Bev, Harriet and Joyce

My mother, Janet Alice, was tremendously vital to whom I have been and to whom I have become. Three other mothers, Bev, Harrriet and Joyce expanded my concept of motherhood. These women were also role models to me for becoming the best mother I could be:

It is possible.

As a mother, I want to see a world
with less competition
and more cooperation,
Less exploitation
and more mentoring,
Less meager and more real funding,
for services and education benefitting
mothers and children …

Every day of every year.

Bev, Harriet and Joyce were mothers of children with serious mental illness. I met Bev and Harriet first. They were the co-founders of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Dane County, which began in Madison, WI in the late 1970’s. The Madison, WI affiliate birthed the national organization.

Bev was driven to be an advocate for people with mental illness. She wanted essential services and better health care for those most seriously affected by a mental illness. Harriet wanted the same. Bev had a gift for advocating …  fiercely. Harriet’s gift was communication. She was a very fine journalist.

Bev and I got to know and respect each other. She was active physically and mentally throughout her life. Indeed, late in our relationship we discovered her north woods Wisconsin cabin was just a few miles from our families north woods cabin!  I recall the day Bev told me she and I were alike; committed and bold in our NAMI work, be it public or private. (Being alike meant occasionally we were at odds in terms of what we thought was best for people with mental illness.)

Harriet and I became friends through our commitment to leadership and writing. After I had written an article for the NAMI Dane newsletter that was respectful of parents of children with mental illness, she began to trust me. We admired and loved each other. I smiled when I entered her retirement apartment. The bookcases were filled, every inch. She and I were both avid readers. Harriet and her husband had an agreement: neither of them would buy another book until they gave away one of their current books. 

Joyce entered my life in 1993. When told by physicians that she was the cause of her daughter’s mental illness, she rebelled! It was common practice by MD’s and others to blame mothers for their children’s mental illness. Alas, my mother told me my paternal grandmother was thought to be the cause of my fathers recurrent depressions.

How did Joyce rebel? She obtained a PhD in psychology and began a private counseling practice. After gaining experience as a psychologist, she taught families in her home state, Vermont, how to help themselves and help their relatives with mental illness. She conceived and wrote a 12 session Family to Family Education curriculum. Initially Joyce gathered families together in the homes of people like you and me. Mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, brothers and sisters talked and listened to each other. For most of the men and women attending the classes, it was the first time they openly discussed mental illness and the challenges they and their well and affected family members faced. It was a blessing and a comfort to express their concerns in an unguarded manner. To problem solve. To grieve … and to rejoice together.  

The Family to Family program expanded. Wisconsin was the thirteenth state to get onboard. Lucky thirteen. Eighteen people gathered in a very small room for a three day training to learn to teach the Family to Family program in Wisconsin. I was one of the eighteen trainees. From those nine sets of teachers, the program expanded to 100 sets of teachers, as of 2013, when I retired. Becoming educated on mental illness was and continues to be life changing for me … and for people throughout the 48 states of the continental United States.

Here’s the rub: Many mothers like Bev, Harriet and Joyce are thrust into the role of advocate, educator, support person, and major caretaker. 

Sometimes for the entirety of their lives.  

Thank you kindly,
Gail Louise

… I was inspired to think carefully and in depth on motherhood’s impact on children’s development by the writing of Anna Malaika Tubbs in her book: The Three Mothers: How the Mothers of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and James Baldwin Shaped A Nation.