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Musings of a Motherless Mother on Mother’s Day

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Mother’s Day has come and gone, another Hallmark holiday meant to guilt-trip the neglectful – perhaps spoken like a person whose mother (and mother-in-law) is long gone. It’s nice to be recognized throughout the year, not just on major or minor holidays. Do we really need sappy commercials to remind us that somewhere, sometime, someone was there to push the slimy being you once were out into the brave new world?

I’m sometimes annoyed when I hear people talking about their mothers in disparaging terms. They may have their problems, be eccentric, weird, dysfunctional, heartless, or abusive. They may wear miniskirts and push-up bras when you might wish they would choose something more demure. God forbid, they might like your bands, your sports, and your movies. They may drone on and on and on, repeating the same stories you’ve heard forever until you think the muscles in your face could cringe no more. They may be physically unwell or emotionally crippling.

Or they could be like mine, taking up space under a shady tree in a Fountain, Colorado cemetery. Or like my mother-in-law, whose ashes are on a shelf in my basement.

Though I have no mothers left in my life, I happen to be one, blessed with two children of my own. While they would describe me as a “mean” mom (or clueless, embarrassing, stupid, or hopelessly out of date, among other descriptors), they won’t know the depth of my feelings toward them until they become parents themselves.

That’s how it was for me.

Mothers aren’t perfect humans, although many of them strive to be. My own mother was the least perfect person I knew. If my husband’s mother had known her, she would have thought her to be incredibly selfish and mentally unbalanced. Her life was hers, and never once did it revolve around her children. My mother-in-law was the exact opposite; she lived and breathed through her children and mine. She bent over backward in the opposite direction in an attempt to be the perfect mother and grandmother.

I had hoped to find a happy medium, but it’s easy to get swept into the lives of your spawn. After all, it’s through them that you witness a new germination of hopes and dreams, dreams you were either too busy or too lazy to see to fruition for yourself. There were dance recitals, sports, music competitions, cheerleading, scouts, gymnastics, scholastic achievements, art classes, and more. Motherly pride got quite a workout in those days. Perhaps I felt a need to make up for all the parent-teacher conferences my own mother never attended.

As it happens all too often, somewhere along the way it became un-cool to have such an attentive mother. It’s sometimes un-cool to have any mother at all. So like many mothers, I faded to the background of my children’s lives, only to emerge for culinary or monetary emergencies. Besides, they’re adults now.

My favorite book growing up was Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, and my favorite passage was “On Children.”

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.

For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

This passage carried me through my turbulent teen years and a strained relationship with my own mother. When I was 16, I read this to her in an attempt to get her to look at my perspective. She thought it was the most onerous thing ever written. Like a lot of mothers of her era, she believed in the exact opposite. Children were your property and responsibility to be molded and beaten into shape, not given opportunities for discovery.

Mothers are the building blocks for life, not the entire foundation. They hold an important role, one that deserves respect, but at some point the child has to take a step up and away. I know many people who blame their mothers for the life they have today. Children should be able to learn from the missteps of their parents as well as from their success. You can only levy so much of your circumstance on your mother; the rest is up to you.

On this motherless Mother’s Day, I didn’t wait for phone calls or presents from my faraway kids. My day was already planned from dawn to dusk with things I wanted to do.

I’m too far away to have visited my mother’s grave last Sunday (coincidentally her birthday), but I think I’ll get my mother-in-law a new urn.

And I’ll open up The Prophet and have a cup of tea.

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About Joanne Huspek

I write. I read. I garden. I cook. I eat. And I love to talk about all of the above.
  • Nicole Pulliam

    Thank you for writing this, I to have ‘wounds’ from my past and I often fall so short with my own children. This was refreshingly honest and respectful.

  • Bliffle

    Good article.

    I still think your picture is a little sunshine among the glowering republicans on BC.

    My own mother was not very good. Not in the least warm. We all knew that Dad was the warm one. I don’t miss my mother at all. I remember my dad fondly every week.

    So I repeated the pattern: my wives were not very good mothers for my children. Except, maybe, in small ways, like they quit smoking and drinking when pregnant.

    My grandfather rescued his kids from the crazy mother, but my dad and I both failed to rescue our kids. It was hard to do in the 20th century, but I understand that it is easier now.

  • Dr. Juliann Mitchell, PhD

    Thanks Joanne. I think I am going to call my Mom and say thank you again.