09 May Honoring a Not-So-Perfect Mom on Mother’s Day
“Her children rise up and call her blessed.”
“Thank you for being the best mom ever!”
These are Mother’s Day cards the three of us cannot purchase and give. Everything in us wishes we could. We want to honor our mothers and bring them joy, but we also want to be honest with the words we say. Every Mother’s Day is a reminder for each of us that our relationships with our mothers are more complicated than the happy, perfect ones depicted on greeting cards.
As a young child, we were joined at the hip. I couldn’t imagine not being her “mini-me” – leaving her for any amount of time was difficult on both of us. As I got older her expectations of me grew. If things weren’t done the way she would do them, the chore would be torn apart so that I would have to re-do it all over again until it was perfect. The choices I made were heavily influenced by her “suggestions”. She was my mom and so making her happy made me happy and I did everything I could to make her happy.
As the pressure to be perfect grew, so did I. In my teens I made a completely out of character choice, one that shocked everyone. A few years after I made this life-changing choice, I became a Christian. I knew that God wanted me to honor her but her constant jabs and unkind words were hard for me to handle and so I pulled away emotionally.
Through an especially difficult time in my life, I went to therapy and realized that my past hurts were dominating my present and future decisions. I was then able to truly accept God’s grace and its amazing gift. I also realized I needed to provide my mom the same. On one trip home, I took some time to sit with her and chat about her past and the scars she carries from it. Through that conversation and several others, I’ve been able to better understand her heart. She, too, was given high (and unreasonable) expectations and, because of this, her self-esteem suffered greatly.
Visits home are still uncomfortable, as there are constant digs about choices she disagrees with from marriage to parenting to hobbies. I understand that my choices are the complete opposite of what she would choose to do, but I refuse to change who I am. This type of relationship makes it impossible to be authentic; however, it’s growing me in His grace and mercy. My mom loves me very much and she loves me as best she knows how. I need to honor her in that.
For as long as I can remember, I have struggled in my relationship with my mother. I remember hearing there is a universally recognized tension often found in the mother/daughter relationship, and I ascribed my relationship struggles to that. I often felt guilty for not being able to handle that relationship with the same grace I saw others give. The phrase “if it’s not one thing, it’s your mother” seemed to be a theme in my growing up and young adult years. I wanted to honor her; I wanted to make her proud, to please her and meet her expectations; I longed to have a kinship and bond with her. But instead of getting better, it seemed to become more and more difficult.
Eventually, we discovered there was a beast of mental illness threatening to choke the life and joy from our relationship (and rippling throughout our extended family and into my children’s health). This tension now had a name. We needed to walk through the tension head-on, with godly counsel, in grace and truth. This season was daunting, especially walking through it with young children of my own to raise.
I was convicted that I had to be purposeful in finding ways to honor my mom, pointing out the beautiful ways she bears the image of God—the ways she uses her gifts from Him and reflects His heart (whether she knows it or not). I needed to be looking for those things so that I could help honor her and the ways God has fashioned her, so that her offspring—my offspring—could remember her in God-honoring ways as well. I needed to help my children know my mother in ways that didn’t allow her mental illness to define her. Not surprisingly, in doing this for the sake of my children and my mother, I began to grow in the real practice of grace-giving, even in the midst of ongoing heartache and pain.
The very first memory I have of my mother is of her crying into a pillow in our basement. She was sitting in the dark, mascara running down her face and scattered all over the pillowcase. At the time, I didn’t know what was wrong, but being the supportive (and also somewhat curious) daughter I was, I sat with her and tried to console her with what little experience I had as a kid in elementary school. Flash forward a couple of years, now in middle school, and I am standing on the porch at my grandparent’s recalling that night in the basement, but now knowing why she was upset. I had just discovered my mother struggled with addiction. How could it be that my mom, who I looked up to as a role model and admired so much, could struggle with this? What happened to the “relationship goals” and the fun shopping trips and inside jokes? Well, it all disappeared that day on the porch. I saw her drive away and I knew that we would have to walk home that night. This was only the first of many things we would have to do in response to her addiction.
As I entered high school, I realized that I needed to do something for myself. I could no longer be a student, a teen, and a caregiver. So, came the big move, a transition difficult for everyone involved. I cut off unhealthy relationships, embraced new ones, and began to work on and improve the nonexistent relationship I had with my mom.
Since then, a lot has changed. When I first found out about my mother’s struggles, it was difficult for me to respect her, but, since then, I have grown in my relationship with Christ and I have found ways to honor her as the Lord commands. As I get older, I have begun to realize the amount of pain she must have gone through, and is still going through. While our relationship is far from perfect, it is something that can always be improved. Mother’s Day reminds me that I am here to serve a purpose and that is to spread the love of Christ, and this includes my honoring, respecting, and loving my mother even when it is difficult.
Our Call to Honor
Each of us has realized our relationships with our mothers are probably not going to look like the relationships our friends have with their mothers. We have also realized that we are not the only ones for whom this is true. We have realized that we are called to love and honor our mothers in the best way we can. We are called to pray for their hearts and souls, and to cry out for healing and restoration in our relationships. We are called to continue to believe that healing is not outside the possibilities of our resurrection God. We cannot grow bitter, but we can grow better, and we can seek to continue to grow in grace and truth, to best pass along God’s ways to our children, and we can hope for better mother/child relationships with our own children.
So, for those of you who cannot wholeheartedly give an enthusiastic, sentimental card to your mother this Mother’s Day, consider asking the Lord to open your eyes to see how you may still honor her in other ways—passing along her some of her legacies…through favorite recipes, favorite songs, recounting happy memories—choosing to look for the good and to have the grace to forgive. Find creative ways to serve her, in person or through the legacy of honor in sharing about her with others. And consider purchasing one of the gushier Mother’s Day cards to give to a woman in your church who has served as a godly, spiritual mother to you. Bless her heart to know that she has mothered you and her legacy—a legacy of faith—is living on in your family because of her.