I knew that I was probably going to cry when I asked moms to share messages for their own mothers on Mother's Day, but I didn't realize I would double my daily tissue count. (And it's a particularly terrible allergy season in my neck of the woods you guys, so that's saying a lot.) Motherhood is an enormous, daunting, and often deeply emotional subject to broach — far more complicated than anything you can convey with a Mother's Day card — and that's just looking at things from the perspective of being your mother's child. When you're also a mother, suddenly you have a completely different, sometimes competing perspective.
In asking other moms for their messages, I wanted to be clear that I wasn't just interested in hearing the flattering, rosy, frankly typical messages we are used to hearing on and around Mother's Day. "I love you and you're the best and you're always there for me and thank you." Certainly I didn't want to preclude those messages, since even if the bones are the same the meat of them is always unique. However, I wanted to hear the full spectrum of emotions we feel about our moms: love, anger, sadness, confusion. I wanted messages that were glowing, cathartic, and bitter, as long as they were honest. I also wanted to these messages to be for those who are not only technically our mothers, but for those who were deserving of the title whether or not they actually held it.
What I got was a group of moms who were open, vulnerable, funny, raw, and insightful. I'm so honored that they chose to share these messages, and I'm pleased to share them with you.
"Before becoming a mother, I thought that it was OK that some mothers don't tell their children they are smart or beautiful because 'other people will tell you, and I don't want you getting a big ego.' I thought it was OK that some mothers don't say 'I love you' to their children. After becoming a mother, I learned that I wanted to be the opposite of you. I learned to put my children's needs before my own, to give them the last piece of pizza instead of eating it myself, to tell them they are amazing 100 times a day, to teach them to be kind, selfless, to never lie to them, to never blame them for my unhappiness, to never make them feel like a burden and instead to value them as the blessings they are. I am a good mom because you weren't. And for that, I'm thankful to you."
"Now that I'm a parent I understand where you were and are coming from and appreciate that you mean(t) the best. But I'm going to do things a little differently based on how your behavior and words made me feel, and we're all going to be OK with that. I also understand that you have thoughts about how I live my life, but I'm a big kid now, so I get to decide. You've come a long way and I love you."
"I know I tell you all the time that I love you, but when I say that I think I actually mean 'I love you and everything you have given me, taught me, shown me and most of all how much I have become a version of you.' You have never turned your back on me, even when you wanted to strangle me for getting my first tattoo. You have always been there for me during my darkest times and never made me feel as though I was being a pain by needing help. I have always admired your strength, courage and love. If I can be 1/10 the mother that you are, I know that my daughter will be able to handle everything that comes her way. So I just wanted to remind you that I love you!"
I'm sorry for all the times I wrote "my mom is such a bitch!" in my diary. You didn't deserve that! Also, I'm sorry I stole your 'back massager' for most of middle school. I didn't know that I wasn't the only one who had discovered you can massage more than just your back. Now that my 4 year old has made the same discovery, I know how awkward that must have been for you!
"I realize you did the best you could at the time. I know how much guilt that brings you, especially as you see me striving to be the mother you were not. The wounds of my childhood are being healed through my transition into motherhood, and your wounds are being healed as you forgive yourself in your role as grandmother. Thank you for taking care of me, and teaching me, even though you were more of an example of what not to be and do. You are a wonderful grandmother, and I am so glad we have these years together — healing singularly and together."
"From the surprise notes in my lunchbox, to being head of the PTA, to never missing a single game or dance competition, to giving up a career to stay home, and being there not only physically, but emotionally. For being tough when I needed it, and accepting when I needed it more. For being so proud of my accomplishments, no matter how small or big. For giving me wings to fly, and letting me know you'd be there when I fell. For loving me when I was unlovable. For taking care of my heart when I was given devastating news about my own child, while being heartbroken yourself about your grandchild. So selfless. So amazing. If I can be only half the mother to my children you were and continue to be to me, they will be so very lucky."
"I have been a mother to three, as you are. I have always loved my children unconditionally. They are their own people. I look at my youngest and my heart bursts with love for her, half the time it's followed by sheer amazement and sadness for you, that you do not have the capacity to love that I have. I am a good and warm mother in spite of your teachings, in spite of your coldness and shortcomings. I'm sorry you've not ever had this love in your life. If you'd looked down and seen how much I wanted to be loved, and how I loved you when I was small, I could've taught you."
