It happens every Mother’s Day. The tributes start popping up on social media—heartfelt messages to the moms who are constant and loving; who are mentors to motherhood; who are icons, saints, heroes.
And every Mother’s Day, I dread them. Jealousy spikes within me, and I can’t stop myself from wondering … why not me?
I don’t mean I want these tributes. My preschool son’s greatest showcase of his love for me is how much he giggles when he blows raspberries on my post-partum belly (thanks, newborn second son!) because it makes such a squishy, wonderful noise.
No, I mean that dark little voice that lives inside me that wonders: what is wrong with me that I don’t have a mom like that? What have I done wrong that makes me undeserving?
The only constant thing about my mother is her unpredictability. The only way she’s a mentor is showing me how I don’t want to parent. It seems social media is flooded with moms who actually like their adult children, who care about them and desire to be parts of their lives. My own mom only pops up occasionally when it affects her.
When I shared with her the news that I was expecting my first son (for whom we’d tried for a very long time), her first words were that we’d just have a yuppie baby that she couldn’t love. When—approaching childbirth and getting scared—I begged her to come for the birth, she said she was too busy. She had her upcoming vacation to think about, after all.
She can be hilarious and manic with her hugs. She can also declare that her seventeen-year-old daughter is too ugly to go to prom, so you might as well die. She’ll smother your son with kisses one day, then call him an awful brat the next after she insisted he skip his nap because she wanted to go swimming with him. (And as a sidenote: She’s not allowed to take him swimming alone. When I was an infant, she heard babies float and dropped me in the deep end of our apartment pool. I sank.)
How do those of us with erratic, narcissistic mothers learn to move on and stop looking for our own faults to excuse their behavior? I’m not sure, honestly. But surely I’m not alone. Surely, I’m not the only one who feels this deep well of loneliness that the one person who is supposed to never, ever abandon you can’t be bothered by this whole motherhood thing. It’s the gaping hole that I’m constantly trying to parent around.
The thing is, I’m not alone. I’ve got an amazing partner, and two wonderful children, and friends who have become my family. But every Mother’s Day, I have to wonder. And try as I might, I can’t quite fight back the creep of jealousy, of sadness that I’m missing out on a singular relationship.
But then I look at my own sons—whom I’ve never dropped in the deep end of the pool, FYI—and I know that I may not have the mother I wanted, but I can be the mother they need.
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