Gaby Novoa shares a conversation on deep connection within a mother–child relationship.
May 6, 2021
“I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,
as long as I’m living
my baby you’ll be.”
– Robert Munsch
After a year like no other, we are starting this May with the occasion to celebrate mothers and motherhood.
While COVID-19 has unquestionably had an impact on families and many aspects of family life, it’s not stopping families from providing love, care and support. As society’s most adaptable institution, families are moving on by adapting old traditions or creating new ones – a source of continuity and stability for families and their communities.
Often, care is discussed in terms of the roles and responsibilities performed. However, a mother’s care extends beyond raising her children, continuing and evolving into her child’s adulthood. It is important to acknowledge that not all mother–child relationships look alike, and many will experience rough patches. The notion of care within family relationships can therefore also entail setting healthy boundaries.
In honour of this Mother’s Day, we are looking at care as connection, as lifelong, as relationship. Hannah is a student in Montreal who lives at home with her mom – amid the pandemic, they found their relationship strengthen and expand. In an interview with us, Hannah shared the significance that lockdown has had in offering extended time shared, opportunities for deep conversation and moments of joyful respite.
When you think about what the pandemic has been like, what will you remember most?
Spending time with my mom. In early lockdown, when I was working at a pharmacy, we had a routine that we would always go through. When I was on my way home for work, I would message her and she would open the door, where I would immediately take off my uniform and put all my clothes in the wash. It was methodical – she would start the laundry and I’d go straight to the shower. It was my first time actually having a routine at home.
In terms of what I will remember about my relationship with my mom is re-bonding with her. We were pretty close when I was younger but, as time went on, we somewhat grew apart. But being in quarantine forced us to occupy the same space and think and talk about things together: we were together in processing what was going on, whether it was coronavirus or Black Lives Matter.
Since we spent all our time off together, we kind of had to be friends. Not that this was hard at all, because we really like each other. But, before COVID, she would work long hours, come home and go to bed. So, the past year has let us be friends again, which was really nice, because obviously she never stopped being my mom but we got to develop our relationship in new ways.
How would you spend this newfound time together?
Often it was simply co-existing – we would just be in the same room. For a while, we were always watching the news, so that was something that we did together and that we would talk about. But then as things slowly became less jarring about the virus, we stepped into different ways of spending time.
All of the things that we would usually be doing on our own, we ended up doing together. Whether that was actively doing them together or not. She likes to paint and sketch, and I like to read, so sometimes we’d both do one of these activities together, which we’d never shared in before. Or, we would just be sharing the same space while I read my book, and she worked on her art. And, this shared space was quite intentional, because she has her room upstairs and mine is downstairs, but we would meet in the living room, the common ground.
What does support look and feel like within your relationship?
I’ve definitely felt supported by being in this house. She supports me in the financial way; I’m still her dependant while I’m in school. But, also, there was some real fear at the beginning of the pandemic, and having those routines that we created made me feel so much safer. She was consistently checking up on me and was involved in what I was doing at work and making sure I was safe.
I felt supported and safe at home. We would have nights where we just would relax and talk and have wine and dance. We’d plan virtual dance parties that we’d invite our whole contact lists to, though we never got to the point of hosting them. Having those moments of levity and just being able to have fun was significant. Spending so much time together, she was the person I obviously talked to the most. With that, it became so much more comfortable to talk to her about more personal things that I had never shared with her before. So, our connection got deeper.
I definitely felt emotionally supported by her, in ways that I had only ever experienced before with a friend. I think that the pandemic created the context in which we were able to foster what feels like a deep friendship. It was not just me talking to her about how I felt about personal things in my life, it was her sharing those things in return. Through moments like these, I felt like I was able to reciprocate the care that she’s given me my whole life.
What do you think it is about a mother’s care that is unique?
There’s a kind of vulnerability because when you talk to your mom about something, you know that she’s not going to judge you. But you also know that if you’re doing something wrong, she’s going to tell you. I feel like my mom is the only person in my life that can tell me like it is and I won’t get mad at her. Or, I won’t feel like she’s overstepping a boundary to tell me that.
That’s unique within our relationship as mother–daughter, because I’d be more likely to brush off anyone else if they offered me the same kind of criticism. Coming from my mom, however, I know that she loves and supports me unconditionally. Because of that, I feel that I’m able to receive those hard truths from her, and actually grow from those conversations because I think, “Oh, you’re probably right.”
How do you feel that this past year is going to impact your relationship going forward?
I think that what this year did was solidify the deep relationship that we have. We’ve spent so much time together and gotten to know each other in a completely different way than we otherwise would have. It’s not that we were unwilling to get to know each other in that way, but sometimes there just isn’t the time. Daily life gets in the way, and you don’t prioritize fostering that deep connection with your mom, because it’s easy to consider that it’s a given.
I truly consider her my best friend, and I trust her with my whole world. So, knowing that, going forward, I just know that she’s going to continue to be such a huge part of my life, for the rest of my life. Even when I’m no longer living with her, I know that our bond is not going to break. We will always have it, no matter how much time might pass between a conversation. Sharing all that extended time together has made me feel more secure going forward. I know that we’ll still make time to check in with each other and stay connected.
With Mother’s Day now approaching, is there anything you want to say to her?
I’m really lucky. I know that for some people, their parents never stop being playing that parenting role, which is valid. I feel really lucky to have this relationship with her, someone who I can see where I get so many of my own traits and patterns from, and to have such a connection that also feels like deep friendship.
I wrote her a card a couple years ago, and there was a sentence in that card that I’m sure she forgets at this point. But it’s the truest thing that I’ve ever written in my life. That’s that, if I am half of the person that she is, then I’ll consider my life a success, because she is one of the most nurturing, kind, loving people that I’ve ever known. I’m so lucky to have her in my life. And so, if I am half as kind, and as loving, and as supportive as she is, in any of my relationships, then I can just know that I’m a good person.
Thank you to Hannah and Ann for sharing their story.
Whether you are celebrating Mother’s Day locked in together or locked out from one another, whether your mom is caring for you or you are for her, whether you will spend time with her or spend time reflecting about her if she is no longer in your life, may you be comforted by Robert Munsch’s wisdom – a mother’s love is forever.
This interview has been edited for flow and brevity.
Gaby Novoa, Families in Canada Knowledge Hub, Vanier Institute of the Family