Celebrating the Human Side of Motherhood

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Nearly any of us who are mothers have wanted to be a perfect example of motherhood. Yet, the reality is, since we are human, most of us perceive some failures in our own mothering. We do the best that we can and often overcome tough issues of our own. Yet we are rarely the saints who are often portrayed in literature and advertisements, especially during this special time when we celebrate mothers.

We need to understand, love and forgive ourselves for our perceived imperfections as mothers. And yes, we need to try to understand, love and forgive our mothers for what may have been less than perfect mothering practices. Perfection is hard to define and resides in the eye of the beholder, so it's a subjective idea, anyway.

Most readers will feel that their mothers have or had some flaws, but did a pretty good job. Some readers, unfortunately, were raised by abusive mothers – often women who were themselves abused and were too emotionally damaged to break the cycle.

Most of our mothers did their best

I'd like to pay tribute to my own mother. She was a wonderful, loving person. Was she perfect? No. She was human, so she had her faults. But I look back on our relationship with love, appreciation and compassion. I do know that I was fortunate to have her as my mother.

How about your mother? Can you look back on your childhood and say "she did her best?" For readers who suffered emotional and/or physical abuse from mothers with compromised minds, hearts and spirits, that takes a lot of understanding, forgiveness, and perhaps professional help. However, reaching the point of forgiveness is important. For only by understanding and forgiving our mothers can we understand and forgive ourselves.

In order to view our parent with compassion we need to:

  • Remember that we carry our early learning throughout life even when we "think" we've gotten past events and teachings from our childhood. We are the sum total of our life experience, so nothing is completely forgotten.
  • Most of our mothers were a mixture of nearly all human emotions. They were human beings who were raised by human beings, meaning that they had some flaws.
  • Look at your grandparents or whoever raised your mother. Think of them as your mother's parents. That should give you one clue to why your mother is how she is.
  • Ask your mother to tell you stories of her childhood. If she paints a rosy picture but her actions raising you tell a different story, try to understand that she may still, perhaps subconsciously, be running from her past.
  • If her stories tell of emotional, verbal and/or physical abuse, ask how she learned to cope with the after effects of this abuse.
  • Does your mother have mental issues? Many people in the AgingCare.com community write about mothers with very difficult personalities having nothing to do with age or dementia. Many of these issues are caused by mental disorders. I'm not suggesting that anyone take abuse from a person who has personality issues caused by a mental disorder, but understanding your mother's illness may help your relationship survive.
  • Most readers are caregivers of their aging parents, at least to some extent. Understanding your mother's past will help you better understand the role you are able to play in caring for your aging mother.
  • Forgiveness doesn't necessarily mean forgetting. We learn from mistakes – ours and those of other people.
  • Realize that your mother's issues were not caused by you – even if she says they were. You were a child. Perhaps an "easy" child. Perhaps a "difficult" child. But you were a child. You could not cause your parent to be a bad parent.

Celebrate the spirit of Mother's Day by realizing that the sainted ideal of motherhood is a myth. The reality is that your own mother may have been a wounded soul who overcame her difficulties the best she could. If she was a good mother – or good enough – that's wonderful. Celebrate her for all she did for you.

If she wasn't a wonderful mother – or even a good mother – try to remember that she didn't set out to harm her child or children. Gaining insight into your mother's childhood may inspire you to move on with your own life. Understanding often makes forgiveness possible. We don't forgive people just for their sakes – we forgive them for ourselves, as well. Otherwise, anger and resentment just make us bitter and disagreeable. Many people need professional help in making peace with their childhoods. However, once they do, they are then free to improve their own lives.

Even those of us who can look back on our mothers as examples of the idealized mother role will likely see, through the historical view, some flaws. Or maybe we won't. Maybe we'll still view our mothers as saints. That's okay – even commendable – as long as we don't harbor guilt about our own failings and compare our flawed, human selves to our sainted mothers. Celebrate Mother's Day remembering the women who've helped us throughout our lives all the while coping with their own issues. Celebrate the human mother who gave you life and most likely did the best she could for you.

Carol Bradley Bursack

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Over the span of two decades, author, columnist, consultant and speaker Carol Bradley Bursack cared for a neighbor and six elderly family members. Her experiences inspired her to pen, "Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories," a portable support group book for caregivers.

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4 Comments

I love this article. I know that we all as parents do the best we are capable of doing at the time. My mother used to never hug me when I was a child...I longed for those hugs even as a grown woman...but when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and I became her caregiver, I learned that she had done everything she really knew to do for me...you see she had never received hugs either. When I began hugging her all the time...she would hug me and smile like a small girl. What a touching moment for me...I realized that people only usually do what they know...but I am so happy that in my generation, we have all seemed to want our children to receive all the things we did not. It is beautiful when you think about it!!!
I believe that with each generation becomes a better parents. I would like to share a link to my health blog that has my Mother's Day msg. Just go here
You can count me in as not getting any hugs from my mom as well and I come to realize that she was never hugged by her ownn parents. It too late for hugging my mom for she passed in her mid 50's around the yr of 1999 due to heart attack. Not to mention she smoked, had depression, sucidal and dranked.

Of course, like the article talks about we try learn from our past and she did the best she could from the way she was brought up by her parents. With that said, my sister started the 'huggy-stuffy stuff.' I am glad that she did for I was pushing my own side away when he would reach out for me for a hug and I did not even notice what I was doing. Now, we all make a point to give hugs when we do visit each other. ; )
My mnl is the same way as well with the non-huggy and because I could never do any right for her son and never gave her reason to think bad of me, therefore, I cannot bring myself to hug her for she never made me feel like a daughter-n-law. I even have a hard time even calling her 'mom,' to this day. Sad I know but, it is what it is. I do try to show my love by doing things and being there for her and even more now with her diagnosed of AD.

I hope everyone here has a wonderful Mom's Day tomorrow whether you are a mom, grandmom or a care-giver taking care.
Happy Mom's Day to all.......
In a funny way, caring for a very elderly parent is role reversal, and we have the opportunity to be the mother to our mother that she might not have been able to be for us. In that way, we have the unique opportunity to heal the child within her, which in turn, heals us.