The Difficut Mother’s Day

If seeing “Throwback Thursday” shots of happy women and their mothers makes you feel confused or sad; if you couldn’t find a Mother’s Day card because they are all so sticky and sweet, welcome to today’s blog.

Prickly plant seedhead.

Prickly plant seedhead.

If your childhood was happy and you had a mother who gave you everything you needed and no card is sweet enough, today’s blog is not for you. And most likely, you are with your mom, being happy.

Anna Jarvis, who invented American Mother’s Day in 1908 was angered by the commercialization by the early 1920s. So you are not alone if you think the holiday is a lot of hype for cards and candy. Most likely, that’s not your heartache. You never had the mother you needed. The one who comforted you and praised you and loved you when you were unlovable and  helped without anger when you sewed the pieces of your gingham skirt together backwards. Twice.

Maybe you chose not to be a mother and everyone asks you why, or you wanted to be a mother and it didn’t happen for you and you are still pretending that’s just fine.

It’s complicated. Whether your mother was cruel or uncaring or clueless, the pain is there. If your mother is still alive, you probably won’t be able to have the big turnaround, awakening and happy ending your friends keep promising you. Not even on her deathbed. It may never happen. And that may have to be OK, too.

If your mother is dead, you may replay scenes, wondering if you had acted differently, if the results would have been different. You’ll never know, but a wild guess tells me No. Some things can’t be changed, fixed, or healed. And never by one person. Two people, a mother and her child, might be able to cobble together a relationship, but it’s hard.

The relationships between mothers and daughters is always hard. There is unwritten jealousy between age and experience and youth and naivete. There is anger in lost opportunities and unmet expectations.  For some, the fact that you were a daughter was enough of a disappointment to fill a lifetime. I ran across this quote yesterday, whose poignancy was hard to read:

“Remember that every son had a mother whose beloved son he was, and every woman had a mother whose beloved son she wasn’t. ” – Marge Piercy

The long shadow doesn't have to haunt you.

The long shadow doesn’t have to haunt you.

But here is a truth you might want to hear right now, today, on Mother’s Day. You cannot be anyone else except the person you are today, with all your faults, experiences, hardships, joys, stumbles, successes and backslides. That is also true of your mother. No matter what happened, your awareness and work brought you to where you are today.

And starting today, you can choose to be generous and kind and patient. Maybe not with your mother, but with the women who surround you. The ones who work with you and don’t meet your expectations. The pretty ones who get promoted ahead of you.  The ones who don’t take the opportunities you wanted and they have the freedom to turn down. All those women you meet on your path during the day. You can swallow the angry remark. You can wish them well. You can choose not to judge. That is your choice now. And choosing that freedom instead of choosing retribution is worth celebrating. Today and every day.

-Quinn McDonald’s mother has been dead for almost 10 years, and the shadow still falls across the path on some days.

34 thoughts on “The Difficut Mother’s Day

  1. A great meditation on Mother’s Day! For those of us who had great mothers who aren’t here anymore (mine’s been gone for 38 years now); for those who wanted to be a mother but couldn’t (a friend); who could be a mother but chose not to (me); and who had a horrible mother (another friend). Mother’s Day is great to say thanks to Moms but it’s an even better day to say thanks to our female friends who mother us when we need it. That’s what I do on Mother’s Day now.

    • This is a great idea. We choose many people who sit in the front row of our lives; many of them aren’t biological family. We get to choose the front-row sitters, and treat them like family.

  2. When I was about 15 my friend said “I hate my Mother!” and when I asked why she said it was because she couldn’t do something or other that probably wouldn’t matter the following week. What that remark did for me was to set me wondering as I rode my bike home from school, who was mother, what experiences had shaped her, what were her opinions and dreams? I started looking at her in a new light and she became, not ‘just’ my mother but a person in her own right. Yes mothers are just real people too making their way in the world.

    No woman holds her new born baby in her arms and thinks “I’m going to stuff up your life in every way I can.” They do the best they can or know how at the time and while that sometimes isn’t good enough . . . well, they didn’t set out to mess up the child’s life and possibly wouldn’t if they had had conscious nuturing mothering themselves. Of course it doesn’t always work that way, some women learn by a negative first hand example how not to mother.

    My conclusion about my mother? I knew I certainly couldn’t say I liked or disliked, much less hated or loved, anyone I didn’t really know or understand as an individual . . . and my mother of all people deserved my gratitude and respect for the gift she had given me but I didn’t have to actually like her. When I got to know her I ended up admiring her a great deal.

    • You have come to a good place with your mom. Admiration and respect go a long way when love can’t make the journey. And I agree that most moms don’t think, “Let’s see how I can screw up this kid,” but I would also say that it is far more common for moms to be consumed with wishing their kids were something they were not.

