I hope my mother had friends who told her what a good mother she was. She and her sister were terribly close, and so I suspect she was my mother’s best listener. Not only was my mother also an excellent, empathetic listener, she was a prolific sharer. Once, when I flew in for a visit, I left her outside baggage claim while I went inside, to the bathroom, and in that five to seven minutes she told a random woman all about my failed marriage and upcoming divorce. It was awkward for me, but hardly warranted an eye roll. I was used to my mother’s outgoing, confiding nature. Plus, it makes a good story. So it’s not a stretch to think that she had more than one woman in her support network with whom she could share her parenting joys and struggles, disappointments, fears, and revelations. I hope there were also tales of little victories and proud moments. There were probably fewer of those, because we are a self-conscious sort of family, wary of appearing to show off. That was especially true of her.
I hope she got the support and appreciation she needed, because, God knows, she didn’t get much from me before I had children of my own. I existed in that space where I took having a good mother totally for granted. She made it possible with the dedicated and often selfless care she took of my sisters and me.
When children love you, they love you, but might rarely say it. When they scream that they hate you, they mean it—at the time. You have to admire the unbridled honesty of young children. The armchair psychologist in me knows that even babies manipulate the adults closest to them to get what they need. But screw that. I have faith in the purity of their emotions.
Mother’s Day is a cute, hopeful excuse for a celebration. Bring on the colorful cards and painted clay treasures that teachers finagle for us, and the puzzling, inventive presents that Dads or Partners pick out and pay for, yes! (My historic XBox Mother’s Day present, I’m looking at you.) Carryout pizza or steak, because who wants to spend Mother’s Day waiting for a table at Texas Roadhouse with eight hundred other people who believe it’s the best alternative to Mom having to cook.
Our kids show us love and appreciation in the way that they’re able to at any given moment. For some mothers, that looks like not much at all, no matter the season. In that case, cue the worry that we, as mothers, raised kids who are ungrateful. What did we do wrong? A more hopeful perspective is that we gave them wings to fly, and they joyfully, gloriously flew. But around Mother’s Day, it’s also entirely possible that someone convinced them early on that Mother’s Day is blatant exploitation by greeting card companies, so why support the Capitalist Military Industrial Complex with the purchase of bath salts, hand soaps, or flowers that are, in effect, already dead?
We can always just ask our kids if they love and appreciate us. You might be pleasantly surprised at their answers. What they tell their therapists is their own business.
I confess that a few of my early Mother’s Days were spent at the movies, or writing at the library. Alone. Did I feel guilty? Maybe a little, at first. I usually brought home pizza or Chinese for dinner. There were always gifts for me, either of the homemade or thoughtfully purchased sort. (I’m no gamer, and I used the XBox as an expensive dvd player.) It’s nice to be officially recognized, especially very early in motherhood, when one’s errors are still blessedly few, and the kids don’t have the words to complain.
I’ll say it: I can live without Mother’s Day. I am joyful in my magical, funny, brilliant, maddening, beautiful, honest children every day of the year, so I don’t care much about having a designated appreciation day. In my heart, I am secure in our love for one another. They also tell me how much they love me more than once a week.
But, as a mother, I can’t live without the women in my life who constantly put motherhood in perspective for me, and remind me that I’m a person, and not just a role.
They are my sisters, and a few dear friends who have never judged the mistakes and fears and brutal moments of sunk confidence that have riddled my 30+ years of motherhood. They are open-handed with their time and their listening hearts. Their wisdom, and their ideas. Their stories. Their honesty, which is an enormous gift. Most of them are mothers themselves. They have all been daughters, and have spent lifetimes measuring themselves against their own mothers, which is a whole other critical factor in becoming a woman and/or mother. They know who they are.
When I reach out to one of them by text, or phone, I always have a story to tell. I learned to tell stories from my mother and her mother. What I love is that—no matter what I have to say—my sisters/friends take me seriously. They listen. When they call, I do the same for them. Sometimes there are tears. (Usually mine—I’m that friend who always brings the drama.) We say oh, no! I hate that for you, no way, you’re kidding, or what?! Sometimes, we cry together. Mostly, we listen.
I treasure and appreciate their stories, even when they are difficult to hear. (There are fine lines. We don’t gossip about our children. They’re all old enough now that keeping their privacy private is a big deal.) We’ve brought these actual living beings into a world that’s huge and unpredictable, and we try to raise them to be independent and cautious yet brave. But these actual people are human, just like we are, and we aren’t necessarily able to fix their mistakes and problems (and shouldn’t, mostly). They make choices we wouldn’t make (at least not any more), plus, shit happens. Currently, only a couple of our collective children have brains that are fully formed. There they are, out there, flapping in the wind, and no longer snuggled in a blanket in our safe and comforting arms. We are mothers, but we sure aren’t in charge or control.
In those tough phone calls, there’s always a subtext of What did I do wrong? I take that always back—one of my dearest friends is admirably aware that her children’s choices are all about them, and not her. I’ve learned a lot about reining in my codependent tendencies from her. (And when I say admirable, I mean she’s a hero(ine)!) It’s hard for some of us to not blame ourselves for a child’s troubles. (See therapist and codependent above.)
Did my mother think she was even partly responsible for poor choices my sisters and I made? I doubt it. She was healthy that way.
When that question comes up, the best thing we do for each other is to not answer it directly. The way to be a friend is to listen, but not play along. We are there to help one another ease the burden of what’s happening that very moment. To reassure our dear one that she isn’t going to fly apart, and that she can handle what is happening. Because she’s done it before. Parenting is life on repeat—the situations just get bigger, and scarier. (And, thankfully, sometimes just plain funnier.)
Have I sounded too negative? Of course we share our joys. It’s a thrill to say or hear, guess what I DIDN’T do today!
When we’re talking about parenting, we are not just listening, but lifting each other up above the morass of the moment so we can find our way out.
What an incredible gift I have in these dear women. I celebrate their beautiful hearts, and thank them every day for my sanity.
For Mother’s Day, I really just want what everyone wants. I want to be seen. I want to be believed and trusted. I want to trust—safely. I want the people I love to feel loved. I want them to know that I see them, and I want to do a better job of seeing them.
I bet that’s what your mother would want, or would’ve wanted, too.