Tomorrow is Mother’s Day and I am reflective. Not just about my own experiences as a daughter and a mother, but of the wide range of experiences of daughterhood and motherhood that can exist.
When I was a child, I only had one data point around mothering — my mother. And, as I’ve shared before, I got super lucky in the mom lottery. Trained in early childhood education and with one of the kindest hearts I know, my mother was supportive, encouraging and never withheld love. She gave me a solid base of security to explore the rest of the world. She grounded me and gave me wings.
As I captured new data points, one friend at a time, I started to add to my personal understanding. Eventually, my data point as a mother myself was added. But my data set was limited by my own sphere, how much and how far I had journeyed into the world. And how much people were willing to share with me.
I’m not sure I really started to understand the range of mother-daughter experiences until Facebook. That sounds odd, but hear me out. Every Mother’s Day people I know, and people I don’t know, share personal reflections on the ways that Mother’s Day hurts them. How it reminds them of a broken, abusive relationship with their mother. How it reminds them of a child lost. How they struggle with the overwhelmingly positive feelings everyone seems to have but them. How friends and family struggle to say anything, not even the right thing.
I read as many of those articles and blog posts as I can. I weave as many of them as I can into the fabric of my experience. I try desperately to put myself in those situations and ask myself, “What would you have done? How would you have handled it?” For me, it is an exercise in building the muscles of empathy — making myself stronger and more capable to listen someday when someone confides in me that they did not have an easy relationship with their mother or that their experience as a mother was hard.
What I’ve learned is that the myth of natural mothering — the idea that the very act of carrying and birthing a child is guaranteed to create an unbreakable bond — is just that, a myth.
For those of us who have those bonds, it can be easy to assume that it is universally true. I know that I always felt it with my mother and I felt it the minute that my children were placed in my arms. I know that my attachment to my children has helped me push through frustration and stand up again when I stumble; I feel the pull of “you’re all they have, be better” and I roll up my figurative sleeves and try again. I know I will try again as many times as I have to until they are ok. Because that is my experience.
But it is not the only experience.
On this Mother’s Day I will cherish my experience, but I will also consider other experiences. I will be mentally offering my support to the individuals who grew up being told they were a burden and that it would have been better if they had never been born. I will be sending comfort to the individuals whose mothers put them into harm’s way by bringing a dangerous person into their lives and not listening when harm was done. I will be aware that there is a child out in the world right now whose mother is — for whatever reason — not capable of providing them with the foundation of love that I take for granted. And that child is going to have to find some way to survive and build a life of meaning on their own.
Every day, but especially on Mother’s Day.