Written by therapist Doxa Zannou

Mother to Son – Langston Hughes 

Well, son, I’ll tell you:

Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

It’s had tacks in it,

And splinters,

And boards torn up,

And places with no carpet on the floor—

Bare.

But all the time

I’se been a-climbin’ on,

And reachin’ landin’s,

And turnin’ corners,

And sometimes goin’ in the dark

Where there ain’t been no light.

So boy, don’t you turn back.

Don’t you set down on the steps

’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.

Don’t you fall now—

For I’se still goin’, honey,

I’se still climbin’,

And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair. 

I want you to close your eyes for a second and think of your mother or mothering figure (ie: an aunt, a grandmother, a godmother, a teacher, a mentor, etc.). What comes to mind? What values did she embody for you? What strengths did she pass on? What thinking patterns have you inherited from her? What wounds did she inflict because of her own wounds? In what ways did she traumatize you and/or heal you? Consider her tongue and her hands. Consider the ways in which she took care of you and/or also hurt you. 

I know that we all have different experiences with our mothers and mothering figures. I do not assume I know what your story is, but the purpose of this article is for you to explore  the lasting legacies of the women in your life. 

Women’s history is often reduced to a month at most, but the truth is that women’s history is to be celebrated every day of the year because women’s stories are deeply intertwined with the story of the world. This series is split into two blog posts, and together we will explore the ways in which our psychological health and mental wellness is intricately connected to the women in our lives; specifically, the ones who come from marginalized backgrounds and who mothered us or took on a mothering role for us. 

Intergenerational Strengths 

Psychology can so often focus on trauma to the detriment of all else, which is why I think it’s important to begin with the inherited strengths that our mothers, and mothering others, gave us. In a world where women have always faced multiple, intersecting, and systemic obstacles, it is important to highlight and honor our mothers’ survival strategies and mechanisms. Indeed, they are the ones who first survived and navigated an unpredictable, unforgiving world, so that we could be here today. Of course, please take this with a grain of salt – this list is not meant to describe every single person’s experience. Instead, it is meant to be a broad stroke of the traits that the significant women in our lives may have exemplified, which contributed to our survival and wellness. 

Resiliency 

The mother in Langston Hughes’ famous poem tells us that life for her was not easy, but she continued “climbing” for the sake of herself and her family. Many of us can bear witness to the fact that our mothers and mothering figures have survived great odds for us to be where we are today. We live because they lived before us and fought to make it through incredible hardships. Without resiliency, it is not possible to bounce back from trauma. Without building resilience, it is not possible to keep going when everything inside us yearns to hide, cower in fear and sadness, and give up on everything we hold dear. Our mothers and mothering figures have so often shown us that because life is not easy, resiliency is a muscle we need to build and strengthen so that we can face adversity. 

Dedication and Commitment 

In tandem with resiliency, our mothers, and mothering others, have shown us that to build a new world, we must practice commitment and dedication. This means believing in the dream we have and working consistently to achieve this said dream. Often, it can be easy to give up or abandon things we start when we do not see immediate results. However, our mothers teach us that long-lasting and worthwhile endeavors often take time to come to fruition because these require intentional work, patience, and transformation. Many of us can testify to the dedication our mothers and mothering figures showed us by taking care of us, providing for us, working to sustain us, and always being committed to our growth and progress in life. 

Caregiving and Nurturing 

Another important strength our mothers and mothering figures have shown us is care and nurturing. Whether it was only physical or also included our emotional and psychological health, our mothers and mothering figures have often been our primary caregivers. They have provided for our needs and gone through great lengths to provide for the family as well. I do not want to limit the type of care and nurturing women have provided to specific gender roles because I believe that women so often defy the rigid gender roles society forces on them. In many households, women are asked to submit to male hierarchy when they are in fact the ones who make the family function and thrive. In single households, women are also used to fulfilling multiple roles for their children.  In all spheres of life (ie: home, work, school), our mothers and mothering figures provide a strong foundation of love and security, that empowers us to believe in ourselves and face the world with renewed hope and possibility

Even though women from marginalized cultures suffer from intersecting traumas, it is important to remember that our ancestors and caregivers have also given us various strengths and coping strategies that we can lean on during hard times, especially as we work to heal and live wholesome lives. If this resonates with you, I would love to hear more about your mental wellness journey and how it relates to your relationship with the mothering figures in your life. Feel free to give us a call and  schedule an appointment today!

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