Sunday, May 12, 2013

Should We Celebrate "Bad" Mothers on Mother's Day?

Are good mothers made or are they born? Can we teach bad mothers to be better?

On this Mother's day if your mom is close and nearby give her a hug, a kiss, and a "thank you" for all that she did (and does) for you. If your mom is no longer here, having passed on, remember that she is still watching you, a hand on your shoulder, and offering gentle whispers of support and encouragement when you most need them. In either case, on Mother's Day do something that should would enjoy. It may mean little to you; however, it will mean a great deal to her.

I am blessed to have a wonderful mother. She indulged my curiosities, let me wander about the library and museum at will, protected me from bullies and mean folks whenever possible, and encouraged a love of learning and reading.

My mother also did small things--that at the time she didn't realize would mean so much to me these many years later--such as waiting in line for 8 hours to see Return of the Jedi in the rain when all of the other parents were gathering up the kids to leave. Her mantra was that parents should always try to avoid making promises to children if there is a good chance they will be broken later. If I ever have children I will continue with that rule.

My mother is also very patient, and encouraged a love of animals and respect for the elderly. She worked in, as she called it, the care giving and helping professions, i.e. as a private nurse, and believed that doing right by people was its own reward.

She is not perfect. My mother can be mercurial, childish, spiteful, and dramatic. She is also a horrible dancer, there most closely resembling a drunken Frankenstein carrying a bag of potatoes as she tries to show off at parties and wedding receptions. I love her all the more for those quirks. Her green pistachio jello pudding cake is horrific, as is her version of pepper steak. Please don't tell her that I let you in on those secrets.

My mom is pretty magnanimous about how she raised me, her only child. In those moments of self-praise, she is like Jerry Seinfeld who patted himself on the back for helping the kind Pakistani restauranteer Babu on the former's eponymously named TV show. I usually tell her to be quiet in those moments of exaggerated ego and too much crowing about her son, who in many ways, has failed to live up to his potential (yet and so far).

But, today, I will call and tell her an invented story about some failure of parenting I will claim to have witnessed on the bus, just so that she can say, "I would never have done that! What is wrong with those damn people!"

Mother's Day is for moms to gloat. How can I deny her that moment?

My mother--like many of yours--likely takes her ability to be a good, patient, and loving parent as a given.

Yes, my mother read those books by Doctor Spock that were all the rage in the 1960s and 1970s. I would like to believe that she would have been a fine parent either way. I did not grow up in a perfect home. But, I always knew that I was loved and I could get a hug from my mom or dad (and also from the many other surrogate mentors, aunts, and uncles I collected over the years).

Moreover, my mother did not need to read research on "early childhood investment" to know the following:
Many people acknowledge that it has to do with the fact that poor, uneducated parents don't realize the importance of reading to your child, talking to your child, taking your child to the zoo. It's not that they dislike it; they don't realize it's important. 
The message of Sesame Street is clear. Sesame Street was funded by public funds with the hope that it would help poor kids. But it helped middle classkids because the parents sat with them and explained it, and the gap in knowing your letters between the poor and affluent was bigger after Sesame Street than before. 
So it has to do with the failures of parents. Rarely is that in the press because there's a deep reluctance to blame the victim.
This American Life's story (starting at about 37:03) exploring how parenting skills must be taught to some, and that common sense norms such as holding and talking to your child, as well as reading to them, are atypical in some communities, is disturbing and sad to me. I am happy that bad mothers can be improved in how they parent their children. I am troubled that they would have to be.

Listen to this story and give your mom a literal or virtual/emotional hug if you can. Little things matter; if your mom did those things count yourself lucky and fortunate.


The Honourable Husband said...

I had a mother who deliberately withheld such personal, emotional contact her children, lest she be accused of spoiling them. It worked. I'm not spoiled. Neither am I well-adjusted, comfortable with love, living up to my potential, relaxed, nor terribly optimistic. But hey, at least I'm not spoiled.

That makes me want to give your mother a pat on the back, or even a hug. Please pass on my (belated) good wishes to her.

chauncey devega said...

Isn't it funny how there are so many different ways of interpreting love, and how there are also so many ways that parents try to do the best by their children?

Magda Kamenev said...

This was my first Mother's Day without my Mamacita. She was strict, controlling & contradictory, but also full of love and common sense, and so proud of me.

I don't remember her reading to me, but she must have. I don't remember Sesame Street, but we watched her stories and Dodger baseball together. But what I do remember is that she let me read every bit of printed matter that entered the house and she actively got more ... Just for me. There was Seuss, but also Reader's Digest and Red Book and old issues of Life. She made me the geek I am now.

chauncey devega said...

She sounds priceless. Those little things matter. Keep her memory alive by sharing and story-telling as I am sure you do.

Della said...

Lol! My mother hates me. Always has! From the time I was able to understand...4 or 5?... She called me her diaphragm baby. Unplanned. Unwanted. The sun rises and sets on my older sibs. She told me...when i was 7 or so...that my dad had had a vasectomy. I barely knew what a penis was never mind testicles! She said, proudly and with a sigh, there would be no more unwanted babies for her! She has never baked me a birthday cake. She killed my cat while i was at school. She refused to take me to the doctor (we're canadian with free health care) even when so sick i nearly died (a neighbour called the police). Mother's day means nothing to me.