I  went to a “Horses and Healing” Conference in San Antonio, Texas, nearly two decades ago. At the conference, I met a beautiful Latina woman who was instructed to saddle a Peruvian gelding with me. As we curried his body together we shared about our lives. She was talking about her family members, and she mentioned her co-madre when describing a dear relative in her family. When I looked confused she went on to explain this sacred relationship. She said that in her culture there was a special relationship between the two women who were grandparents to a particular child. It was a very sacred honor, to share this with each other.

My relationships with women have been very auspicious. When Sid and I connected, he had a young teenage daughter who was a huge gift in my life. She and her mother had been having a good deal of conflict in their relationship. As is the case with many teenage children, they often need to live with the parent that has not been raising them consistently. Erica was no exception.  I noticed that there was a deep fissure between Erica and her mother, and I saw how someone less aware could slip into drama if she were living unconsciously. Instead, I felt the call to be a bridge between the two. Having been a family therapist for many years, I felt it was important to strengthen the bond. In all fairness, I have to credit Erica for some of this. I felt extremely valued with her, so in none of my own insecurities surface. And in fairness, Linda was known to make this comment about me, “If you don’t like Ilene, there is something wrong with you.” This was a good crew with which to practice conscious relationships. Eventually, their bond strengthened once again, and I can happily say there was never any animosity between us.

A few years later, Jerilyn came into my life. Jerilyn was a beautiful woman who subsequently married Eric, Casey’s father. I remember the first moment I met her when I was working as a sales manager at a furniture store in New Orleans and they walked in to pick up Casey. It was Valentine’s day and Eric had brought a heart-shaped box of chocolates. The owner of the store walked in and said, “who is that beautiful couple?” I remember saying, “That is not a beautiful couple, that is Casey’s father.” I was not as magnanimous as Linda in the beginning. When this beautiful woman told my daughter that she couldn’t have chocolate until she had her lunch, I wanted to chime in, “Yes Casey, go right ahead and eat as many chocolates as you would like” in order to remind everybody who was the mother.  (Things you would say if your Shadow were in charge.)  When I got to know Jerilyn, we became very close and warm friends. When Sidney walked into the room and I was talking on the phone with Jerilyn, he would see me laughing hysterically, and I would say that I was talking to my ex-wife–in law.

Through Casey’s teenage years, Jerilyn provided a bridge for Casey and me. I remember feeling the similarity of dynamics with Erica, history repeating itself, and my gratitude for this relationship between women with integrity, for this kind of help and helpfulness. I knew that getting over one’s smallness to strengthen the child’s primary relationship was one of the most unselfish and important functions as a step-parent. The Spanish term co-madre came up for me in my mind. There is a beautiful dance that can happen between women when they are open and not feeling threatened.

It was many years before I would enter into a relationship where I was a literal co-madre. And again I feel much vulnerability in this sacred triangle. Being one of two biological grandmothers to River, and being as physically vulnerable as I am, I once again feel the need for partnership, for tag-team participation. I cannot get on the floor and play with him, nor can I even hold or console him. Once again I am reliant on another woman to help. And once again I’m dealing with a woman with sensitivity, courage and integrity. There is a beautiful dance that can happen between women when they are open and willing. And I have had the privilege to be a part of a Sacred tag-team of Co-Madres.

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