I have heard the act of writing compared to childbirth. It begins with a long period of gestation that takes weeks, months and even years. Then there is that difficult, drawn-out and painful delivery experience. But the joy that follows surpasses all the challenges in bringing forth new life. I love when publishing my writing is quick and easy—when I am able to find just the right words to express the true feelings in my heart with little effort. Writing this post about Mother’s Day was neither quick nor easy. I searched to find just the right words to convey my complex emotions while taking full responsibility for my stuff and not blaming others. It wasn’t easy, but I have decided it’s time for delivery. Here goes…
Scrolling through social media over the last few days, I saw many pictures of my friends and their mommas in honor of Mother’s Day. I chose not to participate in these very public days of affection. Mother’s Day is one of the hardest days of the year for me, especially after the recent passing of my godmother Annie. I typically wrestle with a combination of anger, bitterness, comparison, disappointment, and lingering resentment. To be perfectly frank, I hate Mother’s Day. My reasons are both very personal and more generic.
On both sides of my family, a lot of single Black women raised children with little to no support from their children’s fathers. These mothers—especially my mother and her sisters, mother and grandmother—expected their children to show our love and appreciation for all their hard work and sacrifices on Mother’s Day—and told us exactly how to do it.
“Buy me this gift.”
That’s what began my dislike for Mother’s Day growing up. If I had earned a little bit of money babysitting, I felt that I should have complete control over how I chose to spend it. But my mother disagreed. Since it was her house, and she had the belt, she got those Avon Mother’s Day plates every year until I graduated high school. In return, I developed a dislike for the holiday.
My mom, aunties, grandma, and great-grandma also believed in old school, authoritarian Black parenting. Doing the difficult work of raising children alone, they didn’t offer a lot of hugs, kisses or verbal affirmation. They were focused on providing the things necessary for survival—a warm place to sleep, food to eat, and clothes on our backs. So, we heard, “Children should be seen and not heard.” Meaning, “Leave me alone, and don’t make a lot of noise when I am trying to rest from all my labors.” They didn’t talk to us about our misbehaviors or ground us when we messed up. If a child needed discipline, she was hit with a hand or belt. Yes, my matriarchy was fully steeped in the African American parenting tradition.
This well documented, Black parenting style works for many people. It teaches them discipline, independence, and self-direction. My mom put a roof over my head and food on the table. I got the best education she could afford, and the chance to see what life outside our working-class, African American community in the Bronx looked like. But her best wasn’t well suited for me, especially as I was struggling with post-traumatic stress. I had endured physical, emotional, sexual and psychological abuse as a little girl. As a result, my emotional development was stunted at the age when the abuse began. Even as I became an adult, I felt like the emotional equivalent of a five-year-old toddler.
I had to find a way to mother myself. I had to nurture my self-esteem and kiss all my emotional boo-boos. I did that work in individual and group therapy sessions, reading self-help books, attending church services, participating in small groups and Christian fellowship, and writing in my abundant journals. In the process, I have been able to manage some of the unwelcome emotions that typically arise on Mother’s Day.
This year, I spent some time honoring myself—for the courage, tenacity and fearlessness I have shown in dealing with my demons and learning to mother myself. I spoke up about the abuse, and got the help I needed. I admitted when I had lost all hope, and sought psychiatric intervention. The work is not yet finished. I probably will be working with my therapists for many decades to come, dealing with the effects of my past and working to make me emotionally whole.
As a 41-year-old divorcee with no children of my own, I empathize with all the other women out there who have never given birth to a child. We are completely ignored on Mother’s Day—even if we volunteer in the community, mentor younger girls, and participate in the care of our nieces, nephews and cousins. We don’t possess the title of “Mother,” so we seem to matter little on this special day. That’s the root of my general distaste for the holiday.
I also am so grateful God blessed me with many surrogate mothers over the years, including Annie, to fill in the gaps and support me in my quest to nurture myself. I do my best to honor all of these women who have been important in my development, such as my Aunt who took me in at my lowest point, on Mother’s Day. For them, I will be forever grateful. Thank you for all you have done to help raise me.
After losing my beloved godmother Annie, I also feel for all those who have lost their mothers and for those mothers who have had to bury their children. I empathize with their inability to tell their loved ones in person how much they care. I know their hearts are heavy as they mourn their losses on a day that is designed to honor motherhood. What do you do when you have no mother to celebrate or have lost the one who call you, "Mom?"
If you are fortunate enough to have a great mom and continue to enjoy a wonderful relationship with her, consider yourself extra blessed! But recognize that many people—many women—did not, and we need some time and space to deal with Mother’s Day and the myriad emotions it conjures in our own ways. So, don't be appalled if our social media accounts are not covered with Mother's Day photos and wishes.
Crystal Moore began her wellness quest in 2003 after being diagnosed with lupus. Her quest has led her to embrace yoga, faith, exercise, healthy eating, and relationships. Share her journey.