I truly love the crayon-drawn cards, decorative coasters, macaroni jewelry, and other gifts my daughter has given me on Mother’s Day. I had not anticipated such joy from these sweet gestures.
Still, Mother’s Day is fraught with grief for some, dashed expectations for others, and complicated emotions for many. Each of us comes from a woman who was very good or, in some way, less than good to us.
But for moms themselves, the day can be just as thorny.
In the early years of our marriage, I remember feeling like a misfit for not having children, especially in church. One Mother’s Day Sunday as I walked toward the sanctuary, a greeter held out a pink carnation to me, then took it back with a panicked Oops! Sorry, moms only. It was awkward. Even stranger, though, I didn’t want a flower until I was told I couldn’t have one.
Same idea, a few years later: I didn’t know how badly I wanted a baby until I couldn’t have one. In the meantime, I decided if I ever did have a child, I would be the best mom I could possibly be. I mean, like, Mother of the Year every single year. And when I finally had our daughter, I did my best with what I knew. There were no medals or trophies, but I did my best.
Infertile women, I think, harbor a particular kind of inferiority complex when it comes to mothering. At least I do. Those voices in your head that say you don’t deserve to have children do not necessarily shut up the moment you give birth or adopt or move on. They just keep on chattering their barely plausible lies.
The voices told me I wasn’t a real mom, having wrestled my child out of God’s fist rather than receiving her from his open hand. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, I was drawn into the comparison game and found myself “very insignificant and commonplace” compared to other, more effortless mothers.
But even if I wasn’t a real mother, as the voices said, I had a very real baby whom I loved and taught to love. And, like the Velveteen Rabbit’s little boy, she loved me into realness. Little by little, I became real.
While I’m the real mom of one precious child, I’ve come to hold loosely that identity of mom. When I had my daughter and set out to make mothering my lifestyle, the mom identity fit. Well, maybe not perfectly, but I was sure I’d grow into it, or have it hemmed, or something. Darn it, I’d make it fit—by having more children! But this wasn’t possible.
Even if it were possible, human biology does not permit such maternal cottage industries to go on indefinitely. Like the Velveteen Rabbit toward the story’s end, I’m rather on my way to growing “old and shabby.”
As I look ahead a couple decades, Mother’s Day will no longer be fraught with disparaging inner voices but filled with the voices (perhaps) of grandchildren—not begged from God’s table (perhaps) but given freely—if that’s (perhaps) what she wants in life.
Whether my daughter someday becomes a mother or not, I hope her Mother’s Days and other days are uncomplicated, free from questions of realness, and spent with me. For I love her, for real.
(Macaroni necklaces optional.)