Before having children of my own, Mother’s Day was a bittersweet occasion. Even before the advent of social media, where every card and gift is documented, hearing friends and colleagues discuss brunch plans and floral deliveries for their “best friend” left me with mixed emotions. It’s not that I didn’t have a mother (I did. I do.) Or that I was too self-absorbed to commemorate her status or to appreciate the status of other people’s mothers, but my mother and I have never been close despite living under the same roof for the better part of eighteen years, and while I’ve always suspected the reason, I’m now certain of it—my mother is a reluctant mother. To say she regrets motherhood is too painful a thought for me to entertain, but to say that she has not embraced it the way I would have liked her to is accurate.
My existence is the product of a casually romantic relationship. Mom, twenty-five, not long out of college, was a small-town girl in a mid-sized city trying to make it on her own. My father was the spoiled only son in a family of sisters, and a bad boy. When she learned that she was in the family way, Mom hunted her would-be co-parent down on the ski-slopes to tell him. “I hope you don’t think we’re getting married,” was his response. A friend drove her to an abortion clinic, but Catholic guilt finally kicked in and she walked out before her name was called. She went home, told her parents and, unlike her cousin who was forced to give her baby up for adoption, was welcomed with open arms. She wasn’t shunned by her family, but what could she have done, had I not come along? She was a college graduate, and a go-getter. Career-wise, she had plenty of options. And what about marriage? A kid was some pretty heavy baggage to carry around on the dating scene back then. My mom has told me that she didn’t know what love was until she held me in her arms, but I have to say, I don’t buy it. Not entirely.
There is a new trend in this age of anonymous posting and commenting on the internet, of women writing about how they regret motherhood. I’ve read post after post about fate, not choice, bestowing the mantle of motherhood upon women from all walks of life. When I read these pieces, I immediately think “that’s my mom.” These women don’t hate their children, but they live with the feeling that their situations would have been so much better without them. They resent them. My mother never explicitly said the words, but I always knew that I was “an accident.” My Dad wasn’t around. I didn’t have his last name. While we didn’t talk about it, it wasn’t a secret. I didn’t know that bit about Mom contemplating an abortion until I was in my twenties, but I had felt it for a long time. Back then, when a girl got pregnant before she was married, she told her parents she was “in trouble” Maybe that was part of the problem—out of wedlock pregnancies were viewed as problems to solve. Maybe she never shook that idea. And I don’t blame her; we are all products of our upbringing. And, she had me, after all. I exist. I wasn’t neglected in any sort of material way—I had birthday parties and piano lessons, new clothes and spending money. What I didn’t have was a feeling of being nurtured. Of being truly loved. I still don’t. Not really. I grew up never thinking anything I did was good enough. I tried as hard as I could to please her, to make her like me, and it was never enough. And while I’ve had moments of self-pity about this, I know, I’ve always known, that I can’t change it. You can’t force someone to feel the way you want them to feel. While a part of me is disgusted by mothers posting online about how they feel they would be better off without their children, a bigger part of me feels kinship with those children. I’m not the only one who probably feels more than a little resentful shopping for the perfect Mother’s Day gift. Who wishes her mother was her best friend.
A greater gift of this knowledge is what I can do with it. I know how awful it is to feel like the one person in the world who should love you more than anything doesn’t. I never want my girls to feel like that—that they are a burden or, God forbid, a mistake—as if my life would be better if they weren’t in it. While some days can be long and my patience is frequently tried, I rest easily at night knowing that my children are loved and feel loved. And that on Mother’s Day I have done my very best to be deserving of their beautifully scribbled cards and dandelion bouquets.