      • YES! They have a vision for the child and don’t get to know who they really are. My ex wanted to ‘toughen up’ my son . . . a gentle old soul with more understanding and compassion in his little finger than most. He’s a fabulous father but because he knows who he is, not because of the model he had. If we take the time to really know a person, there is always something there to like or respect . . . unless they’re a sociopath or psychopath, and fortunately I haven’t met any.

    • Many years ago, I belonged to “Another Mother of Peace” and I actually believed that in just one generation, we could raise children who would not need to go to war. I was very idealistic then. And very idealistic about what a mother should be.

  3. My mom was a wonderful woman, and the greatest compliment anyone who knew her can say to me, You are just like your mother… but she had a sharp tongue, and although not used on me, it was on others close to her. read “:mothers day is over”, a good book for us all. but! her brother used to call her Martha, for the woman in the ancient circle who was always DOING for others, and killing herself helping others…

  4. Thank you for this Quinn. I always knew that I wasn’t the only one who felt that way, but no one will ever talk about it. It is so hard for me to pick out a card, I either pick out a lie to make her happy (good luck with that) or one I can live with. I usually go with the latter! However, I was blessed with an amazing Godmother who has been my angle on earth and gave me all the unconditional love I ever needed. She lives here in Phoenix and gets the mussy, heartfelt card. My mother lives 3000 miles away and gets the funny card! I came across a quote yesterday “The most creative child is the one who escaped!” Have a happy, creative day Quinn!

  5. Leave it to Pete……LOL.
    Thanks Quinn for reminding everyone that some of these days of celebration are very painful for some of us. For me Mother’s Day translates to ” Leave me Alone Day”. Don’t call me wanting something, asking me for a favor, asking me to do something for you. If you do call, just say I love you or something unusual like that.

  6. I transform Mothers Day , in my head, to Women’s Day – we could all use a little recognition as woman. Or a lot. I heard a cashier rotely tell a woman yesterday at the checkout , “Happy Mothers Day”, and she replied “my baby died before it was born, I’m not a mother” and my throat went thick. Ah, Mothers Day…..

    • I heard something similar yesterday, and it gave me pause. How easy it is to wound people, how much the wounded want their pain to be public and ache to receive comfort from strangers for the wounding. How impossible it is to heal unless we do the hard work of healing. All that from a short, overheard conversation.

      • Perhaps a word of compassion from strangers is better than no compassion at all. An “I’m sorry” instead of a shrug. The “not-a-mother” was not snappy or rude, just sad, and it felt like there had not been much time for healing. I don;t know, it was just a short, overheard conversation, as you point out correctly. And I could have said a kind word, and maybe that is what the point it, I wish I would have and I didn’t.

    • They had a Women’s Day in the Soviet Union and they still celebrate it in Russia and in many other old Soviet countries. Every woman has the day off and men spend heaps of money on flowers. Really. You should see the size of the bouquets! We have begun to celebrate Women’s Day in Finland too but it’s very low key and unofficial in comparison to the ex-soviet countries. In one school where I used work the men went and bought a rose for every female member of the staff. It was really nice! There was absolutely no requirements except to be a woman.

      I wouldn’t mind the getting the day off too though. 😉

  7. Thank you for this, Quinn — for putting into words the reasons (more than one of those you list) why Mothers’ Day is hard for me, and for pointing me at a way to do something meaningful with those feelings.

  8. Your title got me thinking about a whole new class of holidays, and how we could more effectively market them:
    Difficult Mothers Day (Joan Crawford Day)
    Crazy Old Uncles Day (Uncle Buck Day)
    Bullying Older Brothers Day (Future Man Day)
    Underfoot Little Sisters Day (Dani Dennison Day)
    Domineering Fathers Day (Joe Jackson Day)
    Black Sheep Day (Randolph Dupree Day)

    Happy Robot Overlords Day! (Today is also the day Big Blue the computer beat Gary Kasparov in chess!)

    • Joan Crawford was mean in so many movies AND in real life, but let’s go with Mommie Dearest. We’ll skip Uncle Buck, then go for bully in Stand By Me, although Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure had a bully (maybe not a brother?), but just for you, I’d go for Weird Science. Hocus Pocus is as close as I can get to the underfoot little sister in a Halloween costume; Joe Jackson as the father of the Jackson 5 has to be the answer, and any movie in which he’s portrayed should work. You, Me and Dupree should cover for Black Sheep and general schlemiel.

      • Great job; Future Man was a bullying big brother in the obscure but very good Bottle Rocket. It was Wes Anderson’s first film, the debut roles for Owen Wilson and Luke Wilson, and also included the less-often-seen Andrew Wilson as Future Man (John Maplethorpe).

        It was very difficult to find for years but can be found now at Amazon and (I think) iTunes.

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