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Darby Hickey Headshot

Reflections on Motherhood

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As the child of a single mother, I've always had a great appreciation for Mothers' Day. Although my mom wasn't always physically there for us (she often worked two, sometimes three, jobs), she made tremendous sacrifices to support my sisters and me. She taught me so much about how to be a good person, and how to be a mom.

That appreciation for motherhood deepened when I became godmother, for lack of a better word, to an amazing little girl, supporting her to thrive in this world. She is now a young woman headed off to college. Throughout these many years of our relationship, I have vividly remembered things I wished my own mother hadn't done, and tried not to repeat them, even as I voraciously copied other pieces of her playbook.

And just a year and a half ago, I became a mother to my own son. I'm sure I join trillions of other moms around the world and throughout history as I try to shower him with love while also supporting him to grow up safe and healthy. Of course, those two aims shouldn't be mutually exclusive, but it's likely that if I let him eat as much baby yogurt as he wants, the result could be fatal.

So sometimes "mother knows best," and we have to wait to appreciate it (someday you'll thank me for limiting your yogurt intake, my love). But other times, we're right in thinking we can see a better way. Like how I wish my mom had reacted differently when I came out as transgender to her -- it was a pretty bumpy ride at first. Fortunately, unlike many similar situations, things smoothed out with time. While I am lucky to now have the full support of my mom, I also built my own chosen family, and this is a day to honor those, as well. Let's drink a mimosa and buy a bouquet for all the "house mothers," "gay mothers," and other mommas defined by their nurturing rather than a title on a birth certificate.

Now it's my turn to find myself in the driver's seat for a new stretch of bumpy road as I raise my son. I'm plagued by doubts about whether I'm doing a good job, whether I'm a "good mom." I grapple with social forces that demonize me as ill-fit to be a mother because I'm transgender and have an unconventional family, just as they demonized my mom for being a single mother. If my son wears a barrette in his hair or some pink, frilly pants, I'm afraid. Afraid people will think I'm trying to indoctrinate him. Afraid he'll be harassed. Afraid other parents won't want their kids to play with him. Helping to quell those fears are my wife, my platonic life partner in crime, and way more "aunts" and "uncles" than I have siblings. But even so, I still sometimes wonder whether it's all a mistake, whether I shouldn't be a mother.

It doesn't take much more to dispel those feelings than a greeting from my son, rushing to hug me, babbling incoherently, telling me about his day, asking for yogurt, describing the latest thing he has broken. I'm lucky to have him, and he's lucky to have me. Too many of us have been harmed by dysfunctional families that are supposed to represent the pinnacle of social values. We deserve to both give and receive unconditional love.

Such unconditional love between a mom and child is powerful. It should be the cornerstone of being a mother, but it certainly isn't exclusive to us. Just like other motherly traits -- compassion, responsibility, helping people to be accountable for their actions -- everyone should embrace them. Here's to the mother in all of us.