When my first Mother’s Day as an actual mother with an actual child rolled around, I was expecting what you see on TV. Mom, in bed, waking up from a long and well-deserved rest to find her child and spouse coming into the room with a perfect (or adorably imperfect) breakfast on a tray. There would be flowers, there would be heartfelt words of appreciation, there would be hugs, and then Mom would be left to bask in the afterglow all by herself.
I learned quickly that this isn’t how Mother’s Day actually works. I’m about to hit Mother’s Day #6 and I haven’t had a single one that resembled that vignette in my head in any way at all. Most mothers I know dread Mother’s Day and only a small handful end up with that breakfast in bed or the trip to the spa that we’re told is so common.
My response has been to stop being disappointed and start making my own Mother’s Day. I treat myself. I think about how my journey is going and I try not to rely on any expectations. So if you’re in my position (or you want to be), here are some books you can treat yourself to for Mother’s Day this year as you ponder what you do every day.
Books on Motherhood
Finding commonality in parenthood is invaluable, especially when you’re going through the overwhelming early years or the overwhelming middle years or the overwhelming teenage years. An anthology is a wonderful solution, it offers up so many different stories that you’re bound to find many that relate to your own experience and many more that expand it. A perfect pick is Listen To Your Mother: What She Said Then, What We’re Saying Now edited by Ann Imig. This book grew out of a live stage show similar to The Moth where mothers and everyone who loves (or hates) them share their stories. And I should disclose that my passion for the movement led to my current role as Director of the Boston Listen To Your Mother production. The stories in this book are taken from hundreds and hundreds of stories shared by all kinds of women and men since the show began. Gay parents, adoptive parents, single parents, gifted kids, unusual kids, special needs kids, every struggle and every success is here and the essays are all brief so it makes a great book when you just need to pause for 5 minutes or so and take a minute to reconnect with your own humanity.
If you find yourself falling into the trap of mom guilt and feeling like you’re just not up to snuff, I recommend reading Bad Mother by Ayelet Waldman. Waldman’s essays push and pull and don’t care if they rub you the wrong way. She’s always straightforward about her emotions, about difficult decisions, and her famous statement that she loves her husband more than her kids. It’s a collection that makes you reconsider your own ideas about what parenthood means to you and gets your brain moving in a satisfying way that you may need if you haven’t talked to an adult in a few days.
Inspiring Mothers From Fiction
If you like fiction and you want to spend a little time with the perfect mothers you read about when you were young, revisit some young adult classics. First up: Marmee in Little Women. Marmee is supportive and loving, but she also challenges her daughters and wants them to grow up to be their best selves. A close second place goes to Marilla from Anne of Green Gables. If you’re feeling like a reluctant mother, like you’re not sure this is quite all it’s made out to be and you don’t know if you have the knack for it, remember Marilla. She wanted a boy, she wanted to take Anne back, and let’s try not to imagine what life would have been like if she’d had her wish. Watching Marilla change as she learns what real parenthood is reminds us that we don’t have to be a natural.
Mothers You Definitely Aren’t
If you don’t want inspiration, you can always go the opposite route and feel superior by comparison. Luckily, memoirs are full of bad mothers. Really bad mothers. Seriously awful mothers that will make you feel like you’ve really got a handle on this thing because you showed up today and you weren’t drunk.
Did you abandon your adolescent son to be raised by your delusional psychiatrist where he’ll encounter drugs, pedophiles, and all manner of situations that are almost too freakish to be believable? Well good. Then you’re doing much better than the mother of Augusten Burroughs in Running With Scissors.
Did you have heat in your home this winter? If there were icicles in your kitchen, would you tell your children cold weather is good for them? Do your children have to help you out of bed in the morning because the crushing of your artistic spirit is more important than putting food on the table? Then congratulations, you’re doing better than Rose Walls, the mother of Jeannette Walls in her memoir, The Glass Castle.
Have you provided your children with drugs, alcohol, or pornography? Do you chronically lie to them? Do you give them intimate details of your sex life? Then you deserve a pat on the back because you’re many steps up from the mother of Susanna Sonnenberg, author of the memoir Her Last Death.
See? You may have forgotten permission slips, lost your temper, or been stumped by 2nd grade homework, but you’re really not doing that bad now, eh?
Whatever gift you choose, make it count. Because the chances of that Sunday morning breakfast in bed aren’t looking so hot.
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