A friend asked me the other day about how I felt about Mothers Day, and I knew that the question was loaded – you see, I haven’t had a mother for a long time. And for the first time, it struck me that I don’t view the celebration from the perspective of my own mother. I lost her too young to remember her as a real person, so my only association with the day is as a mother to my own kids.
There are times when I would love to be able to recount stories of our time together. And in those fourteen years, we did make stories – on family days out, cheap holidays, when we grew vegetables together at the end of the garden or searched for our runaway tortoise – and yet most of those memories are clouded by her struggles as a single mother, her battle to keep working to provide for three small children, to keep the car running, to keep the smile on her face.
Perhaps, that’s why I’ve never allowed myself to fully commit to Mothers Day, with no mother to spoil, to take out to dinner, or to have a monthly spat with – which I understand is very common. And perhaps that’s why I can be somewhat cynical about these ‘special’ days, which can throw up all sorts of pain for those that are excluded or feel isolated – mothers that have lost children, children that have lost mothers, adopted children, mothers that have lost connection with their children. And Mother Day, in particular, sugarcoats a biological responsibility that is not necessarily ‘the best thing’ EVERY woman has ever done. The day can highlight shame and failure for some, as well as the smug gratitude of those women lucky enough to have cultivated perfect relationships with their children – if they do, in fact, exist.
Relationships between parents and their children are not always Waltons or Brady-esque. Sometimes, they are not straightforward, as Nikki Gemmell exposes in her book, ‘After,’ which I picked up recently as research for my manuscript. Nikki’s story covers the ways she handled grief after the death of her mother, and yet for me, the greatest comfort I took from the book is her honesty about her tricky relationship with her mother, because it forced me to recognize similarities between her mother’s behavior and my own.
Sadly, only after years of distance between them was Nikki finally able to make peace with her mother, only to be shattered a few years later by her mother’s suicide – perhaps, her final act of revenge, in Nikki’s eyes. Personally, I can’t imagine the guilt attached to losing your mother to suicide. Can you imagine the questions you would be forced to ask yourself, even if you knew that chronic pain was at the root of her reasoning? Can you imagine the sense of betrayal? That the person that gave birth to you should choose to leave you in such a way?
I’ve said this many times before, and I’ll say it again: relationships are complicated – particularly family relationships, where the blood connection can force us to continue with toxic, destructive alliances. Anyone who has produced a child that went against the grain will recognize the sense of shock and the grief for the child you expected to have.
The death of my own mother, along with the distant relationship I have experienced with my father at various periods of my life has affected my relationships with my children. Not necessarily for the worst. At times, my insecurity has made me cling too hard and suffocate them; at others, my aloofness, lack of empathy and lack of a filter have left them feeling confused and unloved. I am not a perfect mother; and yet I am the only mother they have. And in the end, when they describe to my grandchildren the ways I fucked up their lives, they won’t be able to say that I didn’t love them. Just like I can’t about my own mother.