It's the season to shower our mothers with love. My mom and I currently live 8,434 miles apart and I miss not being with her this Mother's Day. We have a Skype call planned (hooray for technology!) and I fully intend to spend it loving and laughing with her.
And yet, beyond the beautiful sentiments that we all feel for our mothers on this special day, I can't help wondering how the idea of motherhood needs to keep up with the times we live in. With the family portrait of the female homemaker and the male breadwinner now a fading memory, what can we do to move our attitudes about motherhood into the 21st century?
Mothering in modern times
Mothering in the 20th century seemed easier somehow. Teach your children well, love them unconditionally, make the personal or financial sacrifices you believe are important to their success and they should turn out fine.
That formula worked well in a world that wasn't so interconnected; in a world where dangers and distractions didn't constantly lurk online or around the corner; in a world that you at least understood. When your children are now the de facto trend and technology experts in your household, how do you stay relevant as a guiding force in their lives? When a college education no longer guarantees a job when you graduate, what advice do you offer instead? And in an age where mass shootings in the U.S. shatter nerves and mass child abductions in Nigeria trigger global protests, how do you reconcile the madness for yourself and turn it into a teachable moment for your kids?
Just as the mothers of those Nigerian girls have shown, it's time for our maternal warrior to shine. I'm a pacifist by nature, but I recognize that boiling-point situations call for drastic measures, at least in the short term. According to a CNN report about the abductions:
"Nigerian women from the town of Chibok in the northeastern Borno state, the mothers, sisters, relatives and friends of the schoolgirls, launched their protests and set off the #BringBackOurGirls campaign that swept away weeks of international apathy."
As a single parent (my dad died when I was 8) my mother has, on several occasions, risked personal safety to protect me from harm. Women have an inborn instinct to physically defend our young. Living as we do in civilized societies, many of us have not needed to exercise that instinct (and thank goodness for that). But I'm suggesting that we start evoking the spirit of Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, when we mother; to display both strength and vulnerability, passion and discipline, masculine and feminine. Our children need us to speak up for their well-being when it matters. And if we expect our men to become more sensitive (i.e. connect with the best parts of their feminine psyche) at work and at home, then as women we in turn must be prepared to express the best parts of our masculine side (e.g. strength and self-confidence).
Mothering in our organizations
Between Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In and Arianna Huffington's Thrive, the voice of female leadership is gaining momentum in popular business literature. Global female entrepreneurship has hit a media tipping point, and statistics suggest that women entrepreneurs have higher levels of innovation than their male counterparts. Even a report about America's working poor acknowledges that women are the backbone of both families and organizations.
In a globally-connected economy that calls for more cross-cultural collaboration and leadership, women are dominating job roles like social media marketing and managerial coaching that align with their natural ability to communicate and nurture.
The question is: all this looks good on paper, but how much of an impact are women currently making in your organization? If there's fear or uncertainty about including more women in your decision-making and leadership, why are we willing to entrust our children to this mothering energy but not the success of our organizations? If you feel that "our leadership ain't broke, so there's no need to fix it," I beg to differ. Complex times call for problem-solving that relies on well-developed masculine and feminine approaches, and women can identify critical gaps that men may overlook. Matriarchal societies have thrived for centuries, and many female entrepreneurs are blazing impressive trails, so there's proof that women can tend to the needs of a tribe. I believe in neither a patriarchal nor a matriarchal way of leading, but a gender-neutral/egalitarian one. May the best human being lead. And may we as leaders develop the self-awareness to transcend our biases and hire the most qualified person for the job.
The mother of all mothers
In The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell devotes an entire chapter to "The Gift of the Goddess." Ancient human civilizations revered the goddess figure and linked it to the creative energy of the earth, from which all living things were birthed and returned to upon their death... hence the term Mother Earth. Unlike our ancient ancestors, we no longer practice rituals to cement our organic connection to Mother Earth. This has been to our detriment, for we're now emotionally divorced from our natural environment, which makes it easier to exploit it every day. This week, the White House released a National Climate Assessment that states "we know with increasing certainty that climate change is happening now." Whether or not you believe there is a causal link between human activities like CO2 emissions and climate change, we need to re-establish our emotional bond with Mother Earth in order to give a hoot about it in the first place. We change what we care about. Without fostering a love for Mother Earth, climate turnaround efforts will simply fall on deaf ears.
So, as the sun sets on yet another Mother's Day, spare a thought for how we might now need to mother our children, for the mothering that can elevate our organizations, and for the planet that nourishes us every day.