In our new series Voices of Irish Country Magazine, we’re sharing some of the most popular columns found inside each issue of the magazine – past and present. This piece, by our parenting columnist Laurie Morrissey, was adapted from the Mar/Apr 2023 edition. Keep an eye on our website over the coming weeks for more excerpts from our brilliant writers
As I type I have one eye on my six-year old’s Tamagotchi. She’s at school and has asked me to care for this beloved, pink, plastic entity – to feed it, play with it, even at times to discipline it. Responding to it’s ‘chirps’ is pretty demanding and a vague throwback to our family’s small baby phase. It’s a reminder also of the many ways in which we all mother and how birthing your own child can often be beside the point.
In a recent interview, the actress and producer Tracee Ellis Ross proudly owned her mothering skills, asserting; “I am a wonderful mother”. Although not a parent herself, Ellis Ross was alluding to her nurturing side, the part of her which is deeply creative and a great friend. “I’m very mothering and it’s been hard for me to claim that in a world where I don’t have the thing that says (I’m a mother)”. Which got me thinking about one of my favourite roles – that of the aunt.
As a general rule, aunties rock. They will love their nieces and nephews unconditionally, delight in them, be proud of them, unfalteringly loyal to them and spoil them in the best of ways. Some will offer to babysit, most remember birthdays and your aunty will always, always think the best of you. Becoming an aunt myself has been a source of immense joy. It’s like a different kind of love gets activated, similar to when you become a parent but without the chores and doesn’t-bear-thinking-about financial burden. What’s not to like?
What’s more, as an aunt (and very proud Godmother) there’s a deep knowing and recognition between you and this wonderful child. I’ve always enjoyed seeing my mother’s relationship with her aunties, happy that she could be on the experiencing end of the kind of mothering she was constantly giving us. And I felt it with my own aunts as they nurtured me over the years – hugging away home sickness when I would stay with them or passing me a knowing look at a family get-together, the shorthand of understanding that comes with being a part of the same stew. Mine send me cards and texts to mark birthdays and Christmases, even as a forty-odd-year-old!
Aunties are just one intrinsic part of the very real village it takes to raise a child. One of the first thoughts that will cross a new mother’s mind is the fact that ‘nobody tells you’. You get handed a tiny human being and are immediately expected to mother without the aid of an instruction manual, which truly seems bonkers.
What can sometimes feel like an impossible task of the most epic proportions becomes a daily crash course in instinct. And so you lean, heavily, into the experiences of mothering you garnered throughout your life while interacting with family members and teachers and neighbours who stop to chat and ask if you need anything from town.
I commented the other day to my husband about how each and every time I step inside our local supermarket I get mothered. Just a bit. The people who work there nod in agreement that the weather’s been harsh, they admire my small one and let me know if I’ve missed a two-for-one offer. Once my bits are packed up they wish me well, tell me to take care. Each exchange is one of love – and all that love lays the foundations for how we want and need our society to be. It sets the tone for the kind of world we are a part of and raises babies to be people who are kind and empathetic and balanced.
Writers such as Anne Helen Petersen have written passionately about the struggle many mothers encounter while trying to raise their children – financially, emotionally and particularly, when trying to balance a career and throughout the recent pandemic. Petersen is not a mother herself but delights in the children in her life and is verging on visionary when she talks about how communities could and should pull together in order to support parents better while sharing both the burden and joy of childrearing. This concept is all at once old fashioned (because this is what happened in the old days, right?) and completely new and revolutionary.
Motherhood is a gift, and yet it is not something we all can or necessarily want to do. The ability to mother, on the other hand, is a natural part of every one of us which we should be embracing and harnessing. Here’s to all the people who show us what love is. Here’s to the kindness of shop assistants, acquaintances and wonderful aunties. It’s all mothering at it’s best.