The Ambivalence of Mother’s Day…thoughts on the day

Today is Mother’s Day, a day we celebrate and honor the women who in the ideal world not only brought us into the world but also raised us, nurtured us, sustained us and just loved us. It’s a day where the good feelings seem to flow like cocaine at a 1980’s rock party! Yet for some women Mother’s Day is a double edge sword, where it feels less than good because as a society we have a very narrow lens of what we consider to be mothering.

Many women come to mothering with eyes wide open, hearts full, just knowing they will love everything about mothering. Yet I was not one of those women, getting pregnant at 18 after being married a mere few months, made me ambivalent at best about mothering. I spent my entire pregnancy scared that I might die in childbirth and when my son was born, I didn’t even see him until four hours after birth. Yet the first time I laid eyes on him, something deep inside me stirred, I knew he was my world but I had no idea even after falling immediately in love with him how radically different my path to mothering would be.

I won’t rehash my past since its been written about on this blog before, but I will say I have been a teen mom, a single mom, and a non-custodial mom and of all those labels the one that draws the most raised eye brows is that of non-custodial Mom. After all, it’s one thing for a Dad to not be around but a Mom? Even now in 2011 when most of us consider ourselves open-minded about parenting, after all we know gay couples that raise kids…it’s the non custodial Mom that still throws us off balance. After all how does a mother leave her child?

In my case I didn’t exactly leave, but fear, intimidation and a lack of money led me to agree to something I didn’t want or believe in; back then I was naïve and thought it would all work out. I did not understand that in agreeing to give my ex full custody (granted at the time I agreed to that my son was actually living with me) I was putting myself in a bad situation. By the time I was finally in a place to fight back, it took thousands of dollars and I was able to get joint legal custody with my son living with his Dad. Joint legal custody is powerful because it meant legally we were on the same foot but my son still lived with his Dad and nothing could change that. So as regular readers know that’s how Black Girl in Maine came to be.

My son was 6 when he went to live with his Dad and in those early years Mother’s Day often felt like hell. The first year he was with his Dad I didn’t see him on Mother’s Day as I was still in Chicago. I remember people assuming I was not a mother as they did not see a child, as a mother to not be acknowledged can be hard in general but something about a day that hinges on cards, flowers, food and time spent with your progeny when said progeny is not with you can just send you over the edge, emotionally and mentally.

By the time my son was 10, we were in Maine and I started being able to have my son on Mother’s Day, yet even that felt fraudulent. After all the next morning he went back to his Dad’s house, granted it was better than the years we were 1100 miles apart since once I moved to Maine, I saw him regularly.

Little did I know that by the time my boy turned 12, I was going to enter another club that makes Mother’s Day excruciating as hell and that is the motherless club. My Mom passed away when my son was 12 and that really added to my ambivalence about Mother’s Day. Due to the fact that statistically women live longer than men, generally a woman can expect to have her Mom around until she is in her 50’s, so if you are in your 30’s and motherless it seems strange to many. Granted there are many women who are motherless for a myriad of reasons, as I realized yesterday when my favorite barista shared with me that she had not spoken to her own mother in years. Again the mother-child relationship is fraught with tension and despite our best intentions it cannot be summed up easily and stuck on a card ready to sell.

Now Mother’s Day has evolved again for me, as my son is now 19 and away at college and I no longer have to claim that label of non custodial mother though I do because it shaped me and has shaped my parenting towards my 5 year old. As my husband lovingly jokes there are times I over parent her to make up for what I feel was under parenting with my son, granted my son has never felt that way and despite my not being around every day, our relationship is strong. I must say that as much as I bitch about technology and social media, it has allowed us to stay very connected since let’s face it as a college freshman yakking on the phone with your Moms is not a priority. Yet we text, tweet and Facebook daily.

Today this post is for all the women who don’t have a Hallmark style relationship with mothering especially non-custodial Moms and motherless daughters/Moms. Don’t get caught up in the imagery of mothering, trust in your heart and know you are a mother no matter what. For women whose mothers are no longer in your life, honor the women in your life who nurture you regardless of connection. There is no reason you can’t do something special for women who have nourished you emotionally or mentally.

Have a Happy Nurturer Day!

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