Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. Some people love the holiday, others are ambivalent, while others don’t celebrate “Hallmark greeting card” holidays.
Me, I’d rather skip this entirely. I have issues with it, but that kind of goes without saying.
In my case, Mother’s Day was a reminder that things weren’t exactly normal in my family. When I was a child, I knew that something was “off” but I didn’t know quite what. See, when you’re in an abusive home, you don’t necessarily know it; abusers are actually pretty good at making you second-guess yourself. It also didn’t help that I lived in the Deep South and spanking was a thing. Corporal punishment was and still is a way of life down there. If you weren’t getting smacked on the behind as a child, then something was wrong with your parents: they were either “soft” or “far too liberal”. If anything, parents were only considered abusive if they left welts, deep bruises and scars. Anything less than that was standard operating procedure; you would have been laughed out of court if you tried to claim that being slapped across the face at the age of six was abusive.
So it goes without saying that I have a lot of mixed feelings on the day but thankfully, I’m not the only one. Libby Anne posted some very good thoughts about Mother’s Day, as did this blogger. Both posts are excellent reads, but this portion from the second blog really stands out:
Some of us had mothers who were good at some parts of the Mom thing, but lousy at other parts of it. They might have been tops at baking cupcakes and throwing childhood birthday parties, they worked hard to keep a roof over your head and food on the table, but they weren’t good at being non-judgmental and supportive during those all-important formative teen years. For others, it might be the opposite — they had a mom who was not good with little children but who, when her kids got older, was able to better relate to her children. Further along the spectrum, some of us had mothers with “issues” of their own, serious things they were struggling with ranging from divorce and single motherhood, to financial problems or addiction, to physical or mental illness (their own or that of their parent or a child), that were a major distraction in their ability to parent us the way we needed them to. When you’re stuck in the mire of your own problems, it’s pretty difficult to be there for your kids. They did care about us to a degree and they loved us the only way they knew how — but it was never good enough, was it? We saw it. We felt it. We knew it. I think the majority of us fall into this category, somewhere. We’re the ones who have struggled with a bit of a love/hate relationship with our mothers for most of our lives (perhaps even more so if we’re daughters), where we find it difficult to reconcile how we can love someone so much but yet not LIKE them very much most of the time. We can’t tell our moms everything about us, about our personal problems, because we don’t get support, we get criticism or laughter or rejection. Our mothers weren’t able, for whatever reason, to be consistent and unconditionally loving. So, Mother’s Day is just another moment of inner conflict for people like us. We see other people celebrating their mothers, and we muse, “Why didn’t I get her mom for a mother?” And then we move on because of course there is no good answer to that question.
There is so much truth in this.
My mother could patch my clothes and has always been a helluva baker. She managed to do the stay-at-home mother thing for the first six years of my life, then managed to find a job in the North Carolina state school system so she could be off at the same time I was. She was interested in my academics and pushed me to be the best I could. Sounds pretty great, right?
That’s only half the story. My mother was also very impatient and her idea of discipline was to hit me. She broke more clipboards than I can count, as she would slam them against the kitchen table in frustration when I didn’t understand how to show the work for my math homework. If I didn’t do what she wanted fast enough, she’d scream. If I protested, she scream “Do like I ask you to do!” in an even louder tone. When I hit puberty and started taking an interest in the opposite sex, she acted like a jealous lover; if I had any interest in dating, she would try and quash it immediately. When I started dating my ex at the age of 16, I had to keep it secret or my mother would have probably forced me into an unwanted break-up. When I showed any other emotion other than bland happiness, I had an attitude and needed an adjustment. (Think I kid? At one point when I was a senior in high school she said that my attitude was so poor that she wished I would go and “jump off a bridge”.) In high school, she was more than happy to shove me into advanced mathematics classes that left me absolutely befuddled. I can never forget how the two of us went rounds over the Analysis–basically Precalculus–class that I was forced into in my senior year; it didn’t matter that I was failing it and failing it badly, that this stuff made about as much sense to me as untranslated Latin, I was just being lazy and “needed the challenge” because she said so. It was bad when I was a young child but as soon as I got old enough to start “talking back” or start questioning her, things got worse and she really cracked down, as I wasn’t truly meant to be my own person, I was simply “her” daughter.
Now, everything wasn’t terrible but I’m pretty sure that my mother wouldn’t consider herself abusive. In fact, she probably didn’t mean it. But it did happen–saying that it didn’t would be a lie–and it did affect my relationship with her. It made me wonder why I didn’t have a mother like the one on all the greeting cards, the one who tried to be understanding and nurturing and unconditionally caring.
This is the heart of the problem that I have with this holiday. Your mother wasn’t simply a woman who gave birth to you, she was a superhero and a saint and the very glue that held your existence together and if you feel otherwise then what the hell is wrong with you? If you feel anything other than perfect love and reverence for your mother, you are a flawed person and quite possibly the most ungrateful human being on the planet. You owe her brunch because she sacrificed so much for you and you’d best be ready to make that reservation six months in advance, you ingrate! But what if your mother wasn’t greeting card perfect? What if she had issues that surfaced while she was taking care of you? What if she was–dare I say it–abusive?
There’s not a lot of support for people dealing with that sort of thing. To most people, we really don’t exist. Why? Because we are an ugly reminder that parents are actually human. That parents can actually fuck up and fuck up massively with the whole child-rearing thing. That parents aren’t these grand wellsprings of wisdom and sage advice but rather deeply flawed people, people that can and often do mess things up. In other words, parents are not heroes and not all of them are intrinsically worthy of praise. Most parents are decent people who are trying their best to muddle through raising a kid without an instruction manual. But there are those who aren’t decent, who don’t simply screw up while doing the whole having a family thing. There are those parents who don’t deserve the greeting card not because they are simply flawed but because they hurt their children. So if someone says that they don’t like Mother’s Day or that they don’t celebrate it, don’t take this as a personal affront. That person probably has a damn good reason why they don’t want to be reminded about their parents so please try and respect that.
Oh and Hallmark? You can bite my ass. You don’t need anymore of my money; you’ve got enough as it is since Hasbro gave you the okay to produce Transformers holiday ornaments. You’ve been in my wallet enough as it is.