The moon & the un-mothered

“There is no ‘The Affair’,” one of my grad school professors used to say.

She varied this catchphrase as needed. At other times, I heard her say, “There is no ‘The Grief’.” “There is no ‘The Falling in Love’.”

This was a creative writing program; my professor, an accomplished fiction writer, was trying to steer us away from cliches. When she said, “There is no ‘The Affair’,” she meant that every so-called affair is unique to the people involved, their context and the perspective from which we consider that affair.

For a particular straight couple in 1970s France, a husband’s relationship with a younger mistress may be a sign of his virility, something in which his wife takes private pride and finds sexy. But to his adult child looking back on that period, the affair may be a source of sadness, pain, confusion, betrayal or identification.

There is no the affair. There are only infinite human beings, in infinite situations.

My professor never said it, so I will: There is no The Mother.

Mother’s Day propaganda disagrees. Mother’s Day knows exactly what The Mother is, and is eager to tell you.

According to Mother’s Day Inc.:

A mother is unconditionally loving. A mother is self-sacrificing. A mother is, to quote the first Hallmark card that came up on my internet search, blessed. A mother is a hero, and a wonder, and the one steady light in her child’s life. A mother is a woman. A mother is a particular type of woman.

At least in North American ads, greeting cards and memes, a mother is (usually) thin, pretty, white, middle-class. A mother has a husband. There is no greater joy in a woman’s life than becoming and being one.

These stereotypes may be right some of the time, but they are always incomplete. No human being is always or only a mother, and every mother is flawed, complicated, human.

mom cards
2019 e-card selection from Hallmark’s website

No wonder then, that so many people who are also mothers feel inadequate or guilty about their mothering abilities.

If The Mother is, as one of this year’s ecard’s proclaims, a “Wonder Mother” (“Thank you for always using your powers for good,” reads the inside of the card), then what do you call the person grimacing at the wailing baby in her arms, or muttering to her teenage child, you suck, you know that? This real-life parent is not all-powerful. Nor is she always good. How is a human supposed to feel under the bright light of comparison to Wonder Mom, except defensive and ashamed?

Similarly, what about the grown-up child whose mother sucked, or failed, or disappeared? What about the child whose mother did not love her? Who hurt him on purpose? What about the kid repeatedly given up by birth, foster and adoptive mothers? If mothers are founts of love, such a child must be confused at best, deviant at worst.

Your mom did her best, well-meaning friends say, but on the basis of what fact? Some people are assholes. Some assholes are also mothers.

In astrology, the moon represents the mother. To be precise, it’s the symbol of mothering, or how we give and receive nurturing.

In your natal chart, the moon shows how your inner child feels about the mothering it received. It also shows how you respond in your intimate relationships and to children in your care.

A Virgo moon receiving a hard aspect from Saturn can describe the feeling that mom was a hard-line critic against whose standards you never measured up. As a result, you may deny and criticize your own needs and harshly judge your best friend for “giving in” to his depression. At another point in your life (after some therapy or a few rough break-ups), you might be the friend others go to for wise insight, the one most ready to acknowledge how hard life can be.

A Leo moon receiving a gentle aspect from Jupiter, on the other hand, may genuinely believe her mother was a Wonder Mom, and as a result may expect super-human feats of her own nurturing acts. Privately, she might expect everyone else to treat her like mom did—as a favorite baby who could do no wrong.

Another person with the same configuration in their chart may have seen their mom as a giant force of personality, magnetic, popular and fun. Another might have grown up with a charming narcissist, or over-the-top drunk. 

What’s especially interesting, at least to me, is that these are subjective descriptions of  a parent figure. The mom in your natal chart doesn’t exist. She (or he or they) never existed, not really. The moon-mom is your experience of mom. Good or bad or gray in-between, it describes how you feel about that early nurturing—how it impacted you, not what it was.

I hope that doesn’t sound like invalidation. Our subjective experiences are true. Our feelings are true. It just that there are always multiple truths. Those truths can conflict. They can also change as we get older.

Becoming a mother or nurturing figure often triggers a change in your perception of your moon. By identifying with your moon-mom, you may re-tell your own story from her perspective. Your own mother’s unpredictability becomes more sympathetic when you get a first-hand taste of the conflict between individuality and mom-hood symbolized by the Uranus-moon aspect in your natal chart.

Of course, having kids, loving kids, can also make you see how unloved you were. Deciding not to have kids can help us forgive mom, or hold her accountable, or both.

As my professor* would say, stories can go many ways. Most of them unknown until we get there. Most, subject to change. That’s the beauty of it, and also the pain.

It would be so easy if the people we loved stayed loyal to our version of them, if a mother was just a mother, was never a person, was never you. It would be so much more fair. But, as my mom declared about a million times during the eighties and nineties when she was tired and frustrated and I was small and frustrated, “Whoever said life was fair?”

Happy Mother’s Day to the un-mothered and the un-mothers. May you love and be loved unconditionally—at least some of the time.

*My professor is the wonderful writer, Nona Caspers, whose recent novel is about a queer woman grieving the death of her partner in a grief process all her own. I highly recommend it.

Dig into your own mom story in a Depth reading, where you and I put our ears to the moon in your natal chart and listen to what memories and feelings she (he/they) is ready to tell.


4 responses to “The moon & the un-mothered”

  1. Are you trying to tell me that the all-encompassing world that is my mother is just my imagination and that she did not, in fact, raise me perfectly only to see me fail miserably again and again because I am a hideous monster baby destined to be alone forever because I am unworthy of love? PSHAW.

  2. Thanks for making space for the complexity of my experience — mothered by a narcissist and now making an effort to be the best adoptive genderqueer mom-parent I can be. Please do be more wary of implying that birthmother “giving up” her baby is an unloving act. There are as many types of adoption stories as there are mothers, some good and some traumatic. We are fortunate to have a good open-adoption relationship with both birthparents.

    • Thanks for sharing that perspective, Jendi. I certainly didn’t mean to imply that giving up a child as unloving–only that it can *sometimes* feel that way to the adoptee. But I also easily forget about other adoption structures, like your own.Your comment of course makes me think about how there is no ‘The Adoption’, only a diversity of experiences and structures that produce a diversity of emotions.

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