This evening, a knock at our front door heralded a splendid bouquet of flowers. “For a Beautiful Mother,” the attendant card read – inscribed by the florist’s hand.
When my partner arrived home, I asked if he’d called the flowers in. And indeed, he had. Ever since, I have been reflecting on how deeply and consistently my partner has honored my mothering. We’ve been partnered seventeen years now, and we’ve been parents a little over thirteen. His support and respect have been consistent.
Now, I know my partner cares more about his children than anything else in his life. The fact he has trusted me as their mother – even despite so many mistakes, and so many troubles between he and I in our marriage – is humbling indeed.
In fact, I can only think of one time my partner criticized my mothering – as opposed to expressed concern about our children’s needs, which he has done in forceful terms on many occasions. The story of his criticism is a funny one (although neither of us were laughing at the time), and I often relate it to women who are either thinking about, or who have embarked upon motherhood.
But tonight, as I think on his support, I realize this: even if my partner had criticized me a dozen times, or a hundred, or a thousand, this could never compare with how many times I have criticized myself. I know there have been many, many days thoughts of self-condemnation and shame have come a dozen times, a hundred. It gives me sorrow to think of how many times I’ve beat myself up. Over time, beating oneself up becomes a habit that is not easy to break.
We are incredibly hard, incredibly exacting, on Mothers. We require they perform femininity and nurturing perfectly; yet we are quick to belittle them if they seem too feminine, too sensitive, too caring. We say hateful things if they neglect us. We say hateful things if they try to control us. We criticize them if they are absent – worse, we act as if they are inhuman monsters. We take them for granted if they are present – again, as if they aren’t human, and don’t need our care.
No woman, no man, can escape the cultural conversations we have about mothers, and fathers. Add to this our own painful family legacies, and it becomes very hard indeed to step into these roles, and fight the demons that rear up.
Yesterday I listened to John Lennon’s 1970 ballad, “Mother”, as I drove through the sunshine to a meeting. I thought of a child’s need – for mother, for father. For a sense of safety and belonging. It seems that no matter how we might try to disguise this, or hide it – deep within us all we cry out, still. We carry with us the fear, the neglect, the abandonment, the moments we were overlooked and the abuses we suffered. I’m not sure this is something we ever entirely heal from, although most people wish this to be true.
But I do believe our childhoods are something we can learn from.
And we can do better – so we don’t have to, at the end of our life, sing Lennon’s words of regret to our own children. To the world’s children. To those we are here to nurture, and to protect.