Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Mother Bees: Gathering the Beautiful from the School Experience

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All is beautiful before me,
All is beautiful behind me,
All is beautiful below me,
All is beautiful all around me.

--Navajo Chant

Many mothers of daughters are familiar with the Queen Bees and Wannabees syndrome that can occur with girls in schools. Over many years of raising two girls -- a grown stepdaughter who is now a high school physics teacher, and a daughter who is now in fifth grade -- I have also observed bee-like behavior among mothers in schools. I'd like to reflect on what I've seen and give some tips on getting back to the original purpose of being Mother Bees -- gathering the beautiful.
The bees before me

Some Mother Bees approach the school experience as if they themselves are afraid of getting stung. Perhaps their own school years were unhappy ones, or they have recently relocated to a new school and feel apprehensive, or else they are simply stressed and busy. These women assume that other mothers are before them: they know more, fit in better, are better suited to volunteering and getting involved in the school. So these Mother Bees stay in the carpool line and don't get out to make small talk, for example. Or they miss Parent-Teacher Night. As a result, their predictions become reality: they miss out on making friends and feeling like they belong to a community.

The bees behind me

Other Mother Bees think of their school years as the best years of their lives. The past they have left behind is something they cherish, and so they encourage their children in sports and other activities. These Mother Bees relish being among the most enthusiastic parents on the sidelines or in the audience. There can be a downside to this buzzing energy, though -- the child might have a hard time hearing the quiet voice of what s/he really likes underneath all the fervor coming from the mother.

The bees below me

And then there are the Mother Bees who want to be queens. These are the mothers who somehow think the school is below them. They and their children deserve better, and so they get hyper-involved in school improvement councils or long parking lot discussions that range from nagging complaints to plans of revolution. The danger here is that these mothers risk alienating their children from the school and can miss out on seeing what is already special about the school.

The bees all around me

Just as a little bit of honey can make your whole cup of tea sweeter, Mother Bees can improve their relationship to their child's school -- and the child's school experience -- by practicing tiny, beelike steps.

If you tend to isolate yourself, try reaching out in some small way. Maybe a conversation with another mother can begin to help you feel more connected to the school.

If you tend to overidentify with your children and push them into activities, try sitting out for a change. Let them see what it feels like to participate without your presence and, instead, enjoy telling you the story of what happened.

If you tend to be heavily invested in school improvement, try listening instead. Ask other mothers what they like about the school. Ask your child. Sometimes the greatest positive changes can come from focusing on what is already working well and building upon that.

The wisdom in the Navajo Chant reminds us that life is composed of a combination of many directions, movements, and perspectives. We can all find ourselves being Mother Bees in varying circumstances -- schools change, we change, our children change. The key to a sweet relationship between mothers, children, and schools is learning to reflect on one's position in the hive.

~

I invite you to use your own experience and/or the experience of other mothers to write an essay that reflects upon the relationship between mothers and schools. Please email your submission of 800-1000 words to birthingmotherwriter[AT]gmail[dot]com by October 11th. Be sure to put "Birthing the Mother Writer: 1" in the subject line, and place the text of your essay in the body of the email. By sending in your submission, you agree that your piece, if chosen for publication, may receive suggestions for revision, and you also agree to revise and submit a new version for publication.


Cassie Premo Steele, Ph.D. is the author of 13 books, most recently Earth Joy Writing. The book includes writing prompts for every month of the year, plus audio meditations and video workshops. She teaches an innovative online course combining mindfulness and feminist theory for women academics called The Feminar. Cassie is currently working on a memoir about how coming out returned her to her mother and her faith.


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