I’m the first to admit that Mother’s Day is not my favorite day. It’s been 28 years since I sat with my mother on what was her last Mother’s Day, reading her cards while she listened, gaunt and shrunken
with cancer. She died three weeks later, exhausted from her years-long battle with melanoma.
What do you give to the mother who is dying? You give the only thing you can give, your love. And, you show your love by giving your time. You sit with her when a thousand things are going on in life that need attention, but this is the place you are needed. You keep her in her home and bathe her and brush her dentures until they no longer fit her mouth. You swallow your pride and your fear and you walk into the room where the nurse will instruct you in giving the shots that will keep her comfortable. That is the only other gift you can give, your promise to take good notes and keep her comfortable.
This year, nearly 30 years after my mother died, I went to find Mother’s Day cards for the mothers in my life, my mother-in-law and stepmother-in-law. I care for both of these women. I respect them and they both care deeply for my husband.
I stood there reading the cards and after the 3rd or 4th card, I became paralyzed. The cards I read made me sick to my stomach.
Thank you for making me the person I am today. Everything I am I owe to you. Really, seriously, we are completely negating the daughter or son to take advantage of what life has offered up and we transfer all the honor and credit to the mother. Really?
I thought of my own mother and what she might have sacrificed. Indeed, she had stayed married to my father when apparently she really wanted to leave. Was that the model I was supposed to choose?
The cards that defined what a mother was were just as appalling.
A mother is kind, gives unconditional love, always patient, never harsh, always knows the just right thing to say, and on and on and blah, blah, blah. I thought of how my mother was depressed and unable to convey what we kids meant to her. Was that the part that I was to honor, was that what made me strong?
As I read, I became more upset. The Mother’s Day cards were like judgments. They were judgments of what a mother is supposed to be and what she is supposed to live up to. As if once she met all the requirements, she’d be considered a good woman. What an enormous amount of pressure. My own mother struggled with that pressure and I’d rather she had been less of a June Cleaver and just yelled at my dad, back the eff off! I’d have cheered for her.
Instead, she’s gone and there’s no fantasizing about what I want to say to her, I’m stuck with fantasizing about what I could have said.
That day, in the store, I read the Mother’s Day cards and wondered, w.ho wrote the questions? Were they written by children (albeit adult children) who hope their mother would behave that way? Were they written by the mothers themselves who wanted their children to put them on a pedestal. Either way, I was grossed out. What a lot of unmeetable expectations.
I had no idea I was so upset until I read my friend Stacey’s Facebook post:
“Being a mother is about dealing with strengths you didn’t know you had and dealing with fears you didn’t know existed.” Credited to Linda Wooten.
I even wrote on Stacey’s wall, something to the effect of “at least that’s better than the crap on the Mother’s Day cards.” There were no more comments and even Stacey didn’t respond. I deleted my comments and went to ponder more.
In my pondering, I realized that I was very disturbed. I’ve never met a perfect woman and I’ve never met a perfect mother. That’s no insult to all the good women and good mothers out there. Good is different than perfect, please note the distinction. In fact, good is better than perfect. Perfect is a desperate woman trying to please everyone else. Good is a mother who models for her child that a woman is not perfect. In a much looooonger post I could describe a good mother, but here I’ll just say, she’s not going to be found in a greeting card.
You might read this post and think I’m still grieving my mother. That would be true. Regardless of your age when you lose your mother, physically or emotionally, you still want more time with her.
You might read this post and think that a mother should live up to a high standard, one step below being an angel. I assure you, that’s your fantasy speaking to you and your embrace of the modern myth that women should and could be all things to all people, if they just wanted to be.
Being a woman has nothing to do with the greeting card fantasy that we are all-knowing, all-seeing, or all-doing. We make messes, we clean them up. We support others, sometimes we let them down. It is almost impossible for a woman to fix today’s world, but we’ll likely die trying.
I suggest we ease up on what we think a mother should be. What if we let her figure it out for herself and accept that maybe she doesn’t want or need to be a stereotype? Yeah, what if?