Quest for a Quote
Mother’s Day is wonderful for some people and super uncomfortable or downright painful for others. I have some mixed feelings about it. I think it’s a Hallmark holiday (even though I know it didn’t start that way.) But I often struggled to figure out what to do for my Mother on Mother’s Day, and I was dismayed to discover that – even though I think it’s a Hallmark holiday – the ways my kids acknowledged me on Mother’s Day mattered a lot.
For years, there was also my mother-in-law, who needed to be taken into account, and my stepdaughter’s biological mother, and it was a complex and frustrating holiday. I used to promise myself that once my girls became mothers, I would leave town for the weekend so they could enjoy the day themselves.
So it’s not surprising that I often have trouble finding a quote I really like for my daily Facebook post. I want to find something that applies to people who have great relationships with their mothers, and those who don’t speak to their mothers. I want it to make sense to the mothers whose kids live with them forever and the mothers of those kids who don’t speak to them.
I want a quote that applies to biological mothers, foster mothers, step-mothers, stay-at-home mothers, career mothers, and the mothers who left. It has to work for the “you’re like a second mother to me,” mothers, and of course for the men who mothered some of us. Plus, of course, it has to fit my own socio-political ideas about motherhood.
It is not easy.
Part of the difficulty is that Mother’s Day has become a celebration of the archetype of Mother – the all-loving archetype of warmth, nurturance and creativity, growth and love. Mother Earth – sunshine, gentle rains, crops and harvest. Mother with a baby at her breast – holding, rocking, soothing, nurturing, maybe with a toddler playing contentedly at her feet, an older child doing homework nearby.
This aspect of the archetypes gives us these kinds of quotes:
“I realized when you look at your mother, you are looking at the purest love you will ever know.”
~~ Mitch Albom, For One More Day
Or this one:
“A mother is the truest friend we have, when trials heavy and sudden fall upon us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends desert us; when trouble thickens around us, still will she cling to us, and endeavor by her kind precepts and counsels to dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts.”
~~ Washington Irving
Those are far too cloying sweet for me. Here’s the archetype described through the lens of patriarchy:
“It is a fundamental truth that the responsibilities of motherhood cannot be successfully delegated. No, not to day-care centers, not to schools, not to nurseries, not to babysitters. We become enamored with men’s theories such as the idea of preschool training outside the home for young children. Not only does this put added pressure on the budget, but it places young children in an environment away from mother’s influence Too often the pressure for popularity, on children and teens, places an economic burden on the income of the father, so mother feels she must go to work to satisfy her children’s needs. That decision can be most shortsighted. It is mother’s influence during the crucial formative years that forms a child’s basic character. Home is the place where a child learns faith, feels love, and thereby learns from mother’s loving example to choose righteousness. How vital are mother’s influence and teaching in the home—and how apparent when neglected!”
― Ezra Taft Benson
That quote could be subtitled “Instilling guilt in women who think they should have a career outside of motherhood.” Clearly, that quote is not going up on my Facebook page!
In response to that patriarchal and limiting view of mother, we get quotes like this:
“I wasn’t put on this earth to be housekeeper to my own child or to anyone else for that matter.”
― Lynn Freed
Or this one:
“And really, how insulting is it that to suggest that the best thing women can do is raise other people to do incredible things? I’m betting some of those women would like to do great things of their own.”
― Jessica Valenti, Why Have Kids?: A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness
The flip side – the “shadow” side – of the archetype for “mother” is Mother Nature, with her tsunamis and hurricanes, floods and drought. Mommie Dearest and evil step-mothers are aspects of the archetype. Some quotes reflect that.
“I’ve spent my whole life trying to get over having had Nikki for a mother, and I have to say that from day one after she died, I liked having a dead mother much more than having an impossible one. ”
~~ Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith
Or this one:
“You don’t know what it’s like to grow up with a mother who never said a positive thing in her life, not about her children or the world, who was always suspicious, always tearing you down and splitting your dreams straight down the seams. When my first pen pal, Tomoko, stopped writing me after three letters she was the one who laughed: You think someone’s going to lose life writing to you? Of course I cried; I was eight and I had already planned that Tomoko and her family would adopt me. My mother of course saw clean into the marrow of those dreams, and laughed. I wouldn’t write to you either, she said. She was that kind of mother: who makes you doubt yourself, who would wipe you out if you let her. But I’m not going to pretend either. For a long time I let her say what she wanted about me, and what was worse, for a long time I believed her.”
~~ Junot Díaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Those reflect the shadow side of “mother” as intensely as the cloying sweet ones reflect the all-good mother. Way too harsh for Mother’s Day. I would be more likely to use this one, which at least recognizes different aspects of “mother.”
“In a child’s eyes, a mother is a goddess. She can be glorious or terrible, benevolent or filled with wrath, but she commands love either way. I am convinced that this is the greatest power in the universe.”
― N.K. Jemisin, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
In real life, moving away from archetypes and polarized aspects of mothers, I find quotes like these, which reflect real people who mother us, who struggle to come to terms with what it means to be “mother.”
“Mom’s eyes held yours for a moment. ‘I don’t like or dislike the kitchen. I cooked because I had to. I had to stay in the kitchen so you could all eat and go to school. How could you only do what you like? There are things you have to do whether you like it or not.’ Mom’s expression asked, What kind of question is that? And then she murmured, ‘If you only do what you like, who’s going to do what you don’t like?”
― Shin Kyung-sook, Please Look After Mom
Or this one:
“But will you not have a house to care for? Meals to cook? Children whining for this or that? Will you have time for the work?” “I’ll make time,” I promised. “The house will not always be so clean, the cooking may be a little hasty, and the whining children will sit on my lap and I’ll sing to them while I work.”
― Gloria Whelan
In real life, we get quotes like this:
“Maybe a mother wasn’t what she seemed to be on the surface.”
― Jodi Picoult, Handle with Care
Or this one:
Maybe it’s just a daughter’s job to piss off her mother.”
― Chuck Palahniuk, Diary
Or – a personal favorite:
“Of course mothers and daughters with strong personalities might see the world from very different points of view.”
― Katherine Howe, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane
If we’re lucky, we grow into being able to distinguish our mothers from the archetype of mother. We learn to recognize our own mother’s strengths and failings, and recognize that she was just a person, not really a goddess at all.
Ok, maybe there is a bit of goddess in all of us, but we are mostly human. And as we find ourselves cast in the role of “mother” we may feel as conflicted as this quote suggests:
“I want to mother the world, I thought. I have so much love.
Then—I have no business being a mother. I am a selfish woman.
Then—I can do this. Millions of women have been mothers.
Then—I feel very alone. I do not know what I’m capable of.”
― Megan Mayhew Bergman, Birds of a Lesser Paradise: Stories