Everyone reading this shares a common experience. All have, or have had, a mother. This is true even if you and your mother were separated at birth. Who mothered you may be the woman who adopted you, or a grandmother or other family member who took care of you. Many of you are now mothers and understand the role much better than you did before you became a mother.
With Mother’s Day this weekend, some will be celebrating with their mothers and children. Some won’t. Mother’s Day can be a difficult holiday for those who have (especially recently) lost their beloved mothers. It can also be a difficult time for those who want children and yet have not had them. And we should not forget how difficult Mother’s Day will surely be for the mothers of Riley Howell and Kendrick Castillo whose sons were recently killed protecting others during the school shootings at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and at the charter school near Denver, Colorado. And many other mothers will be grieving on Mother’s Day for various reasons. This holiday that celebrates mothers will not be a happy one for all mothers.
A discussion at my book club this week was about a famous mother, or more accurately, the mother of a famous woman. While the discussion did not begin about mothering, it was impossible to avoid that topic due to the book we had read. The connection between the woman our book subject became, and her mother, was impossible to miss. The book, Becoming, by Michelle Obama, has many lessons about mothering in its 421 pages, although mothering is not expressly stated as a theme. The story of our own lives is also full of stories about our mothers and our children.
If you are one of the fortunate ones like Michelle Obama who had a strong and wonderful mother, be grateful, and never forget how blessed you have been. If you did not or do not have such a role model, be compassionate to the woman who birthed you, and recognize that she had other choices, yet she gave you life. And please, if you made different decisions when faced with a pregnancy, do not read this “she gave you life,” as condemnation. This is a complex issue, regardless of how some people think otherwise. We should have no room in our hearts for condemnation, only compassion.
Many of my readers are aware from my other writings that I had a troubled mother, and many times no relationship or a difficult relationship with her. Yet I will always be grateful for the sacrifices my mother made for me, especially the sacrifice of giving me life. Had she not, my story could not be told, only hers. What I have done with my life since I have been able to care for myself is my responsibility, no one else’s. When I became an adult and through therapy, I reconciled the issues within me created by my mother’s issues. My mother did the best she could. Had I lived her life, I might not have done as well.
Michelle Obama’s mother as recorded in her book was a strong and independent woman, who chose family work during the time Michelle and her brother were young. She nurtured, fed, and cared for her two children with a steady and constant hand. Michelle also had a strong and good father, yet one gets the impression that the person Michelle Obama became and is still becoming had more to do with her mother’s role model than her father’s. Her father passed away before she and Barack married. Her mother is still alive.
This is really not about Michelle Obama’s mother; it is about mothering. It is not intended in any way to be a political example. I could also write about Laura Bush as a good mother, for by every indication we have she was, and is. But I have not read about that! I do want to read her book, however, Spoken from the Heart.
Our book club discussion included the question of what role Michelle Obama’s mother, being a “stay at home” mother, had to play in Michelle Obama’s life. All of us in book club have been and several still are “working women” with busy professional jobs, which clearly was not the model of the mother featured in this book. I heard some angst in this part of our discussion, and we did not come to a conclusion on that. I think we all know women who prefer to do family work while their children are young and have the financial and family ability to make that decision. We also realize that for many women working outside of the home while children are young is not a choice; their circumstances require it. But we are also comfortable enough with our choices to admit that some women are better mothers in general and happier women because they work outside of the home, hopefully making sure that their children are well cared for. Again, compassion, not condemnation.
How do we describe a good mother? There are many characteristics, but I will choose three. I have chosen to not focus on the importance of the mother’s role as a spiritual caretaker, although I believe that is certainly important.
First of all, a good mother provides stability for her children most of the time. There is not frequent chaos in the home. The children can bring friends home and know they will be welcomed. Often she subjugates herself for the sake of her children. If you are reading this and do not think you meet this standard as a mother, it isn’t too late. Remember, not condemnation, just compassion.
Secondly, a good mother provides nurturing in a loving manner, letting her children know how special they are, not just to her, but in general. She speaks kindly to them and of them, knowing that their spirits can be dashed when she withholds her approval of them. This does not mean she approves of or accepts their aberrant behavior, but how she deals with that can teach them by her positive example and her words or create an opposite response or reaction. Most of us would not meet this standard all of the time; it can be a matter of degree. We know whether we model this behavior most of the time, occasionally, or never. Remember, it is never too late to be the person we need to be until our time with our children has run out. If we need to do some work in this area, let’s be brave enough to do so.
A good mother also provides discipline, yet discipline in a loving manner. This is more than a “spanking” discussion. The discipline I am referring to here includes boundaries, rules, and consistency. Mothers are not their children’s friend, they are their leader, manager, or boss. It is the role of the mother to model and reinforce expected behavior, and when the children stray from that, to reinforce the expectation and establish consequences if appropriate, and yet provide approval of the child in general, and certainly love.
I promise you that as a mother I failed many times in my mothering. I remember some of those easier than my daughters may remember them. They may remember some things I do not. I hope they also remember the good times, the positive things I did, and judge my job as a mother on the sum total of our experiences together. And with them being mothers now, I believe they have experienced how difficult it is at times to be the mother we want and need to be. Compassion.
Of course, fathers are also very important in their children’s lives. But we are celebrating Mother’s Day! Fathers will get their turn in June.
I wish for those who can, a happy Mother’s Day with family. For those who can’t celebrate Mother’s Day, who can only do their best to get through the day, I pray for peace.