The Blog

The Terrifying Reality of Mother's Day

Who would sign up for an incredibly hard job, with no insurance of payment or success? But that is exactly why we need to acknowledge and applaud all mothers.
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This morning on TV, moving tributes to moms from their loving children were featured. The car radio shared stories of mothers' dedication, and my mailbox filled with circulars from restaurants and jewelry stores offering gifts to pamper Mom. Even the grocery store was peppered with We Love You, Mom balloons. As it seems there is no escaping the warm, fuzzy sentiments of Mother's Day, I find myself thinking of the mothers who will are approaching this day with less than a full and happy heart.

Motherhood is often romanticized, but the reality is messy. The easy messes are the dirty diapers, spilled milk, and skinned knees. More challenging is the "messiness" of the less than perfect correlation between a mother's actions and the outcomes. As a therapist I have seen that being a caring, well-intentioned mother does not guarantee you a thankful, successful child. I have also seen resilient children develop into healthy, functioning adults, even thought they were mothered poorly, or worse, abused by a parent.

This may be why mothers are so likely to experience doubt. When I give parent workshops or work with individual families, mothers so readily blame themselves, so willingly reveal their feelings of inadequacy. This is not helped by the explosion of parenting books, columns, and blogs, (sorry, I'm guilty of contributing to this!), many of which provide advice as if they have the singular means to unlock the parenting puzzle. In some cases, parenting "experts" directly blame and shame mothers with authoritative warnings that failure to do A or B will result in permanent damage to one's children. In fact, there is no one magic pill of parenting, and so much depends on context, and on the child.

As Mother's Day weekend approaches, I know we can trust the media, the card manufacturers and balloon makers, the jewelers, to celebrate the loving and loved mothers of the world. I want to acknowledge, express my appreciation and empathy for, and send a virtual hug to mothers unlikely to be highlighted.

There are mothers for whom this day is sad reminder of loss. Some are sad that their children have not become who they had hoped they would. Some are sad that their connection with their child, or their child's connection with mother and/or family is not what they hoped. Some are sad that the values and ideals they worked to inculcate in their child are not lived in that child, at least not as of yet. And there are mothers sad because the loss they feel is both psychological and actual, mothers who have had perhaps the most painful of life's sorrows, the death of a child.

I want all these mothers to know that we know. . . . we know that even when mothers do so much right, much can go wrong. We know the pain of a heart longing for what is not, and in some cases, cannot be. We know that in all the celebration of the glorious positives of motherhood, we may push aside those who remind us just how much of raising children is beyond our control. This terrifying thought is a horrible sales pitch for motherhood. Who would sign up for an incredibly hard job, with no insurance of payment or success? But that is exactly why we need to acknowledge and applaud all mothers, for having the courage to love, to give, to mother, even when the outcome is impossible to predict.