By Emma McDermott | Photo by Bibi Powers

Every year, families across the world take a day to celebrate mothers and all they do for us. This is an expression of appreciation for the exhausting work moms do for their kids, spouses, and grandkids, among many others who are lucky enough to know these women. We take a moment to thank our mothers for raising us, teaching us, supporting us, and loving us, all of which require time, care, and most of all, a tremendous amount of patience and grace.

The mothers of the world are the very best of us. This is not only because they carry the hefty burden of bringing us into the world, but also because they understand that we are all watching them, looking to them as examples of how to live our own lives. And because of this, I think we shouldn’t just be celebrating mothers, in the literal sense of the word, but instead honor all women of the maternal disposition on Mother’s Day.

In making this argument, I want to be careful not to reinforce or create a division perpetuated by sexism, nor do I want to under-appreciate the women who give birth and raise children. What I am trying to argue is that there is not, or at least there shouldn’t be, a confined set of boundaries that define what it means to function as a motherly figure.

This does not mean that men and women or fathers and mothers should assume certain roles based on gender. Mothers and fathers share many of the same qualities and responsibilities when it comes to family life, and American society seems, to me, to be trending in a direction where the gendered distinction between father and mother is blurred. Dads should be celebrated for all the work they do for their families on Father’s Day, but on Mother’s Day we should focus our energy on appreciating the female figures in our lives whom we admire, from whom we draw inspiration, and for whom we feel love.

The maternal disposition is not a prescribed set of characteristics that a woman must have in order to function as a motherly figure, and this, I think, is the beauty of the maternal quality I’m trying to describe. First, not all women are able to have children of their own, biologically or otherwise, and some decide that they don’t want children. However, adopting a child does not make one woman any less of a mother than another woman who gave birth to her child. This gets into a more scientific perspective, but the essence of my argument is that the nature of this relationship is transcendent, flexible, and not transactional or utilitarian. Our mothers love us and invest in us out of selflessness.

 This Mother’s Day, we should be celebrating all the women in our lives who act as sources of support, wisdom, patience, inspiration, comfort, and trust, plus whatever else might constitute an individual’s ideal motherly figure. For a young soccer player dreaming of winning the World Cup, Alex Morgan might be this person. For some Britons, it may have been Princess Diana, and maybe now it’s Meghan Markle. For others, it might be a crossing guard they see every day on the way to school, a coach, the person who cuts their hair, or their babysitter.

There is no exact definition of what makes someone a mother, and, accordingly, the people who function in these roles might not always look the same for all of us. The woman who gave birth to someone might feel like a mother to one person but not to another. And it is because of this, in addition to the wonderful women across the globe who fill these motherly roles, which can vary from person to person, that we must honor and thank all our mothers. These are women we learn from each day and try to emulate in our own lives.

This Sunday, May 10, is Mother’s Day in the U.S. While many of us are at home with the person we call our mom, don’t forget those other strong female, motherly role-models in your life who have also loved you and challenged you in a plethora of ways. Maybe send them a text or drop off some cupcakes (while wearing a mask)!

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