Why is it that this holiday is so fraught with emotional pitfalls? It seems like a simple thing – set aside a day to honor the work mothers do. And yet each year I read and hear women talk about this holiday in such negative terms.
Firstly, there is the question of women who aren’t currently caring for a child – do we ignore them? include them, even though they aren’t technically mothers? I think the nurturing women do for children, whether their own or someone else’s, qualifies for the holiday. In a broad sense, Mother’s Day is about celebrating “mothering” – that uniquely challenging task of caring for and teaching little, semi-civilized persons.
Then there is the guilt factor. How often have I seen women leave a church meeting, full of accolades for mothers, with tears in their eyes – and not happy tears. Somehow, no matter what kind of job we are doing, we women think we aren’t doing enough. We aren’t the mother that always had a soft answer. We aren’t the mother that always took the teaching moment. No – we are the moms who yelled and cursed and plopped our kids down in front of the t.v. We are officially failures!
And then, for moms raising children with adoption trauma, there is a whole new factor. Mom is somehow to blame for all the things the bio mom did or didn’t do. And the real mom – the one in the trenches – has to deal with yucky behavior and this overwhelming frustration for not being able to protect their child from those early experiences and for not being able to make it all better. Add in the sorrow for the loss of the life imagined at the beginning of the adoption – the one where you would have children that loved you and could show it. Big failure for the holiday!
I feel kind of fortunate – I was raised by one of those moms who yelled. But I thought she was awesome (she still is!) so I knew that moms didn’t have to be perfect at all the external things to be good moms. I knew I was loved, even though my mom wasn’t my playmate. I knew I was loved, even though I had to do work. I knew I was loved, because when my mom messed up, she apologized. I knew I was loved because she kept teaching me the right things, even when I was rebellious and hateful and disrespectful.
Mothering is a really hard job. It requires everything you’ve got and then just a little more. There’s a lot of external stuff involved, like cooking and keeping house and clothing and education. But all that is flexible – you don’t have to be super mom in these areas – they are just part of keeping body and soul together and they can be adapted to the family. It’s the internal stuff – the recognition when you’ve messed up, the resolve to keep your cool when your kid is pushing all your buttons like a pro video game players, the ability to reach down and give empathy and love when it’s not coming naturally. It’s the ability to sacrifice your own wants and needs at the crucial moments (and no, those moments aren’t 24×7). It’s the willingness to keep trying things ’till you find what works with kid #1, and then to go through it all over again for each additional child. It’s letting go of your own emotional wants and needs with relation to the kid (think wanting your kid to be a concert pianist when they just want to play in the mud).
Maybe what makes the holiday hard is all our expectations for ourselves. We have this emotional connection to Mom. We picture cute little children who adore their mother and who respond to loving words. We imagine a childhood that is rich in experience and love and protected from hardship and conflict. We imagine the ideal and then find ourselves mired in the reality that can be so difficult because it wasn’t what we WANTED.
I say, Mother’s Day should be a day to remember that mothering is a job – one of the most important – but also that the best you can do is ENOUGH. And if it doesn’t look like a Hallmark card that’s O.K. too. Personally, I don’t think life is supposed to be like that anyway – it’s too hard to grow when everything is going the way you want. If you are a mom – go buy yourself a treat and take a moment to pat yourself on the back for all your hard work and remember, you are part of an enormous crowd of awesome women who get up everyday and take on the task of civilizing another human being. Yea us!!