I’m not one of those people who is super invested in Mother’s Day. Every year, I send my mom a card and a little gift, and I called her early this morning. But I don’t get worked up that I don’t spend the day with her and that these past few years, my sons haven’t been around to spend the day with me. It’s just a day, whatever. But for some reason, this year it’s prompted a little reflecting on motherhood, on my mother, and on myself as a mother.
First thought: It’s really demanding and hard to be a mom. You are directly responsible or on call 24/7 for at least 18 years, and in some ways for the rest of your life. So it’s important to have some empathy and compassion to anyone taking on such an incredible task.
Second thought: It’s very unlikely that a woman is emotionally prepared to be a mother. Most women have their first babies in their 20s or 30s (just looked it up; average age is 26). It is rare and difficult to have life figured out that soon. It takes a long time, at least for many of us and certainly for me, to understand ourselves, much less to have done the deep emotional healing we often need.
I don’t know exactly what it would mean to be emotionally prepared for motherhood, but it would have to include some self-awareness, some ability to accept the messiness of life, of course patience and empathy, as well as the ability to identify with the feelings of others. And don’t forget respect for boundaries.
Given that most women (this includes me as well as my own mother) are generally not emotionally prepared when we become mothers, we inevitably fail to give our children some of what they need. Some failures are, clearly, more serious than others. Many of the failures hurt some but do not cause severe damage, especially if, overall, the mother gives consistent warmth and care to her child.
I’m sad, sometimes, about the ways I failed my children. Most of the failures have to do with being too stressed, too busy, or too depressed to be fully present in ways I wish I had been. But my sons both love me, I know that. They are warm and caring to me, and they choose to spend time with me. I feel grateful and sometimes surprised that this is true. Somewhere along the line, I think I managed to give them enough consistent warmth and care that they knew how important they were.
I believe my mom avoids thinking about ways in which she failed me and my siblings. I believe she is terrified to look at hard things and keeps herself safe by refusing to be honest about them. For a long time, this made me very angry with her. Sometimes it still does, and maybe it will, off and on, for the rest of my life.
But most of the time, I’m not mad anymore. I’m more likely to feel sad about the ways she’s allowed fear to run her life. I think she’s missed a lot because of that fear, including the chance to be truly close to me, my sisters, and my brother.
My mother is a kind person who has made her own life smaller and emptier and more isolated because she doesn’t want to see hard truths. Okay, I can accept that. I have had my own experiences with shame and denial, and I understand how powerful they are. Unlike my mom, however, I’ve had the opportunity to go to therapy for ages, like forever really. I’m fortunate enough to have learned that the cure for loneliness and shame is to embrace vulnerability, as hard as that is. I wish my mother knew that. But today, at least, I am forgiving her for never learning this. I am feel compassion for her, as well as some gratitude for what she was able to give me.
CREDIT: Photo by Benjamin Manley on Unsplash (modified)