This is Part 4 of Cat Mulrooney’s series, Divining Motherhood. Read the rest here!
My first was born just after sunrise, following a night of dark rain. October gold sun. My second was just before noon after days of stalled labor. Cold April daylight like slate spilling in the windows. My last was at night, under a summer sky full of stars. With each one, that intense first moment of meeting – of initial eye contact and touch. That perfect pause before I had done anything yet to mess it up. Flawless mother. Sacred moment.
Although, there was still judgement, even then. Talk about my age. My finances. My choice to deliver with midwives and not doctors. My decision to deliver outside of a hospital. Not having pain medications. Each of these was mired in judgement and self-doubt. And I know enough now, these years later, to know that women who deliver babies when they’re older, more established, with certain doctors, in certain hospitals, with medications and procedures – each of these choices women make are also judged, critiqued, and dissected.
In tarot, the Judgement card arises near the end of the journey through the major arcana. The positioning implies that we are given the ability to judge clearly only just as we integrate our wholeness and reach the final lessons. Judgement placed as it is in tarot reminds us that we’d do well to go through most of life with a little more of the Fool’s openness, surrendering to the mystery, reserving Judgment. Mothering is a spectacle of judgement, however, and I have never felt more judged than since I’ve become a single mother.
Even in cases like mine, where adultery is considered legal grounds for divorce, there were people who didn’t understand how I could leave my husband. They said I could’ve worked harder – though we did a full year in marital therapy and I spent that same year in individual, trying to work through the pain of the betrayal and cope with past traumas. They said that I could’ve just looked past it – though I spent over a year smelling her perfume on his skin and ignoring the secret telephones I found or her love notes on the car – though I tried to beg, fight, and forgive him into stopping. People believed his version of events, of me, of her – though they didn’t know what I knew. They weren’t living inside of the turmoil as I was. Judgement. Judgement. Judgement.
In the seven years since I’ve been a single mother, it hasn’t stopped. People assume my family supports me financially – which they don’t. I work a full-time job. People figure that I didn’t really love my ex anyway, so this was just an excuse to get out – which couldn’t be more inaccurate. People assume I party and live a wild, sex-fueled lifestyle as a mom on the prowl – when I rarely drink and spend the bulk of my solo time reading books, throwing tarot cards, writing, and hanging out with my cats. Judgement. Judgement. Judgement.
Even other mothers judge. Though I have full-custody this summer, our time since the divorce has been spent in shared custody, one week on, one week off. Mothers critique this: Oh, I couldn’t be without my children like that. I would just die. To which I’d say, I couldn’t be away from them either, and for a long time, I thought I would die. Or: A whole week break from your kids and all of the work! Must be nice! You’re not even a real mom. To which I would say, it took me years to learn my way around solitude, and it can be nice, but there is always the ache of something missing. A phantom limb. And – I am their mom whether they are in my care or no – I am as real as it gets.
All of this external judgement has forced me to fine tune my own discernment. In the Wild Unknown deck, shadowed birds rise up from a tangle of darkness to spread their wings wide at the top of the Judgement card. Learning to trust my own judgement has been exactly this process of personal liberation depicted in this card. It isn’t easy when society, friends, family, and strangers judge. Everyone, it turns out, has something to say about the single mother.
In the major arcana, the card I can most liken this experience of initiation by fire and developing autonomy to is the High Priestess. For several years, post-divorce, I kept an old High Priestess card from my Rider Waite Smith deck tucked into the corner of my mirror. There, she watched me get ready each day, a reminder to myself that I would someday heal and remember my own magic. The High Priestess gave me permission to use my intuition as my guide, not the opinions and voices of others. She was my entry point into the mystery of trusting myself as a single mother. These lessons are ones I will spend my lifetime integrating. Honoring wisdom and silence. Trusting the sacred feminine. Celebrating my own empowerment.
The fact is, there will always be judgment, but if we can keep the lessons of the tarot close, things do shift. For me, as I’ve navigated these last seven years, another card I practice with is Temperance. It is a card that many overlook or resist, but Temperance remains, breaking the darkness of the Death and Devil cards, challenging us to find balance, patience, and peace in the midst of every parenting challenge or issue with an ex or rumor someone is sending up.
In motherhood, Temperance is everything. Rather than see this card as a stalemate or a boring place of duty and obligation, I see it as a calling. Temperance provides an opportunity to go within and consider each action as it comes. I live with three teenagers, which is full of challenges, but Temperance is a guide, a grounding force, a gift. It frees me up from others’ misperceptions and allows me to get very clear on what matters most – my relationship with my children.
They are the Sun. They give me warmth. Love. Life. Vitality. Passion. Energy. Purpose. Light. My three children are the fixed point in the heavens for me. The radiance they carry saves me, again and again. We have so much fun together. Our lives are sometimes difficult, sure, but there are craft nights and movies, dinners and long walks, a million conversations and jokes. There are endless I love yous. For every problem or argument or struggle, there are dozens of gifts and simple joys that cannot be eclipsed.
My journey as a single mother has taught me much about surrendering petty judgements in favor of clarity and discernment. I’ve come to a place of knowing to trust my own voice and let the rest fall away. Tarot is a tool of learning to trust our intuition. Using it for affirmation, guide, and symbolic touchstone as I’ve navigated my way through motherhood has been an essential part of my parenting process.
Just as the Fool finds his way from external focus to personal & spiritual balance so, too, must single mothers on this journey. The story of Judgement, the High Priestess, Temperance and the Sun is one filled with its own struggles and rewards. I find myself and my children in the tarot again and again. Each morning, I turn to my deck and ask questions from deep within my heart. I ask for clarity about my children. About their dad. About myself. Judgement comes up to remind me to trust my own wisdom. The High Priestess falls forth when I need that spark of self-recognition and intuition. The angel wings of Temperance stretch wide and ask me to do the same with balance and peace-seeking. The Sun is the best parts of this mothering experience – my children and their expansive light. For me, tarot tells the story behind the story.
Mirror. Mentor. Mystery.