Othermothers, Otherfathers and Care Apparents
Beyond the biological
As we move from Mother’s Day toward Father’s Day in the U.S., I want to honor both bio-parents and the role all of us have as communal caregivers. Not everyone will have children, for reasons voluntarily or involuntary. But every interpersonal interaction is an opportunity to support someone along their path. In that sense, we are all parents to the process of human development. We teach and learn from each other daily, whether or not our titles are official or our roles recognized.
Coinciding with the increasing attention on Diversity & Inclusion, there’s an opportunity here to expand our us. I’m not lobbying for an apostrophe change — a family should still honor individual parents during national holidays and throughout the year. Instead, what needs tweaking is the recognition of influences from those who may not be procreative parents, family or otherwise. From direct mentorship to random acts of kindness, there are plenty of non-parental moments that significantly affect each person’s physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual and social growth. For instance, I first learned how to embrace the process of making and transforming ‘mistakes’ from my high school art teacher — a lesson that forever redefined my approach to creativity.
Even language itself has a way of othering. In writing this piece, I struggled to find an English word or phrase that describes myself appropriately for the topic. Non-parent. Childless. Infertile — hey now! None of these words accurately capture what is. Like other seemingly harmless descriptors, they define through negative adjuncts. Subtle as that may be, antonymic definitions cast those who don’t fit perceived societal norms as less than. I don’t have a replacement without undergoing a naming process, but a suitable word would provide non-judgmental autonomy to the state of being without children.
Until such a word or phrase exists, it’s worthwhile to remember that it takes a village to raise a child. No matter our role of the moment — peer, professor, preacher, politician, painter or pundit — we all have a responsibility to pick up where parents leave off. Though individual ‘parenting’ styles differ, there are fundamental ways to connect that foster empathy and positive growth for every human being. These aspects of caretaking are critical if our species is to evolve in a more harmonious direction. Like a mother with her child, we all bond through food, touch, response and mutual gazing. So let’s not look the other way, but truly see each other as we are — a global community where every member is both a parent and a child. Take care.