In May 2016, I shared a post on Facebook about Mother’s Day. It was everything I had ever wanted to say, but never had. It was an open letter to folks who dreaded Mother’s Day as much as I did. I think about that post often, and I had planned to write an updated piece this year. I wanted to expand upon it. I wanted to check in and state in new ways where I am now. I had planned to share the old Facebook post this week, and then spend the next week writing this new, in-depth piece.
But when I re-read the 2016 post, I realized it had pretty much captured everything I needed to say. I still don’t look forward to Mother’s Day, but I no longer dread it. I am still not close with my mother, but I am no longer angry or bitter about it. I still don’t buy cards that thank her for “being there for me” because she never was. But instead of lamenting that loss, I am at peace with it.
Feelings do surface from time-to-time about my mother. I may write something again in the future about her or our relationship, but for now at least, this is another part of myself that I am putting down; leaving behind; moving on from. I have mourned the loss of that relationship that never was. I am okay, and have no need to share anything new right now.
It is a strange emotional place to be in when you no longer invest so much time and energy in the things you have historically given so much time and energy to. The seemingly vast nothingness that fills your heart and brain, where previously there had been a cacophony of negative voices, emotions, and experiences played on a loop, can feel strange and uncertain. The quiet can cause discomfort, but it is also beautiful. I have spent so much time thinking I need to write something deeper or more meaningful or profound about Mother’s Day, but I don’t.
Sometimes growing is knowing what not to do, how not to expend your time and energy. It’s knowing what is no longer needed, as much as it is knowing what is needed. Now that my energy is no longer spent trying to make something out of nothing – trying to create a specific type of loving relationship when that particular type of loving relationship does not exist, I am left with the time and energy to create new things and share new ideas.
Maybe next week I’ll write about why I consciously decided to never become a mother. Or maybe I’ll write about all the ways I have mothered people, even if I have never given birth. Maybe I’ll write about the inequities in parenting, and how domestic burdens and childcare still fall disproportionately on women’s shoulders within heteronormative relationships. Or maybe I’ll just call my mom, and spend the day with my mother-in-law, and wish my friends and family a Happy Mother’s Day and won’t write anything at all. It is a remarkable and special feeling knowing I have the freedom, space, and quiet within me to create whatever I want, even if it is nothing.
Until next time, here is my Facebook post from May 2016. In it, I said I had hoped my words would serve as a eulogy for whom I had and had not been, and turns out, they were!
“I don't know if you would call this a trigger warning or not, but if you have lost your mother and you miss her dearly, or you can't imagine anyone saying anything bad about their mother, then please stop reading now, because this is what I've always wanted to say at this time of year, but never have, and it's not exactly warm and fuzzy.
It's nearly Mother's Day, and my Facebook feed is beginning to fill with all of the well-wishes of friends and families to their mothers.
"Happy Mother's Day to the most amazing, wonderful, strong woman I know: my mother; my best friend. I'm so grateful for all of your love and support. Not a day goes by that I don't appreciate your sacrifices. I love you, Mom."
They are similar to the sentiments you find in Mother's Day cards: "Thank you, Mom, for all of your support and love over the years. For all of the encouragement and late-night chats, and for all the times you held me and said, 'It's going to be okay.' I just want to say, 'Thank you', Mom, and let you know that I am who I am today because of you."
Ever since I was old enough to no longer make a Mother's Day gift in school, I have hated Mother's Day. Reading through the cards and trying to find one that is respectful without being an outright lie has been nearly impossible. What would be perfect is a card that has some pretty flowers on the front, and in large print script letters, "Happy Mother's Day." Inside in another friendly font would be the sentence, "I am who I am today because of you." Dear Mom, Love Jenn. ‘Nuff said.
Or to be more precise:
"To the mother who always seemed resentful I was born: Don't worry, I don't really hold it against you anymore. How could I? You never received the love you deserved as a child, and therefore you never learned how to receive love, so how could you ever really give it? You can't help it that you were taught to 'follow the rules, and you will one day be rewarded,' only to find out that doesn't always happen. So, you were mostly angry, bitter, and unhappy. You gave me a roof over my head; clothes on my back and three, square meals a day, plus a snack. Thanks for doing the best you could." Sincerely, Me.
I am well aware of my white, middle-class privilege, so I know without a doubt I had a better childhood than a huge number of people. Hell, given my birth order, I probably had a better childhood in many ways than my own siblings. Which is why I have spent years denying my feelings of anger, disappointment, and inadequacy. But as I get older, and I thankfully begin to let my feelings of resentment go, I also want to pay myself the respect of acknowledging those feelings as valid before I kiss them and blow them away into the universe, like the ashes of a deceased loved one.
The fact is, I didn't get the love and support I needed as a child. I was not encouraged to pursue any dreams. I was given absolutely no guidance, but was expected to have goals. Those goals were to be traditionally feminine within the context of what is held respectable by the Catholic Church, and anything else (acting, writing, hell- social work) was just a "pipe dream" and should be forgotten. I was taught to ignore my instincts; doubt my own feelings and ultimately suppress them. To fear the unknown; fear change; fear everything, really.
It has taken me decades to learn to listen to my instincts; to feel what I actually feel and not suppress everything that isn't just sunshine and happiness and what others want to see. I have ignored dreams and even what some might deem "a calling from God", out of fear of success and fear of failure rooted in the fear I was taught as a child and the decades of not knowing how to listen to and respect myself.
Now, I know that this isn't all of my mother (and father's) doing. I am well aware that I have been an adult for a very long time, and I am responsible for my own actions and inactions. I own my successes and failures at this point. Believe me, I know.
I am also well aware that people often are motivated my adversarial conditions, and they succeed greater than one can ever imagine. But that doesn't always make them happy; nor does it mean they have forgotten or even succeeded for the right reasons. ("Rosebud...")
But I share these thoughts now as what I hope is a eulogy for whom I have been (and not been) for too long. To send these thoughts and feelings out into the universe, on a breeze on this very windy day, with the knowledge that most people regret what they have not said, versus what they have said.
My mother is still alive. I still speak with her and see her, and for those of you who loved your mother and miss her; I am truly sorry. I don't mean to be ungrateful; I've just had a different experience.
So this Mother's Day, I thank my mother for the life she has given me, even if I didn't ask to be born. I thank her for all of the positive and loving things she did do, despite being stressed and miserable herself. And I forgive her for all that she could not give me, because ultimately, it wasn't really her fault, was it? It was her mother's and father's fault; and her grandparents' fault; and the generation before them, and on and on.
But I also share this for people who think they are "over" whatever "issues" they had growing up. Just because you don't think about them or they're not on the surface of everything you do or every decision you make, doesn't mean they aren't there; that you're over them or that they don't matter. Until you can truly process; own; heal and forgive, you will pass your traumas onto your kids, and the cycle will continue.
Create a solid foundation of self-love and respect, and your children will be forever grateful.”