Why Mother’s Day is complicated

Since motherhood takes up a lot of space in my head, it seemed right to re-enter into my blogging for Mother’s Day. As all the thoughts about moms and Mother’s Day and parenting and expectations swirled around in my head while trying to decide how to approach the topic on my blog, I realized how complex my feelings were about Mother’s Day and then quickly followed up that realization with the thought of “Duh! Of course your feelings about the day are complicated, look at your feelings about motherhood!”

On my drive home from work tonight, knowing I would finally sit down and write this post, I tried to conjure up the words in my head as I often do. I started thinking about my niece telling me the other day how she wanted to have six children, 3 of each gender, and me telling her that when I was young I wanted to have eight children. I’ll let that sink in for a second. Eight. Five boys and three girls. At some point, with a boyfriend too young to be making such plans, we named these eight future children. Looking back on that I can only shake my head at young, foolish me.

I remember thinking a big family would be so ideal. There would be this fantastic sibling bond and everyone would look out for each other and my husband and I would be the perfect parents and we would have big, loud, happy family dinners and it would be like the Brady Bunch. Plus two.

As I got older and began to understand myself and the world a little better, I accepted that a big family was probably not in the cards for me. I still hoped for the fairytale romance and figured once I had satisfied my wanderlust and my big dreams that the family part would fall into place. But each failed romance took me further from my ideal until I began to believe I was maybe just too selfish to have a baby (or eight).

Cue the song on the radio as I get off the exit toward home this evening: “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find, you get what you need…”

That about sums it up for me. Motherhood hasn’t turned out to be at all what I wanted. Or rather, this version of motherhood isn’t at all what I envisioned. I am not the mom I dreamed of being. My pregnancy was not the joyous event  I longed to have. My family doesn’t come close to the idealized fantasy I had as a young girl.

But maybe this life is what I really needed.

Maybe having two needy babies consuming me (almost literally) from the beginning was what I needed to become a less selfish person.

Maybe doing it all on my own was what I needed to believe in my own strength.

Maybe the difficulties and the loneliness are what I needed to have more compassion and understanding for my own mother.

Maybe.

My first Mother’s Day occurred when I was pregnant. One of my best friends had sent me a gift; it was a prayer necklace that had a tiny container in which you could write down a little prayer and put it in the silver tube and keep it close to your heart. It was so lovely, but I remember thinking, “I’m not a Mother, yet”.

Even at that time, pretty big with twin boys in my belly, I didn’t truly feel like a mother. I didn’t understand what being a mother was. I can remember sometimes just wanting the babies to come out. I felt like I could truly be a mother if I could hold them in my arms and know that I was taking care of them. Meanwhile, the best thing that could happen was that I didn’t hold them in my arms, but in my womb. That I stay pregnant as long as possible. Luckily, God made sure that my fever dreams and wishes and prayers went unanswered…

I think the prayer I wrote down was that I would be a good mother and that the boys’ father would come around and be a good father to them. I pried the necklace open tonight to see if that is what I was thinking nine years ago, like my faulty memory believes, but the prayer was just pale blue ink spread on yellow aged paper. I wore that necklace every day and didn’t take it off until the day I had my boys. I then wore it for years after until I think I realized that at least part of my prayer had been answered.

I am a good mother.

I am not the mother that I thought I would be. I am not the mother that I wanted to be. But I am a good mother.

The next Mother’s Day of which I have a clear recollection was maybe when the boys were three. We went to my sister’s house for a while and took some pictures underneath her lilac tree. After some breakfast and visiting, I went home and broke down sobbing at the kitchen sink while doing dishes.

I was grieving for the loss of an unattainable ideal. For the Hallmark commercial of a dad and his kids making mommy breakfast in bed and telling her how much she was loved. That would never be my reality. I was grieving that I couldn’t have one day off from the thankless job of keeping a house running and keeping my children healthy and fed and giving up my own desires to do so. And I was lamenting that on MOTHER’S day, the only thing I really wanted in that moment–was a break from being a mother.

When I think back on it now, I feel a little sick.

There are women out there who would trade their souls to hold a baby in their arms and be a mother.

There are women who have lost their babies, their children, and their adult children, who would give anything for one more day.

There are women who had to say to goodbye to their own mothers too soon.

How could I possibly wish away the most incredible gift that I had ever been given?

Of course, I didn’t really wish it away. That would be like wishing to stop breathing. I just wanted a break. I wanted someone to see me. To see that I was trying to be a good mom. I wanted a fairy godmother to swoop in and take care of my chores and my stress and give me beautiful comfy pajamas and a haircut and a massage and let me snuggle up with my babies for an afternoon of naps and movies.

A fairy godMOTHER.

So many ways to be a mother.

Ironically, some of my very best friends are not mothers. Some want to be. Some don’t. Some don’t say if it is truly something they yearn for deep down, but feel or fear they can’t have. Some of these women are the most giving, selfless, amazing, MOTHERING, people I know. I want to celebrate them this Mother’s Day for all the ways that they are mothers without having or adopting children of their own. They are the fairy godmothers of the world.

In my heart, every Mother’s Day, I hold those women who have lost their children. It is something that I cannot imagine. I hold those women who have lost their mother. I hold those women who grieve for the mother they wish they had growing up or as an adult. I hold those people for whom this holiday is nothing but a reminder that they don’t have someone to call Mom.

I truly am blessed to be a mom. It is nothing like I imagined it would be. I don’t deserve it. But I work hard to become deserving of it.  I hope my sons one day realize how they changed my entire definition of an ideal family. And that they know if I achieve nothing in this whole world other than making them feel loved and giving them the tools to create that ideal life for themselves, I will have succeeded.

Happy Mother’s Day to all you women out there who are mothers in body, in heart, and in spirit.

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4 thoughts on “Why Mother’s Day is complicated

    • Thank you! Life doesn’t usually resemble what we think it will…but you are right– the real thing is much, much better. Happy Mother’s Day!

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  1. This makes me think about “the Three Trees”… Also the saying that every failed relationship is preparing you for the right one. I think we needed to go through certain challenges in our life to get us prepared or “equipped” to be who we need to be and capable for what lies ahead. How can you appreciate a unique person like yourself unless you’ve walked a mile down different paths that taught you what values or traits really matter? I believe life, God, fate (whichever) put opportunities in front of us and its up to us to recognize it when it happens and then act or not. To me that’s the balance of destiny and free will in the universe and your history and wisdom from such is what allows you to decide how to act when presented with an opportunity. Being a single mom made you grow in ways you never would have otherwise and also allow you to eventually find greater joys in life then those who had an easier path. Who enjoys running and playing more, the kids who never had a problem or the kids who had a major physical issue that they overcame? You can’t get the smile off the second set because they appreciate it because they alone know the flip side.

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