Why Mothers (or other family members) Do Not Belong on Pedestals

May 8, 2011

Mother’s Day always makes me squirm.  I enjoy it and am stunned by how much my kids enjoy treating me with an extra dose of specialness.  I plan to shamelessly milk that for as long as it lasts.  But my discomfort lingers.

The intention is good, show love for and celebrate someone who has done much for us, but I wonder if family members should get a day to honor the role we play.

We don’t have Child’s Day.  One might say every day is child’s day.  My children would rightfully take issue with that.

We chose to be mothers.

I have a friend who has had a tough time in life, mostly at the hand of a short-lived series of big mistakes with harsh consequences.  What is amazing about this friend is that she has picked up her life, faced those consequences, and worked very hard to make big changes in the way she lives her life and treats other people.  Today, she is strong and kind and responsible and generous.  Those who meet her today cannot MISS the confidence and clear-headed warmth she exudes.

You know what still plagues this person I admire so much?  She can’t bear to tell her mother the things that she has done, can’t bear to see her disappointment. can’t bear to “break her heart”.  She continues to live under the shame we feel when we hide a part of ourselves to avoid rejection or judgment.

When we go down that path of believing the people we adore are too special to tolerate the worst parts of us, that they need to be protected from our humanity, we rob them of knowing us and sacrifice our relationship in the process.  And if we as mothers become so confident in our work that we refuse to see the worst, or take it personally somehow, we sacrifice our relationships with our children, choosing blinders instead.

It is the relationships that need to be prized and nurtured, more than the individual players.  If everyone is appreciated and celebrated equally, then everybody gets to be equally human.  No one gets to hide in a glass castle.  No one gets to pretend she is perfect.  And no one has to suffer a burning at the stake.  Everyone has a right to complain at times.  Everyone needs to forgive at times.

I want my kids to know that they can bring their worst to me.  (It seems to come naturally to them for now.)  I won’t save them from natural consequences, but I will always work hard to make my first response one of compassion.  “Yes,” I want to tell them, “it sucks to mess up.”  But one of life’s greatest skills is learning to live through the bad stuff, even when – no, especially when – we have created it ourselves.  And if we can master THIS skill, and NOT hide in shame, we can live life fully, less afraid of messing up.  That lesson is what I most want to teach my children.  It is the example I want to set, the mother I want to be.

Happy Mother’s Day to my mother, all the mothers in my life who have been role models for me, and all the mothers who share this journey with me.  May you enjoy tomorrow and time with those you love.

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5 Responses to “Why Mothers (or other family members) Do Not Belong on Pedestals”

  1. “When we go down that path of believing the people we adore are too special to tolerate the worst parts of us, that they need to be protected from our humanity, we rob them of knowing us and sacrifice our relationship in the process.”

    One of the more beautiful and poignant statements I’ve read (and struggled with myself) in a long time. Thank you, Sally and hugs all around!

  2. Joanne Toft said

    Well said and happy Mother’s Day!

  3. brennagee said

    Honesty goes a long way. My kids seem to be very aware of my flaws and mistakes.;) I hope this helps them feel it’s OK to let their guard down and be a little fragile or messed up. I’ll still be there. Good thoughts Sally.:)

  4. well written, poignant. nice work, Sally, you ARE Smart : )

  5. […] I have found my way to a more mature interpretation of my own upbringing, slowly more certain in my philosophy of life and parenting.  It just so happens that this book says it better and applies it more broadly than I have to […]

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