I never understood how awful I treated you when I was trying to be dad's perfect little girl. Now that you have Parkinson's, I am terrified of losing you. I am terrified that when you are gone the kids will hate me. Being a mom is hard and you did such an amazing job. I hope you choose to move closer and let me help you. I love you.
"I never realized how exhausted you must have been. You filled every day with fun, songs, crafts, and goofiness. You did it with a smile and you never complained. You were our biggest cheerleader, our greatest fan. You must have collapsed in exhaustion every night, but we never saw it. I think of the grief I gave you, how I was during my teens, but you persisted. You were all hugs and 'I love you' and I had no clue what that felt like, how you loved us to your bones until I became a mother. It kind of takes my breath away knowing that you felt that way for us. You showed me such a great example of working motherhood and I draw from your example all the time. I wish you knew how sad it makes me to see what you have become. I am not sure why your light has gotten dim. I wish my kids knew you then. Before the cancer that started all your health issues. You rarely seem happy anymore. I know how it hurts you to not be that person anymore. But, I need you to know that you are still loved fiercely and forever."
"It took becoming a mom myself for me to fully realize how devastating the unexpected loss of our dad must have been with two small children and one on the way (me!). There was no time for grief or for yourself because you had to keep going for us. And, only once, just once, 40 years later have any of us ever heard you talk about 'how things didn't end up as they were planned.' We truly never felt the gravity of what had happened. While there were moments that weren't perfect and there are ways I parent completely differently since our personalities are so wildly different, I will always be grateful for all you did for us. You always put us first even in your most traumatic moment. And very rarely did we ever feel the loss that was so obviously missing from our lives."
"Thank you for always being there, even when I push you away and want my space. One of the greatest comforts in my life is knowing you are always there when I need you. Also, thank you for introducing me to musicals and always being up for a top of your lungs Little Mermaid sing-a-along on a road trip, even if it did get you a massive speeding ticket."
I miss you more than I ever thought possible. This year I'm not celebrating Mother's Day because I celebrate you every day. I'm sorry it took your passing to celebrate you daily. You are my guiding light. We all miss you. I hope I can someday be half the mom you are/were.
"Children might not come with an owner's manual, but you've certainly been able to provide me with an incredible road map on how to be a mother. Thank you for giving me the confidence to know I can do this, and commiserating when things get bumpy. I am who I am due to the love and support you have always given. Our friendship as adults is an added blessing we've received due to all of your hard work. Now my hope is to mirror your love and support to my daughter, and back to you."
"I lost you before our the first Mother's Day that we would have been moms together. I did not get to show you and tell you that I now understand what being a mom meant. That I finally understand those long hours you worked were to provide me with a life of experience and not merely an existence. That I understand why my name always appeared in your passwords, because even though you were more things than my mom, being my mom is how you chose to define yourself. That the fights and the struggles did not define how I feel about you. That I hear you singing me to sleep every night when I sing to my children. That my heart is never full because a piece of it is still with you. That I work, parent, live, and love in your memory and to honor the life you gave me. I understand you now like I never did before. And I hate that I can't tell you that."
"Watching you grow has been one of the great honors of my life. You've made mistakes, just like everyone else, but unlike most you've done everything in your power to make amends, avoid the same mistakes in the future, and learn from it all. Your strength is inspiring. Your grace would be unimaginable if I didn't witness it with my own eyes. I love you so much."
Why did you keep choosing him over me and why wasn't I enough?
"I'm sorry for the ages of 11 to 22. Having kids of my own I know now why you put up with me, but I was still a beast and I must have really tested that whole 'mother's unconditional love' concept."
"You made your sacrifices invisible. Part of me wishes you hadn't, but as a mother I understand why you did it. Thank you for all of them, and all of the ones I still don't know about."
"Thank you for still being my mom — someone who is always there for me to cry to or ask how to thaw chicken — even though I'm a mom and I feel like I should have a better handle on all of this."
"To the woman who gave birth to me: f*ck you. You're nobody's mother.
To the woman who raised me who wasn't actually obligated to do so but stepped up when no one else would (my aunt): you're a queen and I am going to make you a brunch so good this year you're going to cry when it's over."