How often do we thank our mothers for what they have done for us?
There are no perfect mother-child relationships; most are complex, and some are even ambivalent. But overall, Mothers Day is an opportunity to really take a look at the big picture, to reflect on what our mothers have done for us individually over a lifetime, and societally over world history.
Mothers Day prevents us from taking for granted the formidable – almost impossible — tasks of motherhood.
What is it Like to be a Mother Across One’s Lifetime?
Out of all the jobs we do as women, Motherhood is one of the most difficult to perform adequately; Motherhood requires a level of flexibility that most of us are not trained for. Imagine becoming a doctor, a teacher, a lawyer, a therapist, a journalist without any long-term, formal training. All of these professions require expertise and knowledge and an ability that involves managing transitions with skill. Professionals are clinically trained to manage complicated situations throughout their workdays and careers and are rewarded with degrees, respect, and financial compensation.
But Motherhood is Different.
No matter how many books there are out there trying to help us prepare for childrearing, the only real education we get in motherhood is from our own mothers or mother-figures, and on-the-job trial-and-error.
The job of motherhood has never been more lonely in western civilization as it has been over the past few decades. Mothers are expected to perform their duties with little hands-on support from family, often separated by long distances. Grandparents are now thankfully more healthy and active and are either out enjoying their retirement or busy in their own careers. Aunts and sisters live far away. And communities aren’t quite as tight-knit as they used to be. The concept of the open-door multi-generational home, where aunts and uncles, grandparents and siblings would come in and out to engage and assist and teach new moms how to raise children simply does not exist in our modern, highly-boundaried, urban life-styles.
Yet society’s expectations for mothers have not changed, despite the dramatic reduction in support and hands-on education for moms. So the fact that most mothers still persevere and manage to be good enough mothers is pretty amazing and makes acknowledging their efforts even more important on Mother’s Day.
Think about the extraordinary transitions women face when they take on the Motherhood Dance: They are expected to transition from spending their entire pre-maternal lives completely independent and care-free, to being a mother who is the main provider of physical and emotional food, shelter and knowledge. Once mothers finally settle-in as primary caregivers for their babies, they are then challenged to adapt to their children’s increasing independence over the ensuing 18 years. In order to keep up, mothers find themselves constantly shifting to and from the duties of guide, teacher, referee, and confidant. Alas, oftentimes mothers simply have to step aside and watch helplessly. Then finally, after spending a generation throwing themselves into nurturing their children, mothers must return to an existence independent of dependent children again.
Transitions require people to change and the challenge is to adapt or become overwhelmed and vulnerable. Most mothers somehow adapt well-enough to the stages of motherhood. Few master them. Others simply try and are less than successful; but understanding the difficulties of each stage can help us empathize and appreciate ALL mothers on Mother’s Day:
- DURING PREGNANCY: Regardless of what people say about when life begins for the baby, psychologically speaking, a woman begins to think like a mother when she finds out she is pregnant. This is when she first comes to terms with the reality that motherhood is all about accepting that she is NOT in control and that — from that point on — it will be important to accept imperfection when making decisions for her child.
- FROM CHILDBIRTH THROUGH THE FIRST YEAR POSTPARTUM: Despite the hormonal, marital, career and family dynamic changes that challenge the postpartum period after birth, it is amazing that most mothers succeed in providing their babies with undivided attention and responsiveness, and a safe environment to explore the world and develop a sense of self.
- FROM EARLY CHILDHOOD THRU THE TEEN YEARS: The world’s expectations are high: Mothers are supposed to provide children with the guidance, attention, appreciation, and understanding they need while avoiding over-reaching and becoming too critical, worried, irritated or tired. Daily decisions about when to intervene for the child’s safety and wellbeing need to be balanced against when to retreat to enable them to become more independent. During their kids’ teens, after years of bonding, nurturing, loyalty and hard work, mothers are expected to begin the letting-go process at a time when they their children do not quite have enough experience to navigate life completely independently. What a tough job! Women are not born experts on how to avoid taking childhood or teenage outbursts personally – it takes humility, practice, persistence, – and open-mindedness – to successfully learn how to navigate these years as mothers.
- MOTHERHOOD WHEN CHILDREN ARE ADULTS: Requires yet another adjustment in mothers’ approaches to their relationships with their children: This time, ideally it involves backing off and watching, intervening only when requested or gently making suggestions. This is a lot to expect from mothers. Think about it –this is usually around the time a mother is going through the hormonal and emotional fluctuations of menopause while being separated for the first time from her now adult child, often at the same time she is managing the care of her own aging parents.
So Give Mothers Credit, especially on Mother’s Day!
Motherhood is impossible without making mistakes, especially with the diminishing societal and familial support out there for most moms; We need to recognize the formidable tasks mothers take-on and appreciate them. Mother’s Day is a good day to look at the big picture and thank your mom for weathering all the transitions of your childhood and for willing to get messy in the process of developing a full relationship with you.
If you found this post about mothers interesting, take a look at our recent post on pregnancy.