I first posted a version of this essay on May 9, 2009. The response was large and quite a bit of previously layered over feeling was shared by the commenters. I think that is all to the good. Sometimes we stuff in things that we do not want to deal with, and while not always so, bringing them to the light can be an important, if difficult, way of finally sorting out some issues that have haunted us.
For many of us Mother's day, and Father's Day for that matter, are difficult times. And, far too often, they are times when the society, our families, and, yes, our churches, are blissfully unaware of the problems our "celebration" of these days cause for people we otherwise love and would never think of hurting.
This post has been extensively edited for this year to take into account the comments on it posted last year. If you have not yet read it I urge you to do so. If you read it last year I urge you to read it again to remind yourself of the need to be aware of and sensitive to the feelings of those who do not fit the stereotype of those who see Mother's Day as a time of great joy.
Your feedback and comments are welcomed, and can be an important part of the discussion I think that we owe ourselves as we seek to sort out the issues these "holidays" raise.
As is her habit, on Friday Sue will fly out to St. Louis to see her Mom and siblings on Mother's Day. I will be a bachelor with three "cat kids" for three long days and nights, which will seen like an eternity after a few hours. I can't figure out who will be happier when she returns, me or the cats.
Since Sue is the glue that holds things together around here she is missed as soon as I can't find something that "goes missing." It really isn't missing, of course. It is just filed away in some code that I can't break. Its a man thing.
She loves to see her Mom and her sisters and she has a good time every time she goes. And I am very glad that she does it.
Sue and I don't have any children together. She can't, and I already had three grown children when we married. So the cats are our "kids." That works out well for us, but is not everybody's cup of tea. I always figure that Sue deserves some special attention at Mother's Day and so I am really happy that she spends it with her mother.
In the past, before she started the ritual of going to visit her mother in St. Louis on Mother's Day, I was also happy when she has picked an older friend to be her companion at the "Mother-Daughter" or "Mother's Day" banquets at the churches we served. She always picked someone who did not have any children, or whose children could not visit their mother.
Not many women are as courageous as my wife and would not feel comfortable "crashing" the banquet. I am not so sure how comfortable Sue was doing so, but I know she was trying to make a point about the day, without saying a word.
As a pastor I always insisted that the Mother's Day recognition in church be about all the women in the church, not just the ones who were actually mothers. That made sense to me. Why should the women without children be left out of the recognition and the small gifts that the children hand out to the "mothers" in the congregation?
Many of the single women or married childless women would come and thank me for including them. But you would be surprised, at least I was, at how many people would come to me and tell me that they resented extending the Mother's Day recognition to those who were not mothers.
I was always miffed at their insensitivity. I often looked them straight in the eye and said something like, "You know, don't you, Harriet, that Mother's Day is not a church related event? In some churches they ignore it."
And there are always small children and teenagers at such communal celebrations who have no mothers, whose mothers have died, or have left the home, and will not visit them, who want nothing to do with their children. And there are children there whose mothers treat them terribly. What about the feelings of those children?
So if we are going to celebrate Mother's Day we should recognize all women and not be so insensitive that we exclude women who have not had children. Ditto with Father's Day. And we should be sensitive to the feelings of the children who are not having a joyous childhood. It is easy to see who we honor and why, all the while forgetting who we ignore and hurt unintentionally.
The truth is that there will be a lot of people reading this post, and the many Mother's Day tribute posts which will show up here in the coming days, who have very bad memories of the way they were treated by their mothers and/or fathers. I happen to be one who has very mixed memories of my mother, and they are mostly negative.
I would be lying if I said that I loved her in the way that I know many of you love your moms. For decades I tried to pretend that I loved her like that, wondered what was wrong with me when I didn't, and kept trying to rewrite history to make her fit into the idealized mother that we are supposed to have.
The truth is that my mother, on occasion, could and did smother me with love. But many more times she beat me, hit me with any weapon that was close, pulled my hair, washed my mouth out with soap, grounded me for weeks on end for the slightest reason, knocked me down, and locked me in my bedroom.
More times than I can count she grabbed me by the hair, pulled me into my bedroom, slammed the door and made me suffer by saying "Wait 'til your Dad gets home and he will show you that I mean what I say!" And in terror I would wait until Dad came home, be called into the living room and she would scream at him about all the evil things I had done that day. Dad would try to talk her out of the spanking but she would insist that he take off his belt and spank me with it.
So I would have to lean over a chair and he would hit me with his belt until she said to stop. And if he didn't hit hard enough or long enough to satisfy her she would scream at him to hit me harder. If that didn't work she would rip the belt out of his hands and do it herself. I have always loved my step Dad. But, as a child growing up, I hated that he always gave in to her.
And there were many, many more ways that she manipulated the family and kept us all in fear. But as the oldest son by nine years I was the one she hurt the most.
I did not defend myself until the day she hit me in the face with a wooden coat hanger, cracked it, and went to hit me again. I grabbed her wrist and said, "never again." I was 17, and was thrown out the next day, but the damage was done during the time between my 6th year when she took me from my grandmother and my 17th year when I left.
It was not until just before my mother died, when she was 59, that I came to grips with my relationship with her. I finally recognized that she had her own demons to wrestle with and that she did the best she could given who she was.
Her best was not good enough, but I could not change that and finally accepted that fact and forgave her in my heart. So my personal devils were finally exorcized, at the age of 43. I wish I could have done it sooner, but at least I did it.
So, and this is important, this post is not about my continuing issues. It is about what I had to learn the hard way about closure and forgiveness. And it is in recognition that many people that we care about have not come to resolution and still have to deal with the pain they still feel on Mother's Day.
How do people who have little love for their mothers deal with this day, people who desperately want to remember shreds of the good times, because they are elusive in their memories, overwhelmed by the bad memories which are vivid to this day?
One thing I know is that for those who have few good memories of our mothers, or of our fathers, those who struggle to find some small remembrances of love and good times as we read all the really wonderful tribute pieces that are posted here about our mothers; well, for them it is hard to do.
They are happy that so many of their friends had good childhoods. They rejoice in that happiness. And, yes, they know that there were good things about their mothers. There really were. But when they are honest with themselves they would have to say that, on balance, the scales tip clearly toward the negative.
Most of these people are not jealous. Most are no longer wounded. Most are not frightened. We were all of those things during our childhood. And, yes, some are still. But even those of us who have made peace with our past, have come accept the reality of our childhood, and have moved on, are keenly aware that many have not yet been able to do that.
And that means that we are simply not part of the Mother's Day outpouring of love, and we will never be. The truth is that to say that we cherish our mothers would be lying.
So when some of your friends don't post tributes to their mothers this week, please try not to wonder why, or judge them. Be patient with them because none of us can get inside another person's mind. And the truth may be that they simply may have had a very different childhood that you had.
God bless the child, regardless of the memories.
Original posting: 1556 page views 2010 05 05
This posting: 831 page views 2010 05 23