For those of us who have had tumultuous relationships with our mothers over the years, the date on the calendar marked Mother’s Day can be an occasion filled with complicated emotions. It may bring up feelings of resentment and guilt, loss and abandonment, countermarked with the greeting card industry’s idea that you should be overflowing with love and gratitude for all your “mother” has done to bring you into this world—because of course without her—you wouldn’t be here.
Add on the probability that you may be a mother by now as well—and you may find it extremely difficult to get through the day without tears as you try to navigate the intricate map of your emotions.
In my case, I feel like every time the holiday comes around, I’m dealing with a multi-layered concept of motherhood that often leaves me feeling awkward and unsure of how to get through the day.
On one hand I have to decide if I’m going to the cemetery to put flowers on my mothers’ grave—the mother who died by suicide in 2004, the mother who suffered from schizophrenia, severe depression, and constant suicide attempts since the day I was born. As you can imagine, we didn’t have the greatest relationship, and the fact that I even have to question if I should put flowers on her grave often fills me with shame.
After that, I hope to find time to go for a walk in the woods—to breathe in the fresh scent of the damp spring earth, which reminds me how many days of my life were nurtured not by the flesh and blood of the mother who birthed me, but by the soft green grass, cerulean blue sky, and the ancient towering oaks of Mother Nature. Her beauty and resilience were a constant that nourished my soul during a time of profound hardship. While my mother was at war with herself within the walls of our home, I was often wrapped securely in the blankets of Mother Nature’s sun-drenched arms.
I also have to pick out a pretty plant and a card for my stepmother, Kristy, who loves to garden. She came into my life when I was sixteen, shortly after my father gave up his 20-year struggle to help my mother overcome her mental illness. When Kristy first arrived, I hoped she would be the mother I had always wanted, but I had a hard time getting close to her. By that age, I felt so self-protective I couldn’t really trust someone else to mother me no matter how much I craved that connection.
And then there’s Judith—a dear, close friend who is one of my former college writing professors. I always think about Judith on Mother’s Day, but never know if it’s appropriate to send her a card. After my mother’s suicide, Judith became a constant source of support and comfort. She’s been in my life for the last nine years: listening to me when I need to cry, encouraging me to move forward, helping me make sense of the world I live in, celebrating my small victories, and visiting with my children as if they were her own family—all the things I think loving, engaged mothers would do.
But, because we are not related by blood, I’ve found myself afraid to let her know how much she means to me over the years—mostly because I feared rejection. If my own mother couldn’t love and accept me the way she was supposed to, how could I expect a woman who already had two grown children of her own to do so?
On top of those already complicated layers of motherhood and emotions that are spotlighted on Mother’s Day, I also find myself struggling with my own sense of motherhood, as I am a mother, too—a mother who had her first child at the age of seventeen.
2013 will mark nearly 15 years of trying to figure out how I can simultaneously acknowledge the various “mothers” in my life while graciously being on the receiving end of the expectations for this holiday. It will mark 15 years of trying not to be my mother, of honoring Mother Nature, of trying to cross the boundaries that have kept me from getting close to my stepmother, and of wishing Judith really were my mother.
And when it comes to my own children and how they celebrate Mother’s Day—well, it doesn’t really fall on the radar of my 14-year old son who is a freshman in high school. The last thing he’s going to think about is getting his mom a card that tells her how much he appreciates all of the sacrifices she’s made for him. And really, that’s okay.
When I was younger, it hurt that my son didn’t acknowledge me more fully on this day, but now I understand that he won’t be able to recognize the influence I had on his life for quite a few years. Right now, I’m just happy to know that he’s still here, and that he still feels comfortable enough to share the changing details of his life with me. I’m grateful that he’s never once told me that he’s hated me—terribly hurtful words I often said to my mother as a teenager. How I wish I could take those words back.
Then I have my daughter in kindergarten who is so incredibly different in the way she relates to our mother-daughter relationship. She just amazes me every day. She’s the one that tells me I’m beautiful, that I’m the greatest mother in the world—words I desperately need to hear, because so often I have been afraid that I will be the kind of mother that my own mother was—distant, distracted, unable to fully connect, unable to fully love.
It seems that whenever I am on the edge of my own overwhelming grief or sadness, my daughter is there to pull me back into her—to remind me of who I am, who I am not, and who I can be. She even sings me this song that goes:
“Oh my mommy, Oh my mommy,
You’re the bestest you can be.
Oh my mommy, Oh my mommy,
You’re the only mommy I need.”
That song gives me Mother’s Day every day. It makes all the doubts of what I should or shouldn’t do on this day fall away and allows me to embrace the fact that I’ve had many mothers in my life—all worthy of celebration for the role they played in making me into the woman I am today. It also helps me realize that I, too, am a mother worthy of recognition—that I’m a good mother—with two unbelievably beautiful children who are the reason behind why I wake each day.
Happy Mother’s Day to everyone—may it be peaceful and filled with the rich details of life that bring us happiness and joy to share with anyone you feel fits the criteria of being your mother.
With love and encouragement,
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