What Is a Mother?

Mother is a female parent or caretaker: the person who conceives, gives birth to, or raises and nurtures children. The term can also refer to women who provide this role without being biologically related, such as a stepmother or an adopted mother. A mother can also be an elder woman, a matron, or a religious figure, such as an abbess. The word is also used for the substance that forms during the fermentation of wine or apple cider to produce vinegar (the resulting liquid is often known as ‘mother’).

Most major world religions define a task or role for mothers through religious law and/or by glorifying motherhood through references to Mary, the Virgin Mother in Christianity, Demeter in ancient Greek pre-Christian belief, or the Hindu goddess Durga. In addition, most of the major world religions honor active mothers through significant religious events, such as Mother’s Day and Mothering Sunday.

A mother can be a positive force in a child’s life, shaping their personality by teaching them wisdom, truth, peace, love and spiritual harvest. She can also be a pillar of strength to help them overcome negative emotions and insecurities. She is the one who teaches them how to be selfless and give back to society.

However, the idea of what a mother should be has become highly contested and varied in modern societies around the world. As such, the definition of what makes a good mother has shifted from traditional gender roles to a set of dichotomous expectations, with mothers being ‘good’ if they adhere to these ideals and ‘bad’ if they do not (Lanctot and Turcotte 2017; Turner and Norwood 2013). Moreover, research shows that these standards can be difficult to achieve for many mothers.

As a result, some women find themselves judging and criticising other mothers for their behaviour or beliefs that are not considered to be in line with the dominant mothering discourse, which may be termed mum-shaming (Morrison et al. 2011). This is especially true in cases where a mother chooses to reclaim their own autonomy, thereby opting out of the dominant paradigms of motherhood.

In other instances, women who have a natural love for children and wish to fulfill the maternal role without giving birth may adopt or foster children in addition to their own biological offspring. In these situations, they are commonly referred to as second mothers. In some cultures, a person who provides a parental role to another person in the absence of their own biological children is known as an aunty or nanny.

A person who does not have children but still loves and cares for others may be called a mother, such as a teacher or a nurse. Additionally, some women choose to be childfree by choice and still play a vital role in the lives of their friends and family, often fulfilling this role as a mentor or caretaker. Mother is also a Japanese role-playing video game published by Nintendo for the Famicom in 1989, designed and written by Ape and Pax Softnica and Shigesato Itoi.