What if Your Mom Was More Like Peg Bundy than June Cleaver?
Love him or hate him, Bill Maher has a pretty funny recurring segment on his show with made-up greeting cards you’ll never find in a store, but wish you could.
Mothers Day seems ripe for such a set of cards. Even as the greeting card, flower, candy, and TV advertising industries badger us with all the reasons we love and cherish our moms and how buying that really expensive gift will prove the extent of such love and cherishment, not every kid has a mom they want to celebrate. And I’m not talking about birthmothers here – just moms in general.
My personal experience was nothing close to Carol Brady, Clair Hustable, or Maggie Seaver. No one on TV really comes close to my relationship with my mom, but I suppose Toni Collette’s portrayal of a mom with multiple personalities (United States of Tara) at least mimics the weird because of a mom who wasn’t always fully in her right mind. My mother’s issues stemmed from years of undiagnosed strokes that caused increasing degrees of brain decay and malfunction. She was never really a mom to us in any of the conventional ways, from being our confidant about romances and heartbreaks to teaching us hygiene things like shaving our legs and using tampons. I remember watching the NBC drama Sisters and longingly wondering what it might have been like to have had a mother who would go to bat for me, no matter what. I don’t blame my mother – anymore. But I hated her with a white hot passion for many years, until I finally understood that it was an illness and not a choice to be an absent mother, even though it would be many more years before the precise nature of the illness came to light.
My husband’s mother was an abusive alcoholic. He said it wasn’t until he was well into his 20s that it finally dawned on him that her behavior hadn’t been his fault. She still calls every once in a while, but he finds it difficult to sustain any lasting contact because she’s still an addict and she has never quite been able to forgive herself for the traumatic childhood she caused him and his sister. All he wants to do is move on, but she is still living in regret for the past. I’m pretty sure he didn’t send a Mothers Day card this year – although he always remembers the date of her birthday, even if he doesn’t call to wish her a happy one.
The mother of a friend of mine committed suicide, leaving her and her two sisters to fend for themselves through their teens while their distraught father drank himself into oblivion.
Another friend had a mother who did nothing but constantly point out her flaws and faults. My friend eventually wised up and walked away from this damaged person who was biologically her mother, but an emotional enemy. They didn’t speak for the last 10 years of her mother’s life.
My goal here is not to focus on the negative, but to acknowledge that not everyone has had a rosy relationship with dear ol’ Mom. Nor should they be made to feel guilty for finding Mothers Day an obnoxious holiday they’d rather skip over completely.
Not every woman is cut out to be a mother. Sometimes, they are discerning enough to know their limits and opt out, whether via adoption, abortion, or never getting pregnant in the first place. Other women, whether because of societal, religious, or peer pressure, have children they probably have no business raising. Some women are born to be mothers – crafting costumes with aplomb, happily whipping up treats for homeroom, and cheering on their little athletes or thespians with raucous applause.
Most women – most mothers – fall somewhere in between. Sometimes a little flaky, forgetting permission slips and lunches. Sometimes irritable because they just found out their best friend’s husband passed away. Sometimes overprotective, wishing they could keep their kid from ever getting hurt. Sometimes irrationally irate because they’re angry at someone else just as their youngest daughter asks to get her bellybutton pierced for the 37th time. And sometimes – maybe only once in a while – in perfect harmony with their kiddos.
It’s disingenuous for merchandisers to sell us the fairytale that all moms are June Cleaver when, in fact, the average mom is probably closer to Rosanne or Peg Bundy. Yes – really. Think about it. So if you happened to have a less than stellar relationship with your mom, give yourself a break. Love her as much as you are able – even if that means from a VERRRRRRRRRRY long distance. Send up a prayer or good thought, and move on. Release the guilt for not wanting to gush over her. Stop sending cards or making calls that make your skin crawl. Quit apologizing to your kids for their grandmother.
And, if you can, send love. A very good friend of mine offered some sage advice when I was first working on releasing my anger toward my niece. She said, “Even if you can’t send your own love because you just don’t feel love for that person, try sending the love of the Universe (or God). It doesn’t have to be your own love in order for you to shower that person in love.” Wow – what a relief that was. I could stop being angry and instead send love – even if I didn’t personally feel love. You could try this with your mom today (or any day) – or any other person with whom you have a challenging relationship.
Wishing you, at minimum, an OK Mothers Day!
Laura Orsini is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.