The benefits of othermothering aren’t limited to older women like Byrne Miller, or to women whose children are all grown. I believe it can be a release valve for women without children too – call it my case for crowdsourcing motherhood.
Here’s how I got to this idea: I’m astonished by the social media frenzy around women freezing their eggs to give Mr. Right more time to show up, or those who choose single motherhood over co-parenting – not because I’m some Betty Crocker throwback but because I’m awed by the guts it takes to be a mother of any stripe these days. Let me “out” myself – I’m a happily married writer and filmmaker without children. Can you blame me? Just think about the range of the modern stereotypes pre-judging almost every style of mothering.
If you’re an ambitious “Tiger Mom,” then you might as well wear a scarlet letter “A” for child abuser. If you’re a hippy BFF mom then clearly you’re too needy to form adult friendships.
If you’re a helicoptering, Baby Boomer mom then everyone knows your kids will fail to launch and will eat up your data plan photographing themselves instead of getting jobs. And speaking of jobs, let’s not forget you working moms – from “Lean In” corporate climbers to single moms for whom “stay at home” means sick days without pay. According to recent studies at least 50% of your neighbors think your kids are “disadvantaged” thanks to your non-traditional tendencies.
Other mothers are held to a much more humane standard. We get no flack about our age or biological clock. Nobody expects us to consider it a full-time job. We don’t pay college tuition. And we are privy to secrets no-one would dream of telling their mom.
I’m sure that some people will interpret my decision to opt-out of full-time motherhood as selfish at best, or at worst question whether I’m really a woman. But my experience on the receiving end of othermothering gives me confidence that I have a way to pay it forward. More than just coveting my role as best-aunt-in-the-universe, I love that my younger sister relies on me to be an “Other Mother” to her three children and that one of my best friends welcomes my commitment to her non-verbal daughter. I am fine-tuning my emotional radar to young women I sense need impartial support and nurturing. Someday I will be a Byrne for one of them.