I had something completely different in mind to write about this week, but sometimes stuff happens that pushes aside other stuff that happens and I just gotta write about it.
MY MOTHER’S LOVE
I will be the first to say that I had a conventional middle-class childhood. I grew up in a two-parent household in the suburbs with my four sisters and a brother, my mom didn’t work, and my dad didn’t involve himself in parenting unless he was called upon to be the disciplinarian. We were well-cared for, always had full bellies, new clothes twice a year, and lots of gifts at Christmas and birthday times.
But, even though I had everything I needed physically, I did not escape childhood without trauma. No one can. This is not about comparing my trauma to your trauma. Trauma is trauma, and not getting the kind of love, encouragement, and sense of worthiness I needed is the mess I’m still trying to clean up in late adulthood.
Years ago I read a book called The 5 Love Languages, by Gary Chapman. I'd highly recommend it if you want to explore what your love language is and what that means. It’s also now available as a quiz to find your personal love language.
My mother’s love language — her way to show love — was Giving Gifts, and my love language — the way I wanted to receive love — was Words of Affirmation. So, my mother made wonderful meals, gave us treats, and bought us things that she wanted when she was a girl. I grew up hungry and insatiable, because no amount of food, and no amount of shopping, could fill the void between my ears — my mother telling me that I was valued, worthy and that she loved me.
Please believe me when I tell you that my mother was a lovely person, but no one is perfect. I’m pretty sure my mother also yearned to receive words of affirmation from her mother but learned to speak the love language of giving gifts like her mother spoke to her. And I’m also pretty sure her mother wanted words of affirmation but did not get what she wanted. This cycle is what I would call The Mother Legacy...
As infants, our mothers are our source for everything. They are our world. We are wounded when we yearn for one kind of love but receive another. This mixed message is passed down from one generation to the next until the legacy can be broken.
Possibly the most heartbreaking thing I’ve ever heard was something like, “given the choice between being loved and her/his self-identity, a child will always choose to be loved.”
Think about that for a moment...
MY MOTHER’S GIFT TO ME
So yes, I grew up not getting everything I needed from my mother and I’m pretty sure most of you have too. There are many, many incidents in my life where my mother’s own crippling sense of unworthiness, was passed onto me.
My mother also gave me many life gifts.
First of all, growing up in a big family and having three older sisters, by the time it was my turn to leave the nest, my mom already had a passel of grandkids and was a caretaker to most of them. I cannot ever remember my mother pressuring me to get married and have children. I know it wasn’t my mother’s idea to have six children (plus one she gave up for adoption), but she had very few options available to her, even if she hadn’t had a child outside of marriage.
My mom wanted more than the life her own mother had (17 children and a life on the farm). She left home, following a man she thought she was in love with to Vancouver, only to become pregnant. In the 1950s, women had few choices for work, and she was fired from her job as floor scrubber in the St. Paul’s Hospital morgue as soon as she began to show. During this tumultuous time, she met my dad, and his own mother legacy would not allow him to marry her until after she had given her son up for adoption.
With this great shame, came the end of my mother’s plans for a different life than her mother. But she still had hope (albeit unexpressed) for her girls.
Even for me, the fat girl who didn’t have a boyfriend in high school so didn’t get married or pregnant as my older sisters did, I never felt the nudge from my mother to follow her path. And I didn’t. Instead, I moved into the big city, got myself a career (despite my yearnings for a husband and kids) and then at 25, realized having children was a choice, not a must. I chose not to have them, and I waited to find the right man to marry, which I did at the age of 42. I thought I had ended the legacy.
One of the things that most attracted me to my husband is that he is a father. And yet, when his daughter came to live with us I turned into someone I didn’t want to be. I wasn’t exactly the tyrant I believed of myself for many years, but neither was I the kind of mother I would have wanted. Fortunately, my husband’s daughter is very easy-going and only wanted me to give her the kind of love she seemed to need the most — you’ve probably already guessed it – Words of Affirmation. But I had no skill in that department, so I cooked lovely meals, bought her new clothes on a regular basis, and gave her treats.
I did not end the legacy, but fortunately, my step-daughter did. Every time we speak, she tells me how much she loves me, how much she values having me in her life, how much she learned from me. This is because, although she may have needed to hear that she was worthy of my love, she uses the love language I believe she most resonates to, every day.
And yet, one day, her son will realize that he didn’t get something from his mother or his father that he wished he had. It’s human nature and what drives change (at least I hope it does.)
WHAT IS A MOTHER, ANYWAY?
Did you know that Mother’s Day was not always found on a Hallmark card, but founded by a suffragette and warrior for peace? “Julia Ward Howe — abolitionist, activist, and poet — wrote the original Mother’s Day Proclamation in 1870. Tired of war, tired of tribalism being valued above the lives of the vulnerable, her pain became her mission. She called out for revolution and she called this revolution: Mother’s Day.” — The Compassion Collective
One of the things I always shared with my mom, was Mother’s Day. My birthday is May 10th, and it always falls around Mother’s Day, so it was often a joint day. As a woman who chose not to have children (and has no regrets, but many, many happy memories of being a fabulous aunt and now grandmother) Mother’s Day has not meant to me what it means to many women. I don’t know what it means to pass down my DNA, nor what a baby feels like in my body. And yet, my step-daughter, my husband, and my mother-in-law, always make it a point to wish me a Happy Mother’s Day.
I had a short Facebook exchange with a very reasonable man that I respect when another childless friend asked me to back her up that women who don’t give birth to babies, but instead give their love to their fur babies, is indeed a mother. So, I gave my thoughts, knowing that there was no way I was going to change this man’s mind. And I didn’t. I’m not even sure I’m comfortable calling my dog or cat my fur baby. It doesn’t sit right with me.
I will say that I believe all women are mothers at their core. It is who we are and what makes us so beautiful. From mothering our dolls to our children; from mothering our pets to the men we choose to love, we instinctively open our hearts with love and compassion, however misguided it may sometimes be.
The other day was my birthday and it was full of fun that my li’l kath ran wild with. I had planned to take over Starbucks and get my free birthday drink at all 8 Moncton area locations. It didn’t happen, but we sure had fun trying.
Later, when I was talking to a friend I haven’t spoken to in a long while, I saw a little duckling running across the road in front of our house. I immediately launched into mother mode. My hubby rescued him from under a parked truck, and we took him inside after his mother didn’t show up. I worried over that baby, just as any mother would. I’ve never cared for a duckling before, but I researched and we did everything we could to make sure he would live. I stayed up until midnight, checking in on him, and was up at six again to make sure he was still with me. Our little trooper, Gus I called him, was a champion. When I dropped him off at a vet in town who is affiliated with a wildlife rescue, I was a bit sad, as I’d already fallen for him and his little cuteness of wanting to nest in my hand.
Motherhood, to me, is love and the willingness to put the living being that we love ahead of ourselves, no matter how briefly in our lives.
Just look at this cutie-pie!
kathy mercure is a writer and a storyteller, who helps her clients to tell their personal and business stories. She is also known as a storylistener and a storyhealer whose life’s work is to gently draw stories from her students and help them unblock their writing, find their voice, and heal their lives. Her passion is to support women and men in realizing their true identity as a valued human being, claiming their passions, and speaking their truth as they become their most authentic selves. Contact: kathy mercure, storyteller.