Have a not-so-mushy Mother's Day
A traditional tattoo in prisons everywhere is the arm or chest emblazoned with loving salutes to “Mom.”
Mother apparently is singled out for special attention because she is the only one in the bearer's life who has loved, forgiven and taken him back time and time again, regardless of how seriously he has messed up.
Maybe she shouldn’t have.
While their tribute is as touching as all get-out, I'd say both mother and offspring might be missing something. Children should know that the greatest acknowledgment they can give their mothers doesn't come in the form of flowers, nice cards and gifts, or even a cool tattoo scratched into a really buff bicep.
What your mother wants most from you is for your life to work. You want to say “thank you” to your mother? Be a good person.
And Mom? If you believe unconditional means any old behavior is accepted, overlooked and forgiven, you're missing the boat. Mothers have to be as much a wall as a pillow.
With apologies to Hallmark, what I dislike about the day devoted to Mother, with all its treacle and fluff, is that it focuses entirely on the soft side of mothering and completely ignores the solid. Being kind, gentle and forgiving is an essential part of the mothering gig. But being a tough cookie who won't let kiddo get away with zilch is equally important.
When our kids are straying from the straight and narrow, they need to run smack into a brick wall that directs them back on the path. That wall's name should be Mother. One of the qualities our society needs most right now is respect. Respect for other people, respect for other opinions, respect for natural resources, respect for ourselves. And, like it or not, the first and strongest lessons our children learn about respect come from? You guessed it: Mother.
Sometimes, in the mall or grocery store, I feel instantly anachronistic and appalled by the way I hear children addressing their mothers -- and vice versa. I cringe when I hear a little child of 5 or 6 sassing his mother, being bratty, disrespectful and demanding, and I feel a nasty foreshadowing of the direction that relationship will take as the child grows taller. Children usually don’t get sweeter as they get older.
As mothers, we must generate respect – give it, show it, expect it, and sometimes command it -- and receive it with graciousness and dignity. This is a complex process. It means that, in addition to respecting ourselves, we must respect our children.
Demonstrating our respect starts early and manifests itself in subtle, practical ways. For example, a mother who respects her baby won't just walk up without warning and start scrubbing a washcloth over the child's face. From a baby's perspective, that amounts to assault. Mothers who respect their children take time with them, and try to see adult actions from a child's viewpoint.
Mothers show their respect for their children in their behavior, in the tone of their voices. You can bet a mother who orders a toddler around and consistently bellows at an 8-year-old is going to end up having a disrespectful, out-of-control teenager. Young humans are utterly dependable at mimicking what they see. Insist that a child respect you without giving respect first and you simply breed insurrection – an equation that is persistently missed not only by parents, but also by school administrators and politicians.
Children also learn respect by how much respect their mothers command. Lifetime patterns are based on this. If we let our children speak hatefully and disrespectfully to us, we train them to believe that the rest of the world will accept such behavior. If we are in a relationship with a partner who abuses or demeans us, we train our children that this is what we, what women, deserve. Children will act out that message for the rest of their lives.
It isn't easy to be firm in a world that so often confuses firmness with meanness. Learning to insist without coercion, to be resolute without nastiness, to be compassionate without being a sucker can be a tricky business. Training ourselves to give and command respect in a culture that tells us we aren't worth much can be a lifetime pursuit.
To do all of this with the clock ticking, with a child's future hanging in the balance, is the trickiest of all.
When we become mothers, we hit the deck running, learning life's lessons on the fly. Most of us don't do a perfect job of it, and many of us are much more aware of the ways we've failed than the times we've succeeded.
So this year on Mother's Day, sure, take your mother to brunch, give her something nice. Thank her for being sweet and understanding and kind.
But even more, thank her for toeing the line with you. Thank her for insisting that you behave, for demanding that you do well, for requiring decency of you. Thank her for the occasional kick in the rear that grabbed your attention and steered you toward a better future.
Thank her for being your wall as much as your pillow. Have a great life and let her know she got the job done.