When I had my first child, people were very kind. They said wonderful things about the joys of caring for children. They honored me with their well-wishes and their respectful words.
Twelve years later, I grieve a little. I wish my place as a mother had always been so honored, but this was not to be. The world is hard on mothers. We are sentimentally sanctified by turns, then torn apart in every way imaginable – figuratively, and literally (the leading cause of death for pregnant women is homicide). We are made into angels for others’ convenience, and then raged at when we so often demonstrate human imperfection.
We are told we had too few kids, or too many, or not the right kind of children, or that we have been neglectful – or over-involved. The world is critical of all women, but mothers especially. For when our children err or are hurt, or are simply children, mothers are always criticized as well – usually quite ruthlessly. We have always done too much or done far too little.
Yet no one is so hard on the mother as the mother herself. Doubts pile up, mistakes are made. Envy, anxiety, the stress of providing for children – their clothing, their food, their education, their environment. And yet all this is nothing compared to the distress we feel when the day comes that our children suffer. On this day most mothers will experience a pain almost indescribable, almost beyond the reach of God herself.
I can’t pinpoint the moment – the month, week, or day – that I departed from how hard I’d been on myself, for my mistakes as a mother. All I know is, at some point I knew I had to set foot on a different path. I know I had to first admit – as the saying goes – to God, to myself, and to another human being just what those mistakes were. Maybe that was the hard part. Then once those mistakes were out in the open, I had to do something about them. I had to pluck up my courage. I had to dig deep. I had to let some relationships die (they’d been dead a while anyway!). I had to grown new ones. I had to stretch out my hand for help.
Today I no longer say “had to”. I say, “get to”. I get to let relationships die that are harmful. I get to grow new ones. I get to show courage on a daily basis. I get to love myself. No matter what.
Today my thoughts are with the world’s mothers, and the world’s children – and those who believe themselves motherless, and those who believe themselves childless. May we all be freed from our selfishness, and our self-absorption; our preoccupation with our personal woes and the wrongs done to us. May we open our hearts to others, and more fully to ourselves.
For those with hard hearts, with a spirit of unforgiveness and anger toward their mothers, I offer my soft heart, my listening heart. I know what it is like to hate. I know what it is like to go over – and over, and over – wrongs (real or perceived). It’s a hard place to be. I wish you peace.
For those whose mothers are gone, and who miss their mothers, I offer my condolences. I know these loved ones live on in your hearts. May your memories bring you peace, strength, and bittersweet love.
My mother, and the mothers in my lineage, taught me a great deal about love – but they taught me even more about toughness, about resiliency.
For my mother, I thank her for the years of service she gave me. I thank her for being a wonderful grandmother to my children.
For my father, I thank him for honoring me with autonomy, and for showing me a little of the way of Buddhism. I miss him, but his spirit lives on within me.
For my husband, I thank him for joining hands with me on this journey. I am proud to call him my husband and I have never wanted another by my side. My love for him grows in breadth and depth daily.
For my children, I kneel at my shrine in the morning and name them, and dedicate them to the Buddha. They are my greatest teachers. I love them more dearly than anything.
On this day I honor Mothers, and I honor the ability of Nurture that dwells within each of us. We all have it; it is a gift no one can remove save ourselves. We should never denigrate it, never treat it with cynicism or apathy.
May we have safety; may we have health; may we have happiness; may we have peace.