Without a doubt, Stanley Ann Dunham demonstrated courage: marrying a Kenyan when inter-racial marriages were still widely illegal; divorcing him; moving young “Barry” to Indonesia; and later divorcing her second (possibly abusive) husband.
However, I don’t think the act of getting pregnant or giving birth makes a woman brave; many people walk into pregnancy and motherhood by mistake or without much forethought.
When my seventh-grade classmate Hattie conceived a child, hid the pregnancy and decided to raise the baby (with her mother’s help) at age 13, I don’t think the word “courageous” was on the tip of school administrators’ tongues.
The mom who literally walked away from my neighbor and her three young siblings may have shown personal courage, but it was in the act of abdicating, not embracing, her role as a mother.
However, the friend who brought a child with Down syndrome into a large and busy household most definitely exhibited courage – and continues to do so every day.
The acquaintance who served as a foster parent and then adopted two siblings born to a crack-addicted woman enjoys Super-Hero status.
And finally, the woman I met at a fundraiser on Friday night shows bravery beyond belief. Listening to her story, I gained a new understanding of the word courage.
Nancy and her husband adopted two children the first time they traveled to Russia; they knew they didn’t want to raise an “only” child, so figured it was easiest to bring home two at once. The boys were then ages two and three, and the four became an instant family.
However, Nancy explained, having seen some of the other 750,000 Russian children who needed parents, she and her husband decided they couldn’t let well enough alone. “We looked around the house and decided how many children we could fit,” she explained.
Just 18 months later, they returned from Russia with four biological siblings, ranging from ages four to 11. Integrating six children into an American community, teaching them English, advocating for them at school, nurturing their broken spirits and working to understand their psychological challenges…Now that’s bravery.
Of course, Nancy and her husband downplay their acts of heroism. “We adopted the children because we just really wanted to be parents,” she said.
So, when I asked Nancy what the phrase “motherhood is an act of courage” means to her, she replied that the courageous part of motherhood “is in accepting kids for who they are and who they’re supposed to be, as opposed to who you dreamed they would be.”
I think any parent can relate to the challenge of reconciling one’s own expectations with the reality of raising a creature who thinks and acts for himself, often in unexpected ways.
And it’s that aspect of unpredictability, the “unknowns” that come along with raising humans that require bravery. Every day, we witness courageous acts in our own lives, or in those of our fellow community members:
- Leaving children at day care or with babysitters, needing blind trust in what really will transpire while you’re away;
- Driving in rush-hour traffic or in difficult conditions when you have youngsters on board;
- Abandoning a cart full of groceries at the store so you can exit quickly with a tantrum-crazed two-year-old;
- Calming an eight-year-old who’s about to have a tonsillectomy, major surgery or chemotherapy;
- Calling another parent to apologize after your offspring has hurt – mentally or physically – their child;
- Advocating for your child at school, so he or she can receive additional assistance;
- Allowing a son to play football, or a daughter to jump off a high-dive;
- Fleeing from an abusive relationship in order to protect yourself or your children;
- Sending a child off to college;
- Convincing a child to enter rehab…
Yes, the challenges we mothers face – some mundane, some extreme — do require courage. And yet, we rarely think of our roles in that way. We love our children the minute they appear in our lives, and we effortlessly, and unthinkingly, engage in countless acts of heroism simply to provide for and protect them throughout their lives.
So, this Mother’s Day, take a look at your own acts of courage, and celebrate your intentions – not just your successes. And finally, let’s remember to support and encourage the other mothers in our lives. Oftentimes they don’t recognize their own strengths.
– Linda Williams Rorem, 8 May 2011