“Do you think you’ve been a good mother?” my daughter asks me this morning, on Mother’s Day. I’ve been appreciating her as my daughter, as the realization kicks in that this is likely the last Mother’s Day we’ll spend before she’s off to college – my last child at home. We look up her college-to-be’s last days of classes and sure enough, it’s after Mother’s Day. I begin to panic. 24 years of Mother’s Days flash through my mind, as I try to make sense of the fact that this is all about to be over. Of course, as we are getting ready to go to my own mother’s home to celebrate, I realize that we will, God willing, have decades of celebrating this holiday together in some way. But the days of waking up to an excited child who has done everything to honor you on this day, are finished.
“Do you think you’ve been a good mother?” She asks again. “I’m not really the one to answer that,” I reply. “You are.” “You always say that”, she responds. “I want you to answer this time. ”
This is a complicated question for me. I began motherhood with the best of intentions. I was very stereotypical as I had always dreamt of being a mom. My imaginary play as a young girl was about having a family of my own. Each of my three children were planned, as much as that is possible, and I prepared and felt ready for the journey. I enjoyed every new stage of childhood more than the previous one and I truly loved being with my kids. As they’ll tell you, I used to say to them, “I created friends for myself by making you.” They listened to my favorite tunes, enjoyed my favorite meals, played my favorite games, and my favorite traditions became theirs. It was great. They thrived and I patted myself on the back.
As they got older and began to have their own unique personalities and struggles, I would do my best to keep up as I tried to support them. However, when you experience an extended period of time where one dysfunctional scenario after another is lobbed at you ceaselessly, it’s hard to not start blaming yourself. When you see other families’ children still walking down that one path that our community’s kids are all expected to be on, it’s hard not to wonder if perhaps something you’ve done has caused your children’s diversion from the track. When your child suffers, you look for clues in the past, things you may have missed or done wrong, that contribute to this pain they’re feeling. There was nothing I discovered conclusively but that didn’t stop the niggling feeling that it is statistically unlikely for so many differences to be found in one family, without a cause. And I was there by their side the whole time. A good sleuth might do some further investigating.
I’ve wondered about this so many times over the last decade that today, as she posed the question, these former thoughts flew in, briefly flitted around my brain, and then left to settle elsewhere. I decided to think about this differently as I answered my daughter. I chose to look at this from the rubric of what experiences I had hoped my ideal children would have, as I was still in the ‘dreaming about being a mother’ stage. I’d then score the actual experiences based on the rubric of what type of mother I had hoped to be.
Before I had children, I imagined being the mom who plays with her kids – getting messy and being silly. I wanted to dance in the rain, build snowpeople in the snow, and read books aloud by the fireplace when being outside was too wet or cold. I hoped to have meaningful, philosophical conversations with my children at the kitchen table. I set my heart on having a family where my kids expressed their joy by dancing and singing. I hoped for a home with a lot of laughter. I craved being a child-whisperer- that mom who soothed all boo boos and never needed to yell. A concise, respectful explanation was all that would be necessary for my children to understand everything they needed to know. They certainly would respect me. I wanted my children to know that they could ask me any question and tell me anything that was on their mind and I wouldn’t judge. I imagined being that mom who was as comfortable talking about sex, drugs and rock n roll as I was talking about school work. I truly had a desire to create solid traditions for them that they would then continue as they became independent.
So important to me was for them to know and to internalize what my values are. I would model how to stop to help others and they would continue to do so on their own. Most importantly was that I wanted them to know that I would always love them, and that I would always be here for them. I wanted my children to hear fewer “you shoulds” than I did. I also really wanted them to want to be around me and secretly prayed they would think I was cool. The icing on the cake would be if their friends thought so, too! And finally, something that was so important to me that before I was able to spell, my big sister wrote it for me on a piece of paper and hung it on my childhood bulletin board, was that “I promise to never make my children do something for me that I can do myself.”
Looking at this rubric, I actually think I’ve done quite well. Did I break that important promise from my own preschool days? I did. Over and over again. Nothing made me happier than when a child would fetch something for me because I was too lazy to get it myself. (I get it, Mom.) Did I make a ton of mistakes? Yes. Did I raise my voice more than anticipated? Yup. But other than that, most of the items on the list above I accomplished. My kids are the kindest people I know. They will literally stop on the side of the road to take time out of their busy day, to offer help to someone in possible need. They will stand up for others. They talk to me and share with me. Sex, drugs and rock n’ roll are pretty common topics of conversation, actually. And they sing and dance as if no one is watching, whenever we’re all together! Just ask the neighbor across the street.
The next question of the Mother’s Day quiz show was, “What is one of the hardest experiences that you’ve had with us that also ended up being the most meaningful?” Wow. I chose the two weeks that I slept on a couch in a small B&B room, with my older daughter, after her gender confirmation surgery. We were hours away from home. And this was obviously a surgery that had a lot of emotions attached. It also had physical complications. It was just the two of us, and we got along beautifully. She needed me and allowed me to be close to her in a way I hadn’t been since she was very young. It was quite intimate, in the way that caring for your newborn can be. This was a rebirth and I was honored and grateful to be there this second time.
My daughter then posed a final question. “If our family had continued on the “normal” path, what do you think your life would be like now?” That was such a great question! So much of what gives my life purpose these days stems from my experiences as the mom of kids with interesting stories. I think I’d be pretty boring and wouldn’t even know how to appreciate that. I don’t think I’d be a Life Coach or Reiki Master. I certainly wouldn’t be supporting parents of Trans kids and I doubt I’d be doing public speaking engagements. I likely would not have a blog. And I would not know how strong I am.
I embrace the life I’ve had and all that’s come with it. I did want to always be a mother and to give my kids a joy-filled, stable, loving home. I imagined how much I’d teach them about life. What I didn’t count on was how much these best friends I created, would teach me. I have learned more and had more meaningful experiences in the past few years than I ever had in the 40 years prior. If I could go back and take away some of the pain that my children have felt, I would. But I would never take away who they are now – their authenticity, their resilience, their positive mindsets, their strength, their beauty, and every other inspirational attribute that each embodies. Reflecting in this way on this last Mother’s Day I’ll have before my baby leaves the nest, helps put things in perspective. And all I feel now is appreciation. Perhaps that’s what being a good mother is…