“We always hurt the ones we love.”
I’m sure I’ve heard this sentence a thousand times. It gets repeated because there is part of it that is true. It is easier to hurt those closest to us because they feel the pain more deeply. A sneer from a stranger means nothing next to a sneer from one’s lover.
But what about mothers?
As a Child
When I was a teen, I was good. I didn’t do drugs. I didn’t have sex. I didn’t drink alcohol. I didn’t vandalize buildings. I never got into fights. The most I did was shave my head or stay out late for a concert (and half those were my performances…with my dad).
Sometimes I didn’t do my homework. I was a teen.
My mother was and remains an extraordinarily competent person and she had, I’m sure, a very specific idea of what I should do as a teen. I was generally good, and my mother wanted what was best for me. She said she would check my backpack before I left one morning. She wanted to take out my folders and make sure I completed every assignment.
I didn’t let her. She got very angry. I got very angry. I dodged her hands as she reached for me. My father held her as she yelled, “Don’t come back!”
Without looking over my shoulder, I slipped out the side door – a bounce in my step and a tear in my eye.
My mother never said anything like this to me, and she hasn’t since. She was frustrated. She wanted me to do my homework because she was afraid it would impact my future. She wanted me to follow the rules so I would get into a good college, land a good job, and become a successfully contributing member of society.
My mother did and still does love me.
This is the same woman who has spent hours up at night nursing me to health, giving me hugs and kisses when I was hurt, reading me stories on the couch as I translated imaginings to the page. She celebrated in all my successes and cried for my pains. Her heart vibrated in time with mine.
I know this now. I kind of knew it then. Still, I was angry. So I didn’t go home. I sat in the auditorium and watched my friends practice their school play. This was before cell phones so my parents couldn’t get in contact with me the way parents do these days. I had a friend who was smart. She was concerned.
“Alexis, I think you should go home. At least call your parents on the pay phone.”
I can see my friend’s pained face. I sighed, choking down my pride.
“Do you have a quarter?”
I don’t remember what happened after that. What I do remember is contrition – on the parts of all involved. Probably there were cheap hamburgers or pizza, muted vocal tones from the couch, and averted eyes. Maybe I listened to Ekova or Laura Love when I got back into my room and closed the door.
Maybe I took out a sketch book.
I’m sure I did some homework.
As a Mother
Kiddo thrusts his hand out, as if he can push the air, and with it me.
“No! I don’t want you to! I want you leave me alone!” His tiny face pinches. His thick lip pushes out as he stamps his foot down, smacking against the tiles.
I bite my lip. I see so many interactions between myself and my mother. I see that inherited streak of independence passed from one generation to the next. He’s just like me.
“Okay, I’ll leave you alone.”
“I want to do it myself!” he cries.
“Fine. You do it yourself!” I throw my hands up, taking a step back.
A few minutes later, after a hundred frustrated tears and half as many whimpers…
“Mama, I need your help.” I smile, my heart swelling at this tiny person’s vulnerability.
“Of course I’ll help you!”
“My heart vibrates in time with yours.”
Becoming a mother opened my eyes to the depth of the role – the depth of feeling tied to one’s children, and the complications of such a bond. There is no one quite like a mother. There are biological reasons for this – the cells mothers carry in their bodies after birth, the remapping of brains, and the months or years of breastfeeding.
Of course this doesn’t just belong to biology – any parent has a special place of closeness to a child. Still, there’s something about mothers…
Mothers shoulder a disproportionate burden of childrearing. They are required by society and biology to care for children from before their birth, and are also expected to cook, clean, and work outside the home. While increasing numbers of men have begun doing these tasks, as a rule women still do a greater portion.
Mothers are expected to breastfeed their babies for at least six months by the government, and yet many workplaces are unaccommodating or hostile towards breastfeeding.
Mothers are judged for not staying at home, when our social safety net does not provide for their basic needs and forces many to work full time. Mothers are judged when they don’t work, but childcare is so expensive as to making working outside the home pointless.
Mothers are expected to bend over backwards, become magical creatures combining the powers of Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey – successful at all things in all times while smiling and never raising their voices.
And then we go to the store, pick out a cookie-cutter card out of cultural obligation, and sign our names like it came from the heart. We take them to lunch, because we have no idea how to cook something worth their attention, and we say, “Happy Mother’s Day!” as if this makes the whole process – from pregnancy through adulthood and all the accompanying socio-cultural and economic burdens – worth it.
We do love our mothers. We just have a hard time showing it.
Compassion for Mother
If we want to express love to our mothers, to those responsible for so much, it behooves us to do a better job. We need to love mothers actively. We need to care for those who have cared so much for us.
Here are ways we can be more compassionate to mothers today:
We must be empathetic to mothers. We must remember, each mother is doing the best she can in the life she’s been given. We don’t know her particular story, so we can’t make quick judgments on her choice of food for her baby, diapers, work, or any other thing.
If we have the opportunity to express care to other mothers, we should take it. This could be cleaning the house, making dinner, washing dishes, insisting on her self-care, or assuring her that no – the world won’t end if she puts her feet up to watch her favorite show.
When we have the opportunity to express care to ourselves as mothers – we should take it. This is best done through self-forgiveness and self-love. We’re doing the best we can in the life we’ve been given and that’s fine.
When there is something inflammatory online about mothering – ignore it or send love to those impacted by it. Someone is hurting from something we don’t understand that has lead them to write those words. It’s not about you – it’s not about mothers you know. It’s only a reflection of the one writing it.
On the larger stage, we must advocate for mothers. We must advocate for social programs that protect and nurture women from the earliest stages of motherhood to highly experienced great grandmothers. What better way to express our love than to ensure our society cares for them? They lifted us up, let us do the same.
It’s hard to understand how important mothers are, how much pressure they are under unless we become mothers. It is a deep role that is wide-reaching and impacts every aspect of our society. When mothers who raise future generations are supported, our society as a whole benefits. When we as individuals actively love our mothers, their hearts are lighter.
This Sunday is Mother’s Day. Don’t just take the mothers in your life out to lunch or give them a card.
Tell them how much you appreciate them. Tell them how important they are – that you notice all the things they’ve done to lift up each new generation.
Beyond telling, show them with real action you know they will appreciate. After all, none of us would be here if not for our mothers.
What are your plans for Mother’s Day? Leave a comment below!
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