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Second Mothers, Part 1

February 10, 2010

This weekend my family is planning to visit an old friend of mine from my first “real” job. I had completed my graduate coursework and began working at a primary care clinic in the South Bronx while I was also completing my dissertation. I was in my twenties and just learning how to be a professional psychologist. I wanted this job because I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives and felt that I would have the opportunity to do that in this particular setting.

While I received terrific supervision and training from the professional staff at this job, I was particularly fortunate to be taken under the wing of two paraprofessional women who became like second mothers to me. I’m not sure how they’d feel about being named publicly in cyberspace so I’ll keep them anonymous. Coming from a relatively privileged suburban background, I was at times completely overwhelmed by life in the South Bronx. These two women and their friends provided me with a cultural education, emotional support, and acceptance in a foreign land. Their “mothering” enabled me to truly enjoy and appreciate my work experience at that clinic, and I stayed for ten years.

Reflecting on the role of these women in my life leads me to thoughts of “second mothers” both in our own lives and in the lives of our children. In this article, part 1 of my thoughts, I’ll write how second mothers can influence our parenting.

First, a few words about our “first parents,” or the one(s) who raised us during childhood. Our childhood experiences of being parented and how we make sense of those experiences have a tremendous impact on our own parenting. Our experiences, both positive and negative, form our personal definition of what makes a “good parent.” We may choose to replicate some aspects of our experience and/or make a conscious effort to do some things differently.

In addition to our parents, many of us have been fortunate to have other adults in our lives who have served as valuable role models for parenting. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers, and family friends are all possibilities. As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child. Well, it also took a village to raise a parent! And the need for the village doesn’t end at childhood. I’ve learned how to be more tolerant, flexible, and accepting from my village.

So I encourage you to reflect on who has been a valuable influence or role model in your own life. What have you learned from others that you can apply to your own parenting? How can you express appreciation or gratitude to those people?

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