Mother In Progress

It’s nearly Mother’s Day. There are commercials with people talking about their wonderful, loving mothers; there are greeting cards for lauding caring, dedicated mothers, and signs proclaiming brunches and lunches and dinners for celebrating amazing, incredible mothers.

I don’t particularly like Mother’s Day. Don’t get me wrong: I like celebrating my mother. I like reminding her (and myself) that I love and appreciate her. But I don’t feel like Mother’s Day celebrates the kind of mother that I am: overwhelmed, scatterbrained, short-tempered. The cards and ads seem to mock me: “You’ll never be the kind of mother that WE’RE talking about.”

I clearly remember my very first Mother’s Day. My then-husband asked me what I would like, and I asked for time for myself. I was a stay-at-home mother then, living in a rural area and spending most of my days and nights with my infant daughter, and I wanted some time alone. I remember driving through the pouring rain to a local bookstore; ordering hot chocolate and sitting by the window; staring out at the sheets of rain pounding the parking lot; breathing in the quiet and exhaling my fatigue and loneliness. It was a good couple of hours, celebrating my motherhood role surrounded by books, but it also seemed strange that I wanted to celebrate motherhood by getting away from my child. I felt like I should have wanted to embrace the reason for my mother status and celebrate by spending the entire day with her. But that was every day for me, and if it was MY day, I wanted some time alone.

I want to go back in time and hug that young mother. I want to hold her close and rub her back and listen to all of her fears about her parenting abilities. I want to tell her she’s doing a remarkable job. I want to stop the rain and bring out the sun and shower her with flowers and gifts and accolades, so she knows that someone sees her.

But I can’t do that. And as difficult as parenting was back then, I face new challenges as the mother of two teenagers. I can barely remember them as babies anymore. A photograph or a video captures my recognition for a moment, and then it’s gone. My “babies” have braces on their teeth; they need deodorant; they use bad words occasionally. Their physical needs have diminished as their emotional needs have risen sharply, and I feel ill equipped to handle the feelings roller coaster that has taken up most of the space in our lives.

I have a visceral reaction to being yelled at or insulted by my teenage child. It’s as if I’m no longer an adult, but a child of the same age who’s being bullied by a peer. I’ve tried deep breaths and the silent treatment and yelling and none of them seem to be very effective. I also struggle with the boundaries around their autonomy – what do I do for them and what do they do for themselves? I don’t want to clean the room of a 13-year-old, but the alternative is a screaming match or a room so filthy that Jimmy Hoffa could be hiding in there. If I clean it, am I babying my child? Creating a helpless future adult? Who knows?  AND WHAT IS THAT SMELL?

Couple those challenges with the fact that I am a twice-divorced single parent, who moved out when her children were only 6 and 4 years old, and you have a whole new definition of motherhood. I’m still dealing with the repercussions of decisions I made years ago, when I had less healing and awareness than I do now. I thought for a while that there would come a point when I wouldn’t have to make reparations to my children anymore, that they might “get over it” and all would be forgiven. I have come to understand that I will be making amends for the rest of my life, because they are my children. They deserve it and I am willing to do it.  But I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t hurt to be a mother who hurt her children.

And that is why I don’t believe there is a place for me on Mother’s Day. I’m not the mother described in those commercials and greeting cards.  I’m the mother that needs a day alone.  I’ve tried spending time with my children on Mother’s Day, instead of taking time for myself. Last year we went to the zoo, and by the time we left, one of my children wasn’t speaking to me, and the other had “taken back” my Mother’s Day gifts because I “didn’t deserve them anymore.” Not exactly a day for the family photo album.

So, for this Mother’s Day I plan to do two things. One: I am going to go out for breakfast. I will offer my children the opportunity to go with me, and I will love it if they say “yes,” but either way I’m enjoying a meal to celebrate myself as a mother. Two: I’m going to consider the possibility that Mother’s Day might just have room for someone like me. A mother who is still learning who she is at age 40, and what she likes and doesn’t like. A mother who makes self-care a priority but sometimes drops the ball. A mother who is willing to make amends for her mistakes, today’s and yesterday’s, but doesn’t parent from a place of guilt. A mother whose parenting goal is to stay engaged with her children, even when it’s hard and they say hurtful things to me and to each other. A mother who doesn’t abandon her children or herself anymore.

A “mother in progress.”  I’ve love to see a greeting card for that.


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