By Julia Sykes (she/her/hers)
While performing my usual routine upon arrival to office of checking messages the other day, I was heartened by the kindest Mother’s Day message from one of my clients – she prefaced by saying she was not sure whether I was a mother or not, but that she hoped I had a beautiful and celebratory Mother’s Day. Though I am not a mother I was deeply touched by her message. After the holiday last weekend, I spent a great deal of time this week reflecting on what motherhood means to my clients, almost all of whom carry this elite title.
The sacrifices that mothers make for their children go far beyond what we see on the surface – beyond feeding them, taking them places, caring for them when they are sick, buying clothes, and ensuring they go to school. For my clients who through their stories demonstrate the hidden ways that they dedicate their whole selves to this role, motherhood is:
Ensuring their social and emotional well-being, which often empties the cup of the mother in order to fill the child’s;
Bathing, feeding, changing and entertaining a child with a disability who can’t take care of herself;
Researching therapists that fit within your budget for a child to seek outside help;
Calling every public assistance program to find support to keep the lights on for a child afraid of the dark;
Facing your abuser in court multiple times so that your children never have to see him again;
Caring for your child’s children so that your child can get help or work;
Throwing a party or planning a trip for a child so that they can create memories amidst difficult times.
Most mothers I speak with say that they have always and will always put their children before anything else; that is the sacrifice of being a mom, but it can be associated with a significant emotional load that is often invisible to those around her. Navigating social services in Chicago can be very tricky as I have discovered in my work with Taller de José. Navigating those services for your children or while also managing the care of children adds an entirely new layer with added challenges, but in many cases with added rewards, and it is a layer that most of my clients operate within. I am in constant awe of the ways my clients manage all of these moving pieces.
I recognize that in not having children I understand only a fraction of what motherhood truly entails. I am deeply honored when clients share glimpses of their lives with their children because of the selflessness they embody in talking through a current struggle with a child or celebrating a small victory. One client who has gone through great trauma with an abusive ex-husband has remained the sunshine and rock for her four children. She recently sent me pictures from her youngest daughter’s birthday party, where her beautiful family looked immensely happy, and the JoJo Siwa cake looked divine. Moments like these are ones that I will always hold dear as highlights of my time at TDJ and as windows into maternal devotion.
My own mother is the reason I choose the profession of social work, as a career-long advocate for Latino communities in Chicago, just like her mother, a Catholic Charities employee for decades who helped resettle children from Cuba when she herself had been a political refugee. The cycles continue, and I pray that in this month we can take extra time to love, honor and celebrate the life and values our mothers and abuelas have instilled in us, and to see this beauty reflected in our clients’ stories.