Lessons from mothers
by Cheryl Dizon-Reynante
One of my earliest memories as a young child was when I was four or five years old and I wandered away from my mother. Lost in a large department store, I feltpanickedasIsearchedforher. When I finally found her and our eyes met, I saw the same panic in her eyes that must have been in mine. I knew that she was looking for me too and instantly felt safe again. Years later, I’ve come to realize that the look of worry that she had was also accompanied with guilt.
Now that I myself am a mother, I can relate to how she must have felt. My hunch is that being a young mother twenty, thirty or more years ago is different from being one now. Any hardships and difficulties were not discussed. Back then, admitting that you made a mistake meant that you failed miserably. This is evident in the media back then; television shows were the art form that imitated life. Often, mothers on sitcoms were perfect; able to raise children, cook meals, and keep the house clean (think of June Cleaver on Leave it to Beaver). And later when it became more acceptable to have a career, these mothers were successful and able to do it all (for example, Claire Huxtable on The Cosby Show). To top it all off, they looked very put together with perfect hair, makeup and clothes.
Any feelings that real-life mothers back then had of not being “good enough” were likely kept secret. But the 1980s and 90s began to bring us television shows (for example, Roseanne and Home Improvement) that were more realistic, revealing that motherhood is actually not such a smooth ride. As a culture, we started to admit that family life can be affected by marital tension, conflicts with career, financial stress, and illness.
Fast forwarding to today’s culture, motherhood is again difficult, but for some different reasons. Society has now gone to the other extreme where there is information overload. Yet, that inner critical voice that mothers naturally inherit is now accompanied by the critics found on social media, where it is so easy to judge and comment on others’ behaviours and decisions. Mothers are often criticized for having a career and being away from the kids, yet not contributing enough to family finances if they stay home. Some look down on new mothers for formula feeding their babies while being told not to breast feed in public. Mothers are expected to dress appropriately and not “too young,” yet they should not dress “like a slob.” If mothers raise their voice to their children, they are judged as harsh, yet if they are gentle, they are accused of coddling their children. If mothers have individual interests and hobbies, they are seen as selfish. Yet, if they stay home most of the time, they are too smothering.
No matter what era it is, there is no such thing as a perfect mother. We make mistakes, stumble, and fall just like everyone else. But I think this imperfection is a gift in itself because children learn from their mothers, their very first teacher in life, that it is human to err, and the main lesson lies in how we choose to get back up again. Hopefully, it is with grace, self-compassion, some laughter and a stronger determination.
One time, I saw a mother in a restaurant who was very frustrated with her children and loudly telling them to settle down. I overheard another patron criticizing her ability to control her children. Then I saw another woman quietly go up to the mother, smile, put her hand on her shoulder and say, “it’s not easy, is it?” The mother instantly softened and laughed a little, then seemed to enjoy the dinner with her family.
Even mothers need patience and understanding. It’s normal and okay for mothers to struggle sometimes. I thank my mother for unknowingly giving me the gift of this lesson among many, many others. These lessons have helped me navigate challenging times with my own children, and I hope that they will come to realize that mistakes are lessons in humility and opportunities to learn. Happy Mother’s Day to all!
“Being a mother is learning about strengths you didn’t know you had and dealing with fears that you didn’t know existed.” – Linda Wooten
Cheryl Dizon-Reynante is a licensed therapist with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association.