Mother’s Day Reflections: About Being a Mother

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"Mother's Kiss" by Mary Cassatt

It’s hard to imagine my life without children. And yet when I was young I didn’t particularly care for them. They seemed like alien beings whom I could never hope to understand, let alone control.

Well, I still don’t understand them, I never had control, but I’m glad that I had them. I don’t think it’s melodramatic to say that they changed my life.

I wonder sometimes what my own mother thought of motherhood. She wasn’t the maternal type, even though she had always wanted children. But she had hoped for six boys, partly, I think, because she thought they would raise themselves. Instead she got two daughters.

She loved us, I know, and was proud of us. But she either didn’t know how or didn’t want to be a mother to us. My father is the one I remember going to when I needed comfort and advice. My mother was too critical and too self-involved for me to feel a strong attachment to her.

But, still, she was my mother. And she shaped the kind of mother, and woman, I would become.

I was determined to be a better mother than she had been. I was successful in some ways; not so successful in others. And yet, the proof is in the pudding: I raised four daughters and they’re all wonderful and amazing people. So I either did something right, or God sent me four miracles.

I’m probably as self-involved as my mother ever was, but I keep quiet about it. And I rarely criticize my children, at least not to their faces. I believe in letting them make their own mistakes, even as I wish I could steer them away from them.

That was probably the one thing my mother did right: for someone who liked to control others, she was hands-off when it came to my making my own decisions. She had her fits from time to time, mostly about my quitting college when I was 20 to get married and have children. (Turns out that she was right about that; the fact that I didn’t finish school before I had children is the biggest regret of my life.)  But for the most part she kept her mouth shut and was supportive.

You don’t know how many times I think of her willingness to let me live my own life when I’m tempted to tell my own children how to live theirs. Some of the things I did must have alarmed, even grieved, my parents greatly. But they were always there for me.

Just as my parents put up with a lot from me over the years, so have my children. I haven’t been the mother I had originally wanted to be. Now that my kids are all raised and out on their own (one with a child of her own and another about to have one), I wonder sometimes if my being their mother matters that much to them any more.

But then one of them calls for advice or needs me to babysit or just seems to like my being there and I realize that once a mother, always a mother.

Turns out, I’m not sorry about that.

 

 

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

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