This is motherhood…to me.
It might not be what motherhood looks like to you, and it sure as hell isn’t what the commercials, social media, and society tells us motherhood looks like.
As parents, there are a lot of messages thrown at us about what it means to be a mother, what mothering looks like and, to some extent, what motherhood should feel like. These assumptions and expectations and pressures are so deeply ingrained in our society that we hardly notice them anymore—except when we don’t fit the mold.
On the one hand, we glorify mothers, putting them on some kind of saintly pedestal. Yet at the same time, we hold mothers to some unrealistic and unhealthy ideal, shaming and judging them when they don’t meet those standards.
I’ll be honest: I’m always a little relieved when Mother’s Day is over. In the days leading up to it—not to mention the day itself—these idealized and unrealistic messages about motherhood are at a fever pitch.
But Mother’s Day is a complicated holiday, just as motherhood itself is complicated.
While I am fortunate to have an amazing mom, I am well aware that many people have less-than-ideal relationships with their mothers. There are mothers estranged from their children, and children estranged from their mothers. There are people grieving the loss of their mother, and mothers grieving the loss of their child. There are people mourning that they are not mothers. There are mothers gritting their teeth through the muddy waters of motherhood, desperately trying to get their bearings.
Yes, there are plenty of people who have lovely mothers, are lovely mothers, and enjoyed a lovely Mother’s Day. But glossy images and sticky sweet quotes about motherhood do not change the fact that motherhood is complex.
It is hard not to remember my first Mother’s Day when, due to postpartum depression, all I wanted to do was pretend that I wasn’t a mother, and instead slapped on a happy face at the family barbecue. It is hard not to remember the Mother’s Day when I fell asleep on the couch in front of our guests because my body was still raging with pregnancy hormones even though a few days later I would have a D&C because I had miscarried—again. And it is hard not to remember the Mother’s Days, birthdays, Christmases, and every other holiday on the calendar when I was living in the limbo that is infertility treatments.
Motherhood is complex, and sometimes, for some people, Mother’s Day is really hard.
But what I have realized over the course of the nearly 10 years I have been a mother is that those shimmery images of motherhood—like the kind we get on Mother’s Day—are not what motherhood is to me. And that’s OK, because motherhood looks different, feels different, and means something different for everyone.
This photo right here of me and my boys in the minivan on the way to school is what motherhood is to me. Not brunch or a day at the beach. No photo ops, filtered and captioned with hashtags. No makeup or fancy clothes. Just me and my boys living our lives, together. This is motherhood—to me.
I’m fairly certain that when my boys look back on their childhood, they will not remember a mother in fancy clothes at brunch. What they will remember, however, is a tired-looking mom in yoga pants. They will remember our time together in our very messy minivan on the way to school, sporting events, and birthday parties. They will remember the fights and apologies and hugs that happen in the 10 minutes it takes to go from here to there. They will remember that the last thing I call out as they leave the car is “Be kind!” and the first thing I ask when they get in the car after school is “Who were you kind to today?”
This is what motherhood, with me as their mother, looks like to them.
And I’m fairly certain that when I look back on motherhood at this time in our lives, I won’t remember the gifts or cards or holiday outings. What I will remember are the paper hearts my younger son taped all over the house for me. I will remember how my older son says, “Don’t you want to know whom I was kind to today?” if I forget to ask. And I will remember all of these rides to and from school.
This is motherhood to me.
Motherhood looks different to everyone. Motherhood feels different for everyone. Motherhood means something different for everyone. It is complicated, messy, and not always pretty. But it is beautiful nonetheless—really freaking beautiful.
Not just on Mother’s Day, but on all the days.