Breaking the myth of the ‘Perfect Mother’

For many of us, Mother’s Day is anything but simple

I am a mother.
I have a mother.
I had a mother.
I am a mother.

Before I birthed my son, I had an image in my mind of the type of mother I wanted to be. She would be caring, compassionate. She would listen to all the words of her child with open ears and an open heart. She would be funny, and she would be supportive. She would be encouraging without being pushy. She would likely be a bit of a hippie, granola-y mom. She would play hopscotch, give lots of snuggles and kisses, and allow freedom of person. She would be free and not restrictive.

I had so many ideas, so many, of the mom that I wanted to be.

Included in these thoughts, of course, was the mom I did not want to be. The mother that I hoped that I would never be. That mother would be disagreeable. She would be harsh. She would raise her voice. She would not promote fun, or creativity, or self-worth. She would be judgemental. She would be pushy and restrictive. She would be all about rules. She wouldn’t have an open mind.

Both of these images I have—the mother I hoped to be, and the mother that I desperately never wanted to be—of course contain elements of my own mother. Because as we all know, no mother-daughter relationship is ever easy. And as we become parents ourselves, we rely on our own upbringing, our own role models and lived experiences and family supports, to define our own approach to parenting. How do we want to parent? What values were we raised with? Do we want to continue with the same models of parenting, or do we want to try a new model of parenting? How much involvement do we want from our parents in our children’s lives? How much advice do we want? Are we the same as our own mothers — and do we want to be?

Learning from our foremothers about who we want to be

My own relationship with my mother was a tangly one, marred by her lifelong battle with depression. My memories of my mother are blurred. They are a strange collage of images. There are childhood memories of swimming in pools in the hot summer sun in Lillooet, British Columbia, searching for saskatoon berries on highway roadsides, and watching her and my Nana at dining room tables piecing fabric together for quilts. I have foggy, barely-there memories of her laughter. I think of mealtime and smell meatloaf and chocolate chip cookies and apple pie. I smell so easily ‘White Diamonds’ perfume by Elizabeth Taylor.

But these memories are blurred by her own battle with depression, which for so long our family kept quiet, pretending to be like any other family on the block. And slowly my own memories of my mother became tainted with images of her anger, her rage, her sadness and sorrow.

After she died, I knew for many years the type of mother I did not want to be. I knew the many elements of her that I wished to never see in myself as a parent. I vowed to always be there for my child, to never turn my back on him or her, and to be open, empathetic, and true to both my child and myself.

And now here I am, a mom. There are days that I wonder: how did that happen? Is this little person really here? Where did this life come from? And a year and half into this bizarre thing called parenthood, I am still struggling to figure out just what type of mother I am. There are days when I am utterly overwhelmed by parenthood. Like, wanting-to-run-away-from-it-all sort of days. There is definitely the occasional day where I have slammed doors, hid in the bathroom with the shower on blast, soaking up the humidity and steam, letting everything else just slip away. And in those moments, I have visions all too clear of the mom that I did not want to be. I have flashback, I-have-been-here-before visions of a life already lived, and of a life I do not want. So I open the door. I take a deep breath. And I go back out there to be the mom, be the parent, be the person that I will somehow figure out to be. I am quickly learning that there is no such thing as the perfect mother.

I’m secretly terrified of becoming like my mother. I am terrified that my relationship with my child will someday mirror my own relationship with my mother — one of distrust and turmoil and heartache.

Learning how to forge a new path to motherhood

And just as desperately as I don’t want to be like my mother, I wish that she were here to give me guidance and advice. I’d love to have her on the phone with me, telling me that all my attempts at attachment-parenting are complete hokey, or helping me with a recipe over Skype, or suggesting books to read to my babe. I’d love to tell her about my babe’s first full sentence — “I do it! I did it!” — and to hear her tell stories of my own childhood breakthroughs.

Mother-daughter relationships are such complicated things. We love our mothers and we hate them; they are cherished and yet they haunt us. We so want to be like our mothers, and yet we’re terrified of being like them. We want their support and their worth and their trust, and yet we also want them to just love us for who we are.

And they say that Mother’s Day is simple. It’s anything but.

I do know that as I am blindly forging my way through parenthood, I will figure it out. Because as much as I wish that my mom was here to help me through it, she’s not. Instead I have this new little person, and he’s the one that is truly helping me figure out the mother that I want to be, and the mother that I am. The desire for play, for snuggles, for bedtime kisses and stories, for learning and experiencing and walks through the woods picking up stones and sticks — it’s all because of my new little person. He is now the one who is helping me discover the mother that I want to be, that I try to be, and that I truly am.

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