Hey, Mama. It ISN’T Up to You
Hey, Mama. Happy Mother’s Day.
I hope you got a slew of handmade cards and gifts inspired by all the sweet teachers and daddy’s out there. Whether you wanted a fancy brunch, breakfast in bed, a personal escape to alone time, your favorite movie…or some combination thereof…I hope you got it.
And, if you didn’t? Well, sweetie. You and I both know that there are years like that. Quite a few of them, I think.
Last year I got the fancy, amazing, more than I could eat, Sunday brunch, which was PERFECT.
This year I requested…and got…skipping church (shhhh…don’t tell), coffee, dozing in bed, and reading until mid-afternoon followed by a quick outing BY MYSELF then homemade pizza on naan bread complete with a gift of a clean house. BEYOND PERFECT.
The screaming and fighting I hear (from my bed) while the cleaning is taking place is priceless.
Mother’s Day comes this year right at the end of the semester so a day of rest after a week of meetings and grading papers is wonderful timing.
My absolute favorite gifts are the handmade cards. Even my teenager still creates something for me. This year she writes a poem for me that leaves me speechless. When I open my gifts, they know I am going to laugh hard…and cry. It doesn’t faze my kids at all. I think they have learned to get a kick out of my tears.
In fact, my youngest is watching for this prized response. “Are you going to cry when you read MY card, Mommy?”
I laugh. I cry. They hug me. “I love you, Mom”. We move on.
Right now I am sitting outside at a local outdoor wine bar for my brief alone time part of the day.
A morning of reading and coffee followed by an afternoon of writing outside? Yes, please.
Behind me sitting at a table is a grandmother, mother, and daughter, a little girl whom I judge to be about 2 years old. I am trying to ignore their conversation, which is strained, has little substance and only engages the little girl: “Do you want a cracker? Try some cheese! I think she is thirsty. Are you thirsty, sweetheart? Tell Grandma if you are thirsty.” At one point the grandmother and mother try to get the perfect picture that I am guessing they will post somewhere. I hear the grandmother say about five times: “Wow, this is a nice place” followed by silence or “tell Grandma what you ate for supper yesterday. Rice. Can you say rice?”
Oh, sweet ladies. Relationships can be complicated and hard sometimes, can’t they?
I know some of you…young and older…had these kinds of afternoons, too. You did it! Sometimes relationships aren’t worth persevering amidst that kind of strain. Other times they are. Whatever you chose today…be grateful for and gentle with your choice.
One thing that happens on Mother’s Day is an acknowledgement of all that mothers do to keep things going. There is a “Thank God for Mom” sentiment in the air. It is beautiful and honest and loving.
It also is commercialized and stressful and brings up a great deal of pain for many, many people.
Even so, it is a yearly ritual…one that punctuates the passage of time and transitions…an opportunity to take a picture and memorialize moments that once existed…or perhaps ones that never did.
Mama, I hope someone gave to you the sweet gift of acknowledgment. I hope you felt seen, known and appreciated. And, if no one gave it to you, I hope you gave it to yourself. Whether you mother your own children or not, if you are a woman I am guessing that you mother people in your world in your own important way.
As much as I hope you are appreciated and loved, as much as I hope your work and efforts are recognized, I want you to hear and know something else.
Today you may have heard that the world is running because of you…that you keep things going. Without you, where would we be?
That recognition and praise feels good for a hot second.
There is also a downside to this beautiful sentiment being communicated.
Here is the painful, liberating truth of it all.
You AREN’T keeping things running.
It ISN’T all up to you.
It isn’t all up to you, Mama. It just isn’t. The culture of your home. The behavior of your kids. The success of your family. It isn’t all up to you.
One of my favorite forms of manipulation that I find great enjoyment in watching is the “you are so good at that” strategy.
As in “Wow, you are so good at that!”
(And by good I mean I want you to keep doing it…or start doing it…NOW).
It can be preemptive: “I want to give you a leadership opportunity. I can’t WAIT to see how you shape and succeed in this area.” (Hear: “I have something I want you to do.”)
It can be proactive (or deceptive depending on your interpretation): “Thank you so much for coming to do this for us!” (Hear: “You haven’t actually agreed to do it yet, but now that I made you think that I THOUGHT you said ‘Yes’ and am SO excited about it you will feel guilty correcting me and saying ‘No’ so now you are most assuredly going to do what I want.)
Note: This one is quite genius.
It can be an afterward: “You did such an amazing job. I don’t think anyone does it quite like you. I hope you will continue to do it. We are in quite a jam without you!” (Hear: “Keep doing this.”)
Note: These are often menial tasks being blown up to sound like the most awesome opportunities in the world that showcase your best self and your most amazing gifts.
It is a tricky form of manipulation and control. Is it just good leadership? Being positive? Showing genuine appreciation? Is it smart use of power?
Is it in response to actual desperation? Is there a real need and you are the right fit?
The words themselves aren’t ugly or bad. It has to do with the intent behind them. Is there sincerity? Choice?
Or is it dictatorship with subtlety?
Sometimes, Mother’s Day can feel a little like this form of manipulation.
We are going to take a day and tell you how awesome you are and we would never make it without you and whatever you want today, sweetie, and thank you so much for keeping us together you are so sacrificial and awesome and never think of yourself and man how honorable and gracious and perfect you are because you never think of yourself and you just give and give and give.
Don’t stop. Keep doing this.
Mothers are told that they keep the family together.
This idea is true for a lot of families, but where I think we get into trouble is when we think we are REQUIRED to keep the family together.
If things fall apart…the weight on us is unbearable.
We end up taking responsibility for things staying together…AND for things falling apart.
Mama. MAMA. Listen, friend. Sweetheart. You just aren’t that powerful. It ISN’T all up to you. It ISN’T.
Life really IS a dance (thanks Garth) and there are a LOT of dancers and there are complicated dance steps.
A lot of things ARE out of our control.
I see women trying desperately hard to make sure their kids get the life they didn’t have as a child. Their standards for this perfect life are HIGH. They are anxious and exhausted and fearful. They are running from their own pain. They are re-parenting themselves even as they try to parent their children.
Mama, parenting two generations at a time is HARD.
Hard, Mama. HARD.
It just isn’t all up to you. No matter what the Mother’s Day messages insinuate. You are loving and strong and capable.
You are also imperfect and complicated and still growing. You are one person. You are beautiful. You are human.
You have permission to make mistakes, Mama. To have needs. To let your kids be disappointed.
You have permission to feed your children hot dogs and miss a deadline on a permission slip every now and then.
If things are tense at home the best thing you can do is to make sure YOU are healthy.
So, breathe, Mama. Work hard, play, take care of yourself and your family. Do your best knowing that doing your best is not synonymous with killing off pieces of you and pushing yourself to the point of exhaustion.
Make good decisions. Love well. Take responsibility. Apologize when you do something wrong.
Yes, all of these things.
And, yes, you ARE doing such an amazing job.
And, we DO need you to keep doing your thing.
And, maybe some of us ARE worried that if you don’t do it, then who will.
But, Mama. It ISN’T all up to you. You AREN’T that powerful. You just aren’t.
BREATHE. Let go. Let life live through you. Enjoy the complex, beautiful legacy your story is.
Take your hands off of it sometimes and watch it unfold.
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