Mother's Day mixed messages

Anybody else get melancholy around mother's day? I usually go to church, or am leading church, on the day we set aside to honor mothers. First of all, most M-day sermons are full of how wonderful and self-sacrificing moms are. The preachers wax poetic about how sweet mom was, how understanding and gentle, meek and mild... Does that describe your mom? Not mine.

Most mothers are lovely women, I grant you, but aren't they just ordinary mortals? They have flaws just like the rest of us. And some moms are just not invested in the care and nurture of their chldren. There are neglectful and abusive mothers, absent mothers, mothers who are more selfish than selfless. Making it sound like all mothers are supposed to act in a certain way only heightens even the adult child's awareness that their mom didnt measure up--that there must be something wrong with them that their mom wasn't the spokes-model for Mother's Day.

I have no problem with the idea of celebrating motherhood, but I think we can honor our moms without resorting to platitudes and pleasantries. Don't our moms deserve better than a superficial flowerfest? Don't our relationships with our moms--or those who took the mom-role in our lives--go deeper than that?

And that's just addressing how we as adult children feel...what about the moms in the congregation? Many of them feel inadequate, given the false standards of a 'prefect' mom. Other women, those who either can't or have chosen not to have children feel like second class citizens, or worse--less of a woman--for not having borne children from her womb. Women who've had miscarriages can find themselves grieving all over again. Obviously, this doesn't come just from a sermon. It's more about societal pressure on women to reproduce.

I don't have the experience of being a mom, but I know it can change your life entirely--your priorities, your sense of can kick start nurturing instincts you didn't know you had. All my friends who are moms are grateful to be so. But they also know that there are time of struggle: Times when they screw up; times when they need to be selfish and say "this is what I need."

I think that it is in having friends who are mothers, as well as working with children in church and as a childcare worker, that I have come to appreciate moms more, and especially my own mom and her gifts to me. (I also had a similar experience appreciating dad's more, but this is about mother's day!)

I love and admire my mom, but she was not the warm, fuzzy, greet-you-at-the-door-with-a-plate-of-cookies kind of mom. Of course, I could handle that. I didn't care that she was different. I admired her independence and freer spirit--at least as I grew up and came to understand it better. But she was, to be blunt, bordering on neglectful. She didn't hug or kiss,; she didn't say "I love you." In fact, she didn't talk at all, sometimes. I think there were times she didn't fully realize I was there. (But that could be that I'm the fourth of five, and I always felt invisible.)

And through the years, I've had the fights and the you-drive-me-crazy arguments. She's let me know I drive her crazy, too. I cut a visit short one time, because I just didn't want to talk about it anymore. I always felt like she was much more eager to tell me everything that is wrong with me than to even hint that I had the strength to make it in this world and that she had my back.

But I did my own work over the years--dealing with my demons, so to speak. My addiction to food, my depression, my PTS (Post traumatic stress from child sexual abuse--not by a member of my immediate family), my self-doubts. Eventually, I got to the point where I allowed my mom to be herself--the gift I always wanted from her. And you know what,? I just realized this weekend when I called her--She's OK with me being myself. Now I am wondering which of us offered that gift to the other first? Was I so invested in being the neglected child to notice that she had my back, but not in a way I could recognize or acknowledge?

She still drives me crazy. I am counting on the fact that she gets annoyed with me, too. Sort of maintains a balance that way.

Back to being in church on mothers day...I was grateful the congregation didn't give out a flower to all the women--or just the moms. Either way, women who can't have children, or "forgot to have children" as the old T-shirt says, feel singled out. I like the way the preacher, a dear friend of mine, Dr. Ron Hopson, put it. (I'm paraphrasing here) "Happy Mothers day to all the mothers out there, and all those who are mothers by spirit or by intent, if not by biology."

And I am grateful for Ron's sermon, which talked about remembering our moms as they really are or were--the good, the bad and the indifferent--and not try to gloss over everything and make it look idyllic. On the one hand, we are just ordinary human beings. But on the other, we are, each one of us, an unrepeatable miracle of God. It is good to honor our whole selves and our moms as they really are, not as we want them to be.



jwshults said...

Howdy Arlene! How nice to hear from you and read your musings again after all these years. I'm glad to see you still find a public forum for your writing talents.

Just a couple thoughts on Mother's Day:

First, my wife Joy (I got married!) and I found out we likely will not be able to have biological children. We started foster-parenting in September and hope to adopt our little girl someday soon. This was the first Mother's Day with tears of Joy (note the clever capitalization) instead of tears of sorrow.

Second, my favorite Mother's Day message is a juxtaposition of physical and spiritual birth. They have so much in common! Isaiah 53:11 says "He shall see the travail of His soul and shall be satisfied ..." The word travail is the same Hebrew word used throughout the Old Testament for child birth. Jesus literally suffered the labor-pains required to bring me to spiritual life! Perhaps that is why He chided Nicodemus for not understanding the teaching "Ye must be born again."

Arlene said...

Thanks Jason! You need o send me your writing periodically! I miss reading it. Congrats on the adoption!!!!! I'm really happy for you both, and the baby, too, of course. --A

Easter Prayer 2005

National City Christian Church Rev. Arlene Franks O God of life, God of love and laughter…we, your Easter people greet you thi...