What's in a Jamaican Mother?
“When you look back at your childhood and you think about your mother, what are the special memories you have about her?”
Do you remember her telling you not to leave the dirty dishes in the sink, asking, “Who in here you think will be cleaning up after you? Mi look like helper?”. Or do you remember her singing in the kitchen, off-key but with gusto, to the Jamaican songs on the radio while cooking Sunday dinner? Perhaps all you’re picturing is simply the screwed up face she made with a look that could kill as she threatened to punish you for any back talk. “Seh “feh”, if yuh tink yuh bad,” she’d say. A mother’s looks can comfort you or strike fear into the bravest of hearts.
In all the daily fun and “not-so-fun” interactions that mothers have with children (no matter the age of the child), there is usually a strong foundation of love. Despite their sometimes stern and no-nonsense demeanor, Jamaican mothers speak and behave out of the overwhelming love they have for their children. It is this type of love which is spoken about in the Bible in 1 Corinthians 13. The way this famous chapter describes love often seems lofty and maybe even impossible to embody. But, if we really think about it, we’ll see that so many of our mothers display different aspects of this “lofty/impossible” love.
We spoke to various Jamaicans as well as our "I Can Parent" (ICP) parents to see if mothers in Jamaica acted in keeping with this type of love.
Love Is Kind.
We know we have personally experienced the kindness of our mothers. But, think about it. Our mothers can also be some of the kindest human beings in general. Whether it’s saving an extra bag of mangos or otaheiti apples for you to give to your teacher or a neighbour ... Or stretching dinner so your friend could stay over and get something to eat … Or it might even be worrying that the rude boy from across the street may badly influence you, but still taking him under her wing and being a mother to him as well.
One lady we spoke to remembered that her mother would always save extra food to share with others in the community who needed it. And this is pretty remarkable because, in many cases, these mothers barely had enough for themselves. This model of generosity and consideration stayed with her for life and is something she has now passed on to her daughter and her grandchildren. Most of us have been privileged to live with a mother who was kind to other people beyond her means. By seeing how they treat others with kindness, sensitivity and generosity, we have learned how to do the same towards people in our own lives! The kindness of our Jamaican mothers remind us that they oftentimes didn’t have much, but they always had enough to share.
Love Is Not Proud.
Think back to a time when you played at your cousins’ house. Or when you spent long days at your grandmother’s during holidays. Or opened new packages of clothing and food sent down by family abroad. If you had any experiences like these, it’s likely your mother had support from others as she cared for you. Our mothers are typically our primary caregivers and so it’s easy to think of them as superhuman women who can do everything by themselves and don’t need much support from others. THIS IS WRONG. Our mothers are simply people trying to do the best they can against all odds. But, while it’s extremely hard to be a good mother, it can be almost harder to ask for help. One of our ICP mothers recalled how hard it was to admit to her friend that she was struggling to have a good relationship with her son. But once she did, it was such a relief. By sharing her burden with someone else, she could get advice, practical help and a sort of emotional release which only helped her and her son for years to come. So if your mother has ever asked for help, be grateful. Her love for you outweighed her pride and desire to appear to have everything together.
Love Is Not Self-Seeking.
Mothers in Jamaica have given so much up in order for us to rise above. Some give up their chance to see us play, learn and grow because they spend most of their time working to provide for us. Others give up the chance to chase their dreams because they spend years preparing us to chase ours. Still others give up a natural desire to be liked all the time, by choosing to discipline us and be “the bad guy” when we need to be guided in the right direction. An ICP mother told us that she has given up her right to be seen as the better parent in order to preserve her child’s image of their father. Despite the fact that she does most of the work and makes most of the sacrifice, she always presents the child’s father as just as loving and caring to her child. Why? Not as a favor to the father, but because she wants her child to continue to have a positive relationship with their dad. She wants that for her child and, thus, gives up her chance to be acknowledged as the more involved parent. This is a picture of selflessness.
Love Always Hopes... Always Perseveres.
Thankfully, mothers tend to cling to an unwavering sense of hope when it comes to their children. So many of us have acted in ways which may have, at times, disappointed our families. However, our mothers continue to love and guide us despite all of this. Their affection for us is constant and rarely do they give up all hope that we can become our best selves. A mother in our ICP program shared how hard it was to raise her daughter. As a teen, her daughter created serious trouble in school and at home. This went on for quite some time and the police even became involved at one point. The child and her mother argued about everything. They saw no end to the conflict and misunderstanding between them. Still, both had a heart-aching desire for a more peaceful relationship to develop. Although her daughter seemed to be headed for a life of misery, she held on to a drop of hope which kept her going. She continued to advise, discipline and affirm her love for her daughter regardless of what was happening. Fast forward to today. Now, her daughter is also an ICP mom, and they share a remarkable bond. The ICP sessions are usually filled with their joint laughter and comments. In fact, they seem more like best friends than mother and daughter. This new, healthy bond between them may never have come about if not for the continuous hope and perseverance of this mother.
Anyone Can Be A Mother
Not everyone has or is a mother like the ones we have described. We either know or are people who have, in some ways, been deeply hurt by a mother. This is because, contrary to popular belief, you don’t instantly or magically become loving once you become a mother. You can choose not to be loving, especially if you never learned real love yourself. On the other hand, you can make the choice to show love. Those “loving” mothers we know have become that only because they make the choice to love everyday … even when it’s hard. The “love-qualities” listed above, which we associate with mothers, are part of a set of behaviors that anyone can choose to embrace. Because of this, “mom-love” can come from anyone. It can come from a birth mother, an aunt, an older sister, an uncle, a teacher, a grandfather, a friend. You name it. It doesn’t matter if you had a good mother or not. You can learn to practice the art of loving others unconditionally. So go out and show “mom-love” to someone who needs it!
Photo credits: Jessica Brown