Mother’s Day is always a bitch of a day. For nearly 20 years I have allowed this to be a day where my grief can express itself however it needed to be expressed. In recent years, it became more and more a celebration of my mother’s life, tinged with deep sadness but mostly filled with fond memories.
When I woke up this morning, I felt great. It was a perfect Spring morning. The yard was a bright green from an early rain, birds were singing, and the first yellow rose had bloomed. I could hear the neighbor’s kids busily and messily making her a Mother’s Day breakfast. I chose to start the day by doing a heart-felt social media post for my work, honoring all the women farmers I work with by wishing them a happy Mother’s Day – regardless of whether or not they have children, because they maternally tend the earth, raise delicious healthy food, and nourish families throughout northern New Mexico. I did a silly Facebook post for my sister because she became my “friend” 11 years ago today, but who is actually my life-long best friend who took on a maternal role for me through much of my childhood. Then, I expressed my gratitude and appreciation for all the mothers I know, sending personal messages that wished them a day filled with love and joy.
As I finished going through my contact lists, I expanded my reach to those I know are feeling pain today: the loss of their mother, the loss of a child, the complications of being a step-mother, a difficult relationship with their mother or child… After doing this, I encouraged others to do the same:
This may be a Capitalist Hallmark holiday, but it can also be a day of loving intention and heartfelt connection. Tell the mom’s you know that you appreciate them and recognize what they go through each day. Share a loving thought with those who have lost their mother or a child. Reach out in love and solidarity to those who have mother’s they don’t celebrate due to abuse. Send a kind message to anyone you know who has wanted children but has been unable to have them. Honor all the women in your life who have given you guidance, support, and care. Do something in celebration of our women ancestors and the mother we call Earth.Me
It felt great to express gratitude and love, to show care, to connect with those able to respond to my message.
And then, it hit me like a tidal wave – a pain emanating from my gut that spread the deep sorrow of grief throughout my entire body, sending me into sobbing tears. This grief was not just for my mother, but for the end of my own role as mother.
I had made a choice many years ago to not have children. My mind told me it was for many reasons: I could barely care for myself, I’d never had a committed relationship and I didn’t want to do it alone, I’d rather invest my time in helping people in other ways, there were plenty of children in my life I could have a positive influence on. Those are all valid and true, but I think, now, my choice was rooted in the trauma of growing up with a depressed mother in a household devoid of overt expressions of love and affection, as well as the trauma she experienced at the death of her first child.
But, my ex has a young son. Shortly after we started dating, I embraced the role of step-mother. While I know that I am good at developing rapport with kids, I also knew I was unprepared to properly raise a toddler and lacked basic parenting skills. I also quickly learned I was not going to get much support from his parents in learning those parenting skills, much less be included in their co-parenting. But, I did what I do – I researched and asked questions and learned what I could while giving this beautiful child unconditional love, supporting him and his parents in any way I could. Even after the end of the relationship with his father, I worked out an agreement with his mother so that he would still spend one day a week with me for a month or two, so that I could be intentional in helping address the trauma he experienced by watching the physical and emotional violence in my home and seeing his father arrested.
Once I felt like progress had been made, he was showing resiliency and a healthy response to the situation, and I had done what my skill-set could handle, I severed ties so as to not confuse him by maintaining a relationship with him but not with his parents. Afterward, I tried not to think too much about this shift, focusing instead on my own personal healing.
But today, I realized how much I miss him. Once a child calls you “mom” and says “I love you” every time he sees you, there’s no turning back. And, I realized just how much it hurt to not be acknowledged today by either parent for what I did to be a positive influence in this child’s life. I felt like a glorified babysitter. That’s when the tears began to flow. And, I allowed myself to feel the pain at losing this very special relationship.
Even though his parents didn’t say anything about it (not like I expected them to), others reached out, and I felt true love amidst my sorrow.
“I bet that kiddo thinks about you all the time.”
“Your gift is that you love hard and never ask anything in return.”
“That little boy had the biggest blessing of his life. I’m so sorry he’s no longer in your life, and maybe one day he will be again.”
“Happy Mother’s Day to you also. You have been an incredible parent to C and although he is not around a lot these days I know that your influence continues to guide him!!!! And thank you for your influence on my kids!!!”
“I adore and appreciate you!”
I felt vulnerable and I felt seen.
And then, I saw a post on Facebook, written by John Pavlovitz and shared by a friend. It helped me feel better about experiencing such grief over my short-lived experience as a step-mother.
Mother’s Day.– John Pavlovitz
For many people that means flowers and handmade cards and Sunday brunches and waves of laughter. It means celebration and gratitude and warm embraces and great rejoicing. It means resting fully in all that is good about loving and being loved.
But not for some people.
For some it only means tears.
For some it just hurts.
In the hearts of many, this day is a bitter, unsolicited reminder of what was but no longer is, or a heavy holiday of mourning what never was at all.
Maybe it is such a day for you.
It might bring with it the scalding sting of grief for the empty chair around a table.
It might come with choking regret for a relationship that has been severed.
It might be a day of looking around at other mothers and other children, and feeling the unwelcome intrusion of jealousy that comes with comparison.
It might be yet another occasion to lament the mistakes you made or the words you didn’t say or the kindness you never knew.
It might be an annual injury you sustain.
Consider this a personal love letter to you who are struggling today; you whose Mother’s Day experience might be rather bittersweet— or perhaps only bitter.
This is consent to feel fully the contents of your own heart without censorship or guilt or alteration.
If you are hurting, then hurt.
May you feel permission to cry, to grieve, to be not alright.
May you relieve yourself of the burden of pretending everything is fine or faking stability or concealing the damage.
May you feel not a trace of guilt for any twinge of pain or anger that seizes you today, because it is your right to feel.
Above all though, may you find encouragement even in your profound anguish.
May you find in your very sadness, the proof that your heart though badly broken, still works.
Let the pain you are enduring reassure you that you still have the capacity to care deeply, despite how difficult it has been.
See your grief as the terrible tax on loving people well, and see your unquenched longing for something better as a reminder of the goodness within you that desires a soft place to land.
If on this Mother’s Day you are struggling, know that you are not alone.
May these words be the flowers that you wait for or the call that won’t come or the conversation that you can’t have or the reunion that has not yet arrived.
Let them be hope packaged and personally delivered to the center of your heart, and may they sustain you.
In this time of great pain, know that you are seen and heard, and that you are more loved than you realize.
Be greatly encouraged today.
Despite today’s roller-coaster of emotions, and several times having to stop my writing of this post to wipe away tears, I AM encouraged, for love is the emotion which reigns today.