Traditional definitions of motherhood evolved because of societal shifts in ideology. While the maternal bond is typically related to pregnancy and childbirth, it can also develop when the child is unrelated. For example, women become mother figures through adoption, step or foster parenting, and more.
According to Sigmond Freud, being a mom is an innate instinctual drive, a normal identity characteristic. However, Freud’s theory has proven to be only partially true since many women do not have that so-called natural bias. On the contrary, women can successfully parent an unrelated child because motherhood is primarily a psychological experience.
Sage Publications report psychiatric researchers and scientists began understanding other factors determining motherliness within the past several decades. Psychiatrist John Bowlby’s theory explains pregnancy and birth do not define the mother-child bond. “Motherhood is seen as the process through which a secure bond or tie with an adult attachment figure, usually a mother, is developed.”
As a result, experts no longer discount non-biological relationships like stepmothers, teachers, mentors, coaches, and family friends. Additionally, a mom’s best friend often plays the important role of a defacto aunt.
Moreover, parenting is a community effort. The African proverb, “it takes a village to raise a child,” explains that many people are required to give children a safe and healthy environment with the security to develop and flourish. This theory also includes motherhood helpers like siblings, extended family members, neighbors, community members, and policymakers as caretakers.
Nontraditional Motherhood Figures
The need for nontraditional motherhood figures is especially vital in situations beyond an individual’s control, such as death, family breakdown, economic pressures, long working hours, and increased mobility. Furthermore, children need non-related maternal figures to fill the void of extended family members.
Some moms require extra help to fulfill motherhood responsibilities. For example, physically disabled, mentally challenged, and mentally ill moms depend on outside assistance to ensure their kids are well-adjusted. Social workers and volunteers offer guidance and support. They co-parent in the background by watching the challenged mom with her offspring. Afterward, they offer suggestions to encourage and teach since their goal is to support and not replace the child’s mom.
Adoptive moms face motherhood challenges, such as their adopted child feeling rejected and abandoned by their birth parents. Despite being dependent on their new parents, some adoptees fail to bond, which may cause underlying self-esteem issues and depression no matter how much affection and support they receive.
On the other hand, most adoptees love and respect their non-biological mom. Their bond is unique, extremely similar to a biological bond with an added feature, belonging.
Not all motherhood figures are female. Uncles, dads, and grandfathers have raised many motherless children. Additionally, “since not all of us have mothers or necessarily associate maternal influence with a blood relative, Mother’s Day is the time to celebrate our chosen moms: the friends, mentors, and handpicked communities that are always there to nurture and support us.”
Simpleaf extends warm Mother’s Day wishes to all motherhood figures, mothers, soon-to-be moms, step-parents, foster parents, teachers, faith leaders, and others filling absent mothers’ shoes. Moreover, we celebrate mothers’ and alternative mother figures’ superhero-like contributions.
Written by Cathy Milne-Ware
(Originally published in Simpleaf)
Frontiers: It Takes a Village to Raise a Child: Understanding and Expanding the Concept of the “Village;” by Andrea Reupert, Shulamith Lala Straussner, Bente Weimand, and Darryl Mayberry
Sage Publications: Psychology of Motherhood; by Andrea O’Reilly
Justice Jonesie: Celebrating Mother Figures on Mother’s Day
Celebrating Alternative Mother Figures on Mother’s Day