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“I never thought you were a mother.”

The woman who spoke these words to me had only seen me in passing at a yoga class we both attend on a random basis. That is the whole sum of our interactions. And yet she had formed a little story of who I am.

She’s not alone, we do this all the time. We have stories, projections, and perceptions happening constantly about other people.  Mostly we are unaware of them…until they are challenged.

I kept spinning out on how surprised I was to hear that she didn’t think I was a mother. The most important part of my life and identity for the last 8 years was totally lost on her, how could that even be?

I started to wonder, what do we look for when it comes to mothers?  Or, do we even look closely at them? Are the women raising children important enough for us to be interested in them in a deep way? Do we really see the women preparing the next generation of (hopefully brave, creative, sensitive, intelligent, and loving) people we will be handing this mess of a society over to?

It’s a curious thing to think about what a mother looks like. Is she old, young, or somewhere in between? Is she stylish and attractive, or is she out of date and disheveled? Is she energized with love in her eyes, or is she wiped out, drained, and hoping for a nap soon?

And what is she like? Does she have interesting things to say and contribute to the conversation, or is she checked out and distracted? Does she have issues and endeavors that fill her with feeling, meaning, and purpose, or is she lost, isolated, and confused? Does she enjoy the fullness of her life, or does she crumble under the pressure of so much to do with so little time and space?  Does she have a rich and enduring marriage, or does she feel resentful of or disconnected from her partner?

Basically, do we want to understand her, or do we just judge her?

How can we presume we know really anything about a woman, just by looking at her? Well, of course we can’t. And yet we do. We presume a ton.

And we are often dead wrong.

I circled back to this mother eventually and asked her what was it about me that had her so sure that I wasn’t a mother, like her? She confided in me that it had to do with her own insecurities.

Now this mother is very self aware, so she gave me a truthful and vulnerable answer. She is physically gorgeous, vibrant, intelligent, and running her own business while raising her kids. It’s hard to even imagine she would have any insecurities at all. She seems to be doing everything in a very self assured way (she even gets herself to yoga more regularly than I do).

But like so many other women, she too feels insecure at times. So many of us compare, measure, and judge ourselves, sometimes a lot. Though this is not all bad. Sometimes we can find better footing when we realize we aren’t who or where or what we truly want to be. We can use our discernment for the betterment of ourselves and our relationships with others.

However, it’s when we lose sight of reality, and get caught in a pattern of disempowerment, that the alarms should start going off.  When our thinking starts to spin out on have to’s, shoulds, should nots, I can’t, he won’t, she’s so… its important to recognize that we are spiraling down into a mental and emotional space full of stress and even feelings of being victimized. The wear and tear of this perception and mentality is great on every level of our being: physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, and relational.

The antidote to internal disempowerment is to remember we have choices.  They may not be the choices we’d like, but they are there, and they are ours to make.  This is not just for the privileged ones among us (and sometimes the most privileged mothers are the most burdened, overwhelmed, and drained, actually).  When we remember we can choose to play our situation in a way that works for us, when we are willing to do the brave thing and embody our personal values and live according to those and only those, we can change that pattern.

When it comes to others, it helps to remember how little we truly know about any stranger or even acquaintance. To know the intimate details of a woman’s life, we can’t rely on her face and body to tell us the truth.  They may hold clues, but to truly know more we must be interested and learn how to really look and be willing to understand her.

How do we learn how to do that, to see beyond the exterior?

With curiosity.

When you inevitably start to box me or yourself in, you can begin to break it open with curiosity, questions, watching, and wondering. Keep reminding yourself to ask, be curious, and notice, instead of assume.  Give yourself this kind of presence, and offer it to those you love.  When we care enough about ourselves to not subject ourselves to a mentality that disempowers us, or other women, good things come from that for everyone.

I am so grateful for the interaction I had with this fellow mother. Her straightforwardness and willingness to share her perceptions inspired a sweet connection between us.

I imagine I could relate to almost any mother out there. Give me enough time to connect with her, and we will find the place that we understand each other. We may parent our children very differently, may have very different values, and may make very different life choices. But if she loves her kids, and cares about her role in their lives, that shared heartfelt experience is a doorway into understanding one another.

Amidst the endless trials and triumphs of motherhood, the least we can do is offer our presence, interest, and care for the women on the ground with us. We are all making a journey, in different ways and forms, through the profound experience of mothering. We can only benefit from remembering that we are in this together.