In Praise of Difficult Mothers

You can tell Mother’s Day is close. The stores are selling products that “tell Mama she’s special,” and restaurants are booked solid for Sunday. On the internet, there are quizzes and surveys about famous and unknown moms celebrating those fabulous, strong, nurturing, maternal women. And I think that’s great. But it leaves a lot of us out.

The Truth about Some Moms

The truth is, many of us were raised by women who didn’t meet the expectations made on Mommies. Who weren’t naturally maternal or nurturing, no matter how many children they raised.  Moms who hated some of the roles they were stuck in. I’m talking about Moms who fought personal demons while raising their children and didn’t always win.  Difficult Mothers.

Tomorrow’s celebration is a minefield for the moms and adult kids who fit into this category, but it doesn’t have to be.  Because Difficult Mothers also leave legacies for their children to share

  1. A Unique Set of Survival Skills.  Lots of Moms teach their kids how to walk, make their beds and ride a bike.  There’s nothing unusual about that.  But some kids get, shall we say, more esoteric lessons.  Like mixology instruction for toddlers.  Or how to recognize the warning signs of an emotional break-down.  How, and when, to call 911. How to look after yourself and your siblings when Mommy can’t.  I’m not saying these are great lessons to learn and, in a perfect world, no kid would know them.  But this isn’t an ideal world and sometimes the weird things these kids learn,  enable them to live long enough to become adults.  And that’s the name of the game.
  2. Resiliency.  If you land in the mud long and often enough, you start to see the funny side of falling down.  That’s my belief.  And kids with difficult moms are used to situations that, at least metaphorically, end up in the mud.  So they learn to roll with the punches.  Lose that scholarship or job opportunity you wanted?  Start looking for another one. Drunks crashed your wedding or your vacation’s rained out?  Folks, it ain’t the end of the world. The funny thing is, once enough time passes, some of those embarrassing family moments become great stories in the family mythology.  And every child of a difficult mother I know is blessed with a sense of humor and collection of stories.  Yes, sometimes they end up laughing through tears, but it’s still laughter, a blessing in life.
  3. A greater understanding of humanity.  I’m not saying every great humanitarian is an adult child of a dysfunctional family, but I am saying that being able to see your parents struggle first hand is to realize being an adult isn’t easy.  For some folks, it’s downright hard.  And recognizing that in your own family, makes it easier to see when other people are fighting uphill. Maybe that gives you a bit more empathy, makes you a tad less judgemental than others.  You know that love is perfect, but people aren’t.  And you learn that it’s okay to ask for help when you need it.
  4. They taught us that being flawed doesn’t mean you didn’t try. Sometimes, it takes a lot of time (and therapy) to see this, but most parents are doing the best they can with the world they inherited and cannot control.  My Mom (bless her) became a traditional wife and mother just as her culture devalued that stereotype.  She heard that, as a woman, she could (and should) do more, get more, have more in life. And, as a people pleaser (just like me) she tried.  But no one told her how to accomplish all this or what costs and pitfalls came with each of her choices.  So, things weren’t always easy at our house.  She still loved my sister and me, but her personal unhappiness and discontent were mixed in with her affection. And, as kids, we couldn’t sift through those conflicts. At first, we blamed ourselves for her deep-seated, negative feelings. Then we blamed her for ours.  A long time passed before any of us got to forgiveness.

So, as the difficult child of a difficult mom, I’d like to suggest we change one thing about Mother’s Day. Instead of thanking Mom once a year for her super-human abilities, let’s acknowledge the frailties inside us all, every day.  Let’s make it easier to say (and hear) “I was wrong” and forgive each other for mistakes we’ve all made.  We don’t need our moms to be Donna Reed or Lorelai Gilmore for us to love them.  They don’t need us to be perfect, either.  We can all settle for being difficult if lovable human beings.

Whatcha' Think?