Mother’s Day is the most painful day of the year for me. I don’t think anyone can understand unless they wanted to be a mother—were raised to be a mother and played mother as a child while caring for younger siblings.
While I was growing up, my parents called women who did not have children selfish. They also called career women selfish, so I was not raised to have a career, but to simply be a mother and because I was not a mother, I did not meet their criteria of a successful woman. This wouldn’t be so shameful, but it often gives me the impression that people think I am from a lower caste. In times we’ve disagreed, some family members have used the fact that I never gave birth as a reason to discredit me.
Even more ironic, part of the reason I didn’t try to have children in my twenties was because my parents were homeless and some of my siblings were raising their children on welfare. When so many people I loved needed clothes or food or Christmas, I couldn’t see to follow my own dreams to become a mother. In some ways I never became a mother because I was too busy playing mother to my siblings and parents.
While other parents planned birthday parties for their children as I grew up, I learned to expect less and less for my birthday. As a young adult, I was determined to make up for all the lost birthdays my siblings had experienced. That’s why I learned to crack eggs and bake cakes and bought gifts for everyone. My sisters have shown their appreciation and given me gifts too, so I don’t feel unloved, but sometimes and especially on Mother’s Day, it’s hard not to be a part of that exclusive motherhood club–especially when people use it against you.
When I said belting a child is wrong, I’ve actually had a family member say, “You don’t know because you have never been a mother.” This makes me want to scream, “Did you frickin’ forget that I was the child beaten?” Probably the worst is when family members say that I shouldn’t tell my story because it hurts my parents to remember they hurt me–and even worse it hurts my parents to realize that not allowing me a high school education hurt me, because they forgot they were only pretending to home school me. So if they really forgot these things, does that mean I have to forget? Because my parents’ choices in my teen years have affected my entire adult life.
I don’t know how other mother hearts feel that never had kids, but I greatly feel the loss–the loss of not being a real mother and the loss of not having a mother who puts any effort into our relationship. I love my mom for what I have with her, but I get tired of pretending we have a real relationship. I wish I had a mom who rejoices when God does something cool for me without giving me a lecture. I wish we could talk about more than cats and weather. I wish I had a mom who called me instead of waiting for me to call her.
I’ve always wished my mom or sisters could come to a women’s tea or a mother daughter banquet in college. I always wanted a mom to make memories with without trying to make me into a person who looks and acts just like her. I wish she had a wider swath of acceptance and less judgment. I wish life had been different for her because at one time she was a different person and I blame poverty, false god constructs and her own heartache for those changes.
We can’t fix our parents brokenness—all we can do is love them, but it’s sad when you can’t even eat a meal with them—not at a restaurant because they won’t eat out, not at your home even when you invite them and would go all out to make them comfortable, not when you go to visit them and they quiz your theological beliefs for three hours and don’t seem to care how you feel about anything.
Around six years ago, my family went through what I call the great divorce. It was my breaking point. To have parents who judge and condemn and refuse to meet me, not in person or conversation, because they disagree. It’s sad that life is so short and that the tragedy of some families is not death–but lives not lived, jokes not told and special days not shared because no one can fit into the narrow requirements of fellowship. If you were to ask me at the end of my life, I will tell you I missed having a mother who loves me unconditionally more than I missed not being a mother.
Narcissistic parents don’t take responsibility for their own choices or bills because they live in perpetual victim-hood and believe their children were brought into this world to serve them. This is the reverse of the parenthood God intended. I believe God gave this understanding to me for a blessing on the day before my fiftieth birthday, so I could finally see with clear eyes that my parents will never change—that I could never measure up and that I did not need to please them any more. This truth has set me free. I am fully awake now and I can’t go back to sleep.
As I do less and less with my family, I have become more and more at peace. Those events were my unmaking and breaking and now I have created more good things in my own life because I have allowed myself to be broken and reformed to whatever God has for me. I took off the expectations given to me by my parents—of which one was to be a mother. I had to lose myself to find out who God created me to be.
Today after much soul searching (and eating a bag of Kettle chips), I realize that I have always been a mother in my heart. God put that compassion there and it is not dependent on giving birth. When I first stood on that step stool at five years old to warm a bottle of milk in a pot of boiling water, when I took that hot milk and squirted it on the inside of my arm and watched the red streaks forming to show me it was too hot to feed to the babies, I was being a mother.
When I changed dirty diaper after dirty diaper, I was being a mother. When picked up the toys and hugged the crying and made cookies and taught my siblings to read, I was being a mother. When I planned birthday parties and family events and gave away all my money and time, I was being a mother. There was nothing selfish about it, I did what had to be done.
So for all the big sisters and oldest siblings and child laborers who first had their childhood stolen and then lost out on motherhood because they were caring for the children their parents chose to have—I just wanna say it. It’s time for you to forgive yourself for not living up to your parents’ and society’s expectations. You don’t have to give birth to have a mother’s heart. You are NOT selfish. You did the best you could and God is a mother too, and she looks on you with tender compassion and cares about the dreams of your heart. Use these broken feelings to cling to God as your Parent, because God wants you to become yourself!
One of my favorite singers has just release a new album, let’s hear it for Nicole Nordeman who often sings what I feel.