The Mother’s Day Conundrum

Mother’s Day used to be simple.  It was a holiday when I would strive to come up with an original gift for my mother.  When I was very young, part of the ritual included marking the occasion with my Grandmother. The first years after she died, I always wondered if my mother’s primary thoughts were with her during our Sunday celebration.

By the time I hit my early 30s, people presumed that I had given birth. Well-intentioned folks offered me “Happy Mother’s Day” wishes.  With a mixture of mordant humor and aggrieved annoyance I would answer, “I’m nobody’s mother.  Even my dog is dead.”

Eventually, I entered into the “hallowed” classification of mother when my son was born. His August arrival gave me until the following May to ease into my new role, yet I felt like an imposter on that day which had always been about paying homage to my mother.  After all, who was I to encroach upon her territory?  I was just getting started.  Moreover, I was struggling to adjust to the ramifications of being another human being’s caretaker.

Nine years later, by the time I was more comfortable with my forever-altered status (but not with all the questions about what being a mother meant), my mother died after a three-year illness.  Although she had lived a full life, I never expected it to end that way for her.  My first Mother’s day without her was filled with sadness, anxiety, and the nagging question, “Who am I on this planet without my mother?”

Another seven years have passed.  My son will be turning sixteen this summer.  Recently, I have received phone calls from conflicted female compatriots calling to share their feelings about a holiday that is supposed to be suffused with love and happiness.  The litany is expansive.  The laments include: “Now that my mother is gone, I really miss her”; “I always hated Mother’s Day because I couldn’t stand my mother”; “My kids didn’t get me anything for Mother’s Day”; “I’m going to be alone on Mother’s Day.”

I was speaking with a friend who has children in the college/post-college sphere, parsing why women feel they need to be validated on Mother’s Day. “You have to validate yourself,” I told my friend firmly.  “It’s no different than a relationship with a man.”  I continued, “The answer lies in ourselves.”

Is it because even the flowers, dinners, and physical presence of offspring cannot take away the self-doubt and longing for the perfect mother we had all intended to be?  Is it possible to be a mother without being convinced that you have made too many mistakes? Remembrances of piercing comments made in anger from a beloved child’s lips bring a fresh opportunity to reflect on personal failings and misgivings about the ability to mother.

American society plays a good game.  It puts motherhood up on a pedestal, but does little to help women with childcare or creating an environment that would foster a work/life balance. The unpaid work that women do in the home is not respected.  The function of caretaking is diminished until it is time to pay the piper – when something goes wrong.  Inevitably, the question almost always comes down to, “Where was the mother?”

While on the bus during the last week of April, I saw a screaming headline from one of New York City’s finest tabloids. It read, “Cameron Douglas’ mom vacationed during son’s drug spiral.” I checked out the article online when I got home. It was a deconstruction of Diandra’s Douglas’ indifferent parenting skills.  Needless to say, it didn’t mention Michael Douglas until the final paragraphs.

Posted by on May 7th, 2010 and filed under Women's Issues, Commentary, Spotlight. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response by filling following comment form or trackback to this entry from your site

2 Responses for “The Mother’s Day Conundrum”

  1. Thank you – right to the point and well written.

    Though I chose never to become a mother, I find that I am sad today on Mother’s Day thinking about my mother. We had a volatile relationship which had some resolution when she was dying in Hospice. I realize now that the bonds between mother’s and their children are like steel, oftent rusted and twisted, but rarely broken. As I get older, I find that link to be astonishing.

  2. Superbly elucidated, sobering, lucid, dense, and very touching piece…not to mention pithy and (to echo Grace Graupe-Pillard’s words) “right to the point.”
    As a childless, divorced woman, sadly I will never understand how it truly feels to be a mother, but can well fathom and admire the fabric that these amazing women are cut out from–my deceased Mom inclusive, who bravely raised, and imparted to her six children values and principles we are proud to abide by…never mind the whining and foot-stomping they engendered while we were teenagers and learning to follow rules.
    My mother and I were oftentimes at loggerheads until my mid-30s, but thankfully we had the rare chance to say our “Im sorry’s” before she passed. My one lamentation is, if only I had told her, “I love you” and “Thank you for the tough love you gave me when I needed it” more often…. Thirty years ago, I moved from my native Brazil and, over time, I realized that the farther (in miles) I got from my mother, the closer and more similar to her I became. I know that, in the much-wiser and omniscient dimension where her soul resides now, she’s countenancing the way my siblings and I live our lives day after day…fortunately still under the loving, watchful, and ever-affectionate eyes of our living father.
    If only Cameron Douglas had had the same mother–AND FATHER–that I did and do…….

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