A conversation with Jodie Patterson, as told to Universal Standard
This Mother’s Day, we came together with Planned Parenthood to celebrate motherhood in all its forms — however, forever, whenever, wherever, if ever it manifests. Recognizing current mothers, mothers-to-be, mothers that aren’t ready, and mothers to their community, we enlisted three incredible artists — Amber Vittoria, Melissa Koby, and Marylou Faure — to create a limited edition collection of printed tees entitled “Ever Mothers” with 100% of profits going to Planned Parenthood, a safe haven where individuals have autonomy over their health and reproductive decisions.
Bringing this vision into reality meant asking some of our favorite mothers to step in front of our camera, and share their stories beyond it. Here we connect with activist, author, and mother of five, Jodie Patterson, to discuss the richness of motherhood — what it means, who can participate, and why expanding our concept of motherhood is paramount to nurturing future generations.
Universal Standard (US): What does “mothering” mean to you?
Jodie Patterson (JP): Mothering - with a Capital M is building. I want us to move beyond the idea of simply task mastering and explore Mothering as a power structure that builds up children and entire communities.
What’s really cool to me is that by design, Mothering is genderless - brothers can Mother, teachers can Mother, CEOs can Mother. I’ve seen some of the best Mothering done by the queer community.
Anyone in a leadership position can employ the concept of Mothering. It’s a powerful practice rooted in the home, but I believe it has relevance in places where people collaborate, cohabitate, and commune.
US: What has motherhood taught you?
JP: I learned mental flexibility from my five unique children. It’s rarely about drilling down in one idea. What I’ve found to work is collaboration over domination.
US: What has surprised you about being a mother?
JP: For me, I’m most surprised that even with my five dependent kids who need so much from me all the time - I’ve learned to untether. I am a woman who can untether from expectations, cultural norms and even people (for a bit). Pulling away, especially as a woman is difficult - but my children have taught me that everyone needs to experience their own freedom - even Mothers.
US: What advice do you give your kids?
“Stars, I believe in you. I see you. Tell me who you are - from the inside out - and I will clear the world out of your way so you can walk this land with authenticity.”
I also love this quote from Maya Angelou-
“I belong to you
I have given birth to you
You are absolutely mine
Because I have loved you
You are already paid for
You do not have to pay for yourself
When you walk into an office don't go alone.
Bring your people with you.
Everyone who has paid for you and loved you.
US: Who have been the most impactful mother figures in your life?
JP: I was raised by revolutionaries. [They were] freedom fighters and civil rights activists — from Gloria Blackwell, my grandmother, to Gil Scott Heron, my uncle. From as far back as I can remember, we were taught to challenge the status quo and to insist on self-determination.
US: Planned Parenthood exists to support women and people of all gender identities wherever they are in their journey - why is it important to protect safe havens like this?
Women’s stories, Black stories and LGBTQ+ stories have been mangled over the centuries by others trying to recreate us into an image they need us to be.
The same has been for our bodies. Others have micromanaged and misused our bodies for their own gain. Safe spaces that protect, and support the health and wellness of women, Black people and LGBTQ+ folks is how our society will move into an era of healing, prosperity, and growth. If you look at how we’ve beautifully contributed to culture - despite the odds stacked against us - just imagine if we were supported and protected what ingenuity would come forth.
US: You’ve become an incredibly public mom through your authorship and activism. What was your goal in inviting the public into your family?
JP: I invite people to see my family up close not because I want us to be more vulnerable - (and trust me more visibility often means more vulnerability. In 2019 there were over 100 killings of trans people by cisgender people. Being different is dangerous.) And still I recognize that this is a time where we need each other. Cis people need trans people because we have been blind to millions for far too long. In the same way, straight people need LGBTQAI people. The only way to stop anti-trans violence or any hate crime is to have proximity to one another, get to know one another, really see each other for who we are from the inside out. My queer Black family is more than the laws and bills make us out to be.
US: Tell US about your new children’s book, Born Ready: The True Story of a Boy Named Penelope. Why did you decide to take on this project in the context of your work? Why was this your next step?
JP: I wanted to write a book with my kids that was from their perspective. How they saw and experienced life. Sometimes gender and trans experiences are made to feel scary, sad, and tragic. Our story and millions of other stories are beautiful, uplifting and triumphant. I wanted to write a loving story of a boy named Penelope who was victorious.
US: You’ve spoken about “Mothering” with a capital M as a practice we all can and should participate in. Why is this so essential for all of us?
JP: If we could all decide to Mother someone, something, anything - the world would be so much better off. For too long the approach has been to insist on the highest return on investment from everything - the land, the office, even from the people. We are exhausted and depleted. When we switch our approach to Mothering - we will be building up our children and our communities.