Five of the Greatest Gifts A Mother Can Give Her Children On Mother's Day
Why do we often hear that Mother’s Day is a day filled with anxiety, sadness, guilt, anger and unfulfilled expectations? There are a myriad of answers to why mothers experience those feelings and a complicated array of scenarios people have to navigate on this holiday. On of the challenges of this holiday is how we try to package the universal feeling of motherhood into the the diversity of people’s experiences It is impossible for me to address everyone’s situation. What I do bring to the table is my experience as a mom and step-mom, as well as a daughter of a step-mom, mom and mother-in-law. From these experiences, I have a few ideas on how to help children have an easier time around this emotionally laden holiday. I also find it interesting that a similar dynamic doesn’t seem to happen as intensely on Father’s Day. There seems to be something unique to mothers that creates vulnerabilities to these difficult emotions. Below are five of the many dynamics that play a part in creating an emotionally stressful holiday rather than a celebration of the unique gifts of motherhood.
#1 Lower your expectations. As they say in 12-step programs, an expectation is a premeditated resentment. On this day especially, don’t put your self-esteem needs on your children’s shoulders. Having expectations for what your children should or shouldn’t do to express their feelings toward you on this day is a mine-field for them to navigate. Allow them the freedom to do nothing or everything.
#2 Assert yourself. Instead of saying, “I don’t want anything,” which is rarely true, tell them what you would like instead of expecting them to “know.” A simple card, a letter, time together can be easy ways of easing the anxiety they may feel about trying to get it right for you.
#3 Be selfish. Selfless parenting inevitably asks the child to take care of the parent. Learn to take care of yourself so your child doesn’t have to. Take care of yourself in whatever ways works for you: working, not working, girls night out, relaxing bath, mani-pedi, exercising, reading, taking a class, volunteering, or following your passions, etc. All of these are ways you can emulate self-care for your children. I have a friend whose mom constantly reminds her children how she could have been a concert violinist but didn’t so she could care for her kids. This message sends a potentially crushing message. How does a child not feel responsible for her parent’s self-worth in this scenario?
#4 Don’t use your children as a mirror. A common trap, particularity for mother's is to view their children as an extension of themselves. In this way, the child’s success and failures are evidence of mom’s relative “goodness” or “badness.” This burden is too much for a child to bear. Mom needs to make her life and happiness her project rather than placing this responsibility on the child. It is time to dispel the outdated adage “You are only as happy as your most unhappy child.” This seemingly loving sentiment yolks children to take on the unlived life of their mothers. If mothers can learn that it is okay to take care of themselves, they can then provide a stronger foundation for attachment, leading to the best chance for a child developing a strong sense of self.
#5 Forgive yourself. This will take some work, perhaps a lifetime of effort. It will take work because we were taught throughout our lives that how other people felt was our responsibility This lesson contributed to our sense of connectedness, but robbed us of our ability to see ourselves clearly. We make mistakes—a lot of them. Our parents made mistakes with us too. However, we don’t have to bathe in guilt. The ideal is to strive to hold, at the same time, the idea that we are doing the best we can and we can do better. We can learn to forgive ourselves of being human, falling short and failing while at the same time striving to pick ourselves up and aim towards ideals that lead us to wholeness and health. The greatest spiritual leaders called this attribute humility. It is not pride nor is it indifference. It is self-honesty and courage, despite how we were conditioned to believe that it was our actions that cause our parents emotional distress. And when we forgive ourselves, we can more clearly see our children without reacting from a position of self-defense.
Hopefully by allowing our own needs to be present and not expecting our children to fulfill our unconscious self-esteem needs it can be a healthier, more rewarding day.