Tomorrow is Sunday. Mother’s Day. Maybe you feel guilty, or sad, or just wonder what other people were so sentimental about. Mother’s Day. The day when no praise is extravagant enough, no card kitschy enough, no sentiment sweet enough. And you aren’t feeling it. At all.
Collage: “Flight” ©Quinn McDonald, 2014
If your childhood was happy and you had a mother who gave you everything you needed and no card can express the love and admiration you feel, today’s blog is not for you.
It’s for the others. You know who you are.
This is for those who never really had the mother you needed. The one you wished would comfort you and praise you and love you when you were unlovable and help without anger when you sewed the pieces of your gingham skirt together backwards. Twice. The one you so wanted to show up with comfort and forgiveness, but it didn’t happen. Not in your life.
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, but you don’t know how to act on Mother’s Day.
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 your friends keep promising you. Or blaming you for not working harder to make happen.
I have a horrible secret: Reconciliation may never happen. Not even on her deathbed. And that may have to be OK, too, because that may be a hope you still have outstanding. It is not up to you alone to make it happen. You may do the work and it will still come to nothing.
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 fix old wounds, but it’s hard. And if your mom is a believer in the old parent rules school, it is harder still.
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.
“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
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. With or without her approval.
And starting today, you can choose to be generous and kind and patient. To be a different person than the one who taught you to hate whoever you were at that moment.
Maybe you cannot be generous and kind to your mother, but you can be all those things 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 is a mother who did her best with what she knew at the time. She was not the perfect mom, either.