the last six to eight million years. So we are born earlier, while still in a helpless state, just so we can be born at all.
This setup would not work without oxytocin, the hormone that makes us fall instantly in love with a wrinkled screaming infant and think that he or she is the most beautiful being ever to exist in the whole world from the beginning of time. So all the crying, the middle-of-the-night feedings, the seemingly endless cycles of fulfilling needs, and the smelly messes that erupt from every orifice can all be tolerated. Of course, sometimes the oxytocin doesn’t kick in right away or some other causes and conditions make bonding difficult, but generally, the system works well, and our species lives on.
To assure that it does, we have systems and traditions in place that remind us to take care of each other. We have family units, extended families, friends, neighbors, affinity groups, coworkers, and cultural stories that promote caring for each other.
We are ever-evolving as a species, and part of that evolution is to recognize the interconnection of all life beyond those defined groups. The same hormone that kicks in for a newborn can be cultivated. For example, one benefit of meditation is that it activates the release of oxytocin in the brain, making us feel more at ease. Does it also help us feel the same sense of engaged wonder and delight toward the messy bawling world that mothers feel for their newborns? Maybe! And if so, that’s not delusional thinking. That’s the truth we often try to ignore. It’s also a solution to the many challenges we face. When we see ourselves not as separate and isolated but as intrinsically interconnected, a part of one big amazing system of aliveness, then we can co-create a safer, healthier, and happier existence for us all.
As the oxytocin kicks in, as the compassion and sense of interconnection rises within us, our hearts go out, particularly to children in need we see in the news. Children at the border, children in foster care, children exposed to gun violence, hunger, and abuse. It seems as if our established systems for assuring the young are taken care of are so formalized, there’s no place for someone with a compassionate heart to just step in and do something. But that’s not true! There are a number of organizations that help children in peril. To find them, just do an online search for your particular concern. For example, ‘How can I help foster kids” or ‘How can I help children at the border’ or ‘How can I help end gun violence against children.’ Whether you donate funds or volunteer, there is room for your compassion to take wing. And if you are already doing that, thank you!! Feel free to make note of the organization you help in the reply box below.
Another interesting fact: humans are one of the few species that continue to parent into adulthood, maintaining bonds, and often pitching in with the raising of grandchildren. For many that parent-child bond is strong until the death of the parent.
If your mother is no longer alive, whether you had a close bond or not, there may be a feeling of being an orphan. Even though that word is generally reserved for children, and rightly so, it is hard to lose a parent at any age.
When my mother died in 1989, I was devastated. I lost my bearings, my moorings, my sense of who I was in the world. I remember feeling that she had been my foundation. My health crumbled. I had to give up my career. I had to learn how to mother myself.
Through meditation, I began to learn how to be kind to myself, how to nurture myself, and how to heal. I didn’t realize I was actively cultivating the oxytocin that my mother had for me. But I discovered that we can learn to cultivate compassionate awareness that helps us see that we are not alone, that we are an intrinsic part of all that is, and that we are okay. Our compassion is then able to hold all life in an open and loving embrace.
That’s a lot to learn! And on a day like today, Mother’s Day, it helps as a balm to the scar of the wound of losing her too soon. I am the age now that she was when she died, the same age that her mother was when she died. I have no plans to carry on that family tradition. But many sweet traditions keep her with me always. And for that I am grateful. I miss you, Mom!