Growing up in a dysfunctional family with a mom who neither was there for me, nor knew how to be, I realized I needed to look elsewhere for mothering and nurturing, not only for me, but to break my family’s chain of dysfunction. At first, my search wasn’t intentional, but grew out of a natural need for guidance. This started as a child when I watched how my friends’ moms nurtured their own children, presented themselves to the world and to their children’s friends. I would go over to friends’ houses and be greeted by mothers with a welcoming smile, who would offer us a snack and sit and talk with us for a while. I spent a lot of my childhood years with my friends’ moms, not wanting to bring friends to my own home, afraid of who my mom was going to be that day. Naturally, I started modeling myself after the mothers I respected. I would make mental notes about what I liked about them, how they dressed, how they presented themselves, how they spoke to their children, and even when they were disappointed in them. What I soon realized was that, for me to learn how to be a woman, and ultimately a mom, I had to garner lessons from other women besides my mother.
This modeling process became more deliberate later in my 20’s, as I started watching how career women carried themselves, negotiated their career advancement and working alongside men. I learned from watching these career women that there were healthier ways to relate to men, as my mother had only modeled for me how to manipulate and use them. I call these women in my life, those who taught me how to be the woman I was becoming, Mama Mentors.
And of course, a Mama Mentor proved invaluable to me as a first-time mother. In the absence of my own mom, there were wonderful women, Mama Mentors, who walked alongside me and showed me how to take care of my new baby. One Mama Mentor, who has been a crucial influence in my life, was my mother-in-law, my husband’s stepmother, who stood by my side through my pregnancy, labor and later as I learned to care for a newborn. Diana would come over to our house and take care of the baby, clean, do the wash, and make dinner, allowing me to catch up on much needed rest. I knew that Diana was the kind of mother-in-law and grandmother I wanted to be. Even before then, when my husband and I were engaged, my future mother-in-law would show me how to dress for different events and how to act in different situations, things my own mother didn’t teach me.
As my own children have grown, I have become a Mama Mentor to many young women whose own mothers couldn’t provide the nurturing and advice they needed at these crucial life junctures. I have young twenty-somethings that call me regularly to talk about all kinds of mom-daughter topics, such as a boyfriend, school, and career issues. Even girls who have great relationships with their moms sometimes just want another mom to talk to.
So many of us come from families that are very broken, that have perpetuated their dysfunction from generation to generation. Our only hope to break this chain is to create families for ourselves modeled after Mama Mentors we respect, who will walk alongside us, teach us, mentor us and give us that motherly advice that so many of us never received from our own mothers. We need to know that we can reach out to someone, and have that person walk alongside us and guide us. Especially when our own families fail us, we have the power to create our own families by finding Mama Mentors to fill that essential role.
HOW TO FIND A MAMA MENTOR
The easiest way to find a Mama Mentor is to start with mothers of girlfriends whom you respect, who are open, loving, and approachable. As a child, I would see my friends’ moms so often that I got comfortable enough to ask them questions, and they were more than happy to advise me.
Another place to find a Mama Mentor is, if you’re involved, in your local religious community. Ask the pastor’s wife, or another women you feel really comfortable with, for advice. I am often approached by young girls at church and on retreats. They observe me, much as I observed my own friends’ moms, and summon up the courage to approach me. Any kind of group setting in which you see a woman you admire and with whom you connect, repeatedly, is a great place to find a Mama Mentor. Be brave and ask her to meet with you. You will rarely, if ever, be turned down. After all, you’re not going to approach someone who is unapproachable, or who hasn’t given you an opening through which to reach out to her. Going out for coffee makes for an easy first meeting. Worst case scenario, you spent 10-15 minutes with the wrong person. Most times, however, your intuition is spot-on, and you’ve engaged your first Mama Mentor!
PAYING IT FORWARD
Looking back on the Mama Mentors who have guided me to become the woman I am, my most important piece of advice is to, in your adult life is, pay it forward. Be the mentor for someone else. As much as I loved having my mentors growing up, I took great joy in becoming a Mama Mentor for other young women. By breaking the chains of dysfunction and mentoring healthy mother-daughter relationships, we are creating peace on earth, one woman at a time.