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The Mother Load



“You can do better than grocery store flowers and a card, can’t you?”

Does this first line in a recent NY Times article entitled “Thinking Outside the Brunch for Mother’s Day” resonate with any of you?

My guess is that it does.

As a child, I never thought about whether our Mother’s Day celebrations were what my mother wanted. She seemed to love receiving our hand-made cards, ate whatever we tried to cook for her breakfast, and looked happy when my dad presented her with flowers or a piece of jewelry. Not once did she complain. I wonder now whether she ever felt unappreciated. Her non-judgmental, accepting nature kept us in the dark as to her disappointments. Like so many of us, my mom was not comfortable letting her needs be known.

When I had children of my own and experienced a number of Mother’s Days without gifts, cards, or fanfare, I remember blaming my now ex-husband for not teaching the kids to be more thoughtful or expressive.

How would they know how, I wondered, to make a big deal out of Mother’s Day if that had never been modeled for them? It didn’t make those Mother’s Days less painful.

I may not be as good about hiding my disappointment but I certainly struggle with figuring out what I need and expressing it.

While writing this piece, I came across a quote by George Eliot, one of my mother’s favorite writers. She said: “What do we live for if not to make life less difficult for each other?”

My first thought was that that quote could only have been written by a woman. We really do live to make life less difficult for others.

The willingness to give endlessly is a trait many of us share. We are taught to believe that being a mother or a woman who mothers is its own reward, that needing to be acknowledged, appreciated, or celebrated shouldn’t be important to us. Mothering is its own gift. And in a way it is.

Nothing has made me happier (or more challenged) than raising four unique individuals on my own. My children are my greatest joy and the “job” of mothering has been the most meaningful of my life by far.

And yet, we all feel disappointed when we feel unappreciated, taken for granted or neglected. Why should we feel that expressing dissatisfaction about how we are treated, particularly on Mother’s Day is a betrayal of the perfect mother syndrome? We have been raised to give without complaint and choose others over ourselves time and time again. In fact, we are convinced that the purity of our love for others (particularly our children) makes it unacceptable to demand or even desire to be appreciated.

How, in a world that requires women to be “human givers” as the feminist Kate Mann notes, will women ever receive the acknowledgment they need, desire, and deserve?

Every year Anne Lamott posts her slightly negative take on Mother’s Day, admitting that her “main gripe about Mother’s Day is that it feels incomplete and imprecise. The main thing that ever helped mothers was other people mothering them, including aunties and brothers; a chain of mothering that keeps the whole shebang afloat.”

Mother’s Day reminds me not only of the extraordinary women who raised us and the extraordinary mothers many of us became but of all the women, mothers or not, who have been the nurturers, the givers, the selfless ones and who may not really know how much of an impact they have had on our lives.

The great English pediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott is unequivocal about the importance of women in our world. “Every man or woman who is sane, every man or woman who has the feeling of being a person in the world, and for whom the world means something, every happy person, is in infinite debt to a woman.”

When I started The Gathering two years ago, I wanted to create a place for women to feel nurtured, cared for, embraced, and appreciated. I cannot wait to begin hosting in-person Gatherings this summer, offering women a sanctuary from all their burdens and responsibilities where they can relax, meditate, connect with other women and just breathe. More than ever I am convinced that it is up to us to offer each other the “mothering” we need.

I love my mother fiercely and have always thought of her as my closest friend and confidante. She is brilliant, beautiful, powerful, and wise. I have always turned to her in times of need, particularly with parenting issues. She has always been the voice of thoughtful reasoning and perspective. But it wasn’t until the last ten years when life became increasingly more difficult for her that I really learned about her inner life; her fears, disappointments, regrets, and frustrations. It has not been easy to see her become more anxious and critical as she has aged. I miss being the young girl who could turn to my mother for answers and unquestioned support. In many ways, I am mourning that she no longer mothers me. And yet, having a more honest and realistic understanding of who she is as a woman, a wife, a mother has been revelatory for me. It turns out that my near-perfect mother is perfectly flawed. She is human.

Getting to know her more intimately has allowed me to forgive myself for some of my own imperfections and in some sense, I feel closer to her than ever. For the first time, I can feel her vulnerability and pain.

And that is a gift.

So, this Mother’s Day I hope we can all give ourselves a break, be vulnerable and maybe even ask for what we need.

I promise you that we will be enriched by seeing who you really are.

In The Book of Awakening, Mark Nepo shares the value of asking for what you need;

“A hardness we can’t see, cold and rigid, begins to form between us and the world, the longer we stay silent about what we need. It is not even about getting what we need but about admitting, mostly to ourselves that we do have needs. For admitting our humanness lets the soul break the surface, the way a dolphin leaps for the sun. So admitting what we need, asking for help, letting our softness show- these are prayers without words that friends, strangers, wind, and time all wrap themselves around. Allowing ourselves to be held is like returning to the womb”.

Being human brings us home to ourselves.

Ask for what you need. Express your truth. Be seen in your entirety.

You are more beautiful than you know when you reveal what’s hurting.

Your vulnerability, when expressed, allows others to be more vulnerable, more themselves.

And isn’t that really what mothering is about - being so human, accepting, and loving that others can be who they are, without fear or shame?

Let’s raise a toast to honesty today.

Begin by thanking all those around you who support you in life, particularly those who have encouraged you to be that glorious mess of a person you are. Be as honest as you can about who you are and what you need. Allow that vulnerability to inspire those around you. With love to all on Mother's Day!

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