Browsing Mother’s Day cards in the grocery store last week, I found myself wondering how many moms actually live up to the idealized version that I repeatedly found myself reading about. “You sacrificed everything for me,” the calligraphy-lettered lines declared, along with sentimental statements about moms who taught their children the important lessons of life, loved them unconditionally, modeled morality — and appeared in my mind wearing aprons and holding steaming hot trays of gluten-free brownies, fresh from the oven (which they cleaned with only natural products).
I actually felt a little cheated for a second, until I told myself that this person doesn’t actually exist (and if she does, I’m not sure I’d want to hang out with her). Most moms are just doing the best we can with the resources we have, which includes both external circumstances and our individual capabilities to give our kids what they need.
I am lucky to have received unconditional love from my parents, which I am sure is one of the major reasons that I was eventually able to overcome hardships in my early life, including the mistakes made by my mom and dad. Today, my close relationships are healthy and mutually supportive. If I had not started life with the bedrock of knowledge that I deserved to be loved, this might not be the case. And for that I am truly grateful.
But there are limits to what our parents can provide. Many of us still seek their approval long into our adulthood and occasionally wish for the kind of relationships that Mother’s Day cards promise exist somewhere. It’s a futile exercise that seems ripe for disappointment all around.
We have a quote in our family that came from my youngest daughter, one of many lines uttered by our children over the years that made the annals of our collective memory. She was about 3 years old and I was goofing around with her one day, pretending to be upset about something when I whined in a childish voice: “I want my mommy.” Playing along with total commitment, my daughter cocked her head, smiled sweetly and responded, “You are your own mommy!” It was adorable. And of course her family members laughed affectionately at the innocence of her statement. I was her mom after all, so how could I need a mommy?
Over the next few days, the meaning of this sentence simmered with me, slowly deepening in flavor as I worked out the reason why my daughter’s words felt kind of profound. I flashed back to a therapy session from years earlier when I described a yearning for my mother’s understanding about something in particular. My therapist suggested that I attempt to release myself from frustration by letting go of this fruitless need. She told me that I could provide my own approval, especially because I already knew I was on the right track. Essentially, she told me that I could be my own mommy.
Sometimes I return to this idea when I feel the need for outside reassurance or encouragement. Our mothers are usually our first touchstone and it’s hard to outgrow the need to seek nurturing and approval from them. But becoming an adult sometimes means outgrowing this reflex — especially if these responses are hard to come by. I think it’s important that we each realize our strength and independence by learning to give ourselves the gift of a pat on the back and the reminder that we are strong, capable and worthy of love — no matter what our parents can or cannot provide. It’s a worthy goal and Lord knows I’m a work-in-progress. But each step closer makes Mother’s Day (and a lot of other days) a little easier and brighter.
Oh, and I decided to create my own Mother’s Day card for my mom this year.