Grace Lee Boggs speaks at Hull-House in Chicago. (photo: David Schalliol)
This past summer, I drove to Chicago with Grace Boggs and Myrtle Thompson of Feedom Freedom Growers for some book-signing events and radio interviews. During the four- to five-hour drive from Detroit, Myrtle and I shared stories about raising our children. Grace didn’t say much.
But, in her speech the next day at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, she told a very responsive audience that Mom solutions are at the heart of the next American revolution. What comes naturally to Moms in raising our children, she said, is an example of what all of us can be doing in our communities to make our country a force for good in the world.
Visionary Buckminster Fuller once observed that “Geniuses are just people who had good mothers.” These geniuses are everywhere in our communities.
Moms are the ones who can grow the souls of our children. Moms are the ones who can provide them with the spiritually safe environments so that they can make the choices that help them discover their talents, passions, and values. Moms are the ones who empower them to go beyond being mere cogs in the capitalist system to become creators of what Dr. King called the beloved community. Moms are the ones who nurture emotionally intelligent global citizens. Moms are the leaders we’ve been looking for.
Vandana Shiva, the internationally acclaimed physicist/feminist/activist, recalls that at age 13 she asked her mother for a nylon dress so that she could keep up with her friends’ fashion trends. Her mother, who had supported Gandhi’s struggle against British colonialism and wore clothing of homespun cotton, replied, “If that is what you want, you can have it. But remember, your nylon frock will help a rich man buy a bigger car while the cotton dress you wear will buy a poor family at least one meal.”
“Of course, I did not get the frock,” Shiva recalls. “I kept thinking of some poor family starving because of my dress. My mother had given me the information necessary for me to make a socially just decision by thinking for myself and at the same time thinking of the global community.”
Loving our children unconditionally does not mean enabling them to act out self-serving behavior. We must commit to the consistency and constancy necessary to grow compassionate souls. We acknowledge our young people when they do well, but we are also there for their mistakes and disappointments. We are there to say, “I love you. It’s okay. Let’s try again.”
This maternal labor of love is a lifelong struggle — the kind of protracted struggle that Hegel called “the labor, patience and suffering of the negative.” Linda Wooten explains, “Being a mother is learning about strengths you didn’t know you had, and dealing with fears you didn’t know existed.”
Moms are true bodhisattvas, nurturing without watching the clock, not expecting compensation, not putting our needs before the needs of those we compassionately love into authentic existence.
Our Mom skills seem so simple. Unconditional love, compassion, patience, and listening. But having acquired these skills in raising my children, I find myself using them with the souls I encounter in my daily life and in my community organizing: with family members, neighbors, comrades, mayors, chiefs of police, refugees and victims of violence. We all want and need to be nurtured.
My Mom memories of holding my children when they were sick with fever bring home to me the fragility of our precious work.
During the drive, Myrtle recalled how fragile she felt during those early days of mothering her children. Embracing our own fragility is transformative because it reminds us of the wondrous girl-child inside ourselves that must be birthed along the way of revolution.
This maternal instinct is not restricted to biological mothers. All women (and men) who nurture are modeling sustainable activism in the 21st century.
Barbara Stachowski is a social justice consultant and member of the Board of the Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership. She lives in Clinton Township, Michigan.
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