Photo credit: Kate Gilmore
I recently delivered the keynote address for Stuartholme’s Mother’s Day event. This post is based on that address.
If you told me a year ago that I’d be giving a speech at a Mother’s Day function, I would have laughed out loud… derisively.
Because while I am a very proud mother of three twenty-something young men, I have never celebrated Mother’s Day. It’s not some radical left-wing stand against the grotesque commercialisation of celebrating motherhood for profit. Though I 100% think there has been grotesque commercialisation of celebrating motherhood for profit. It’s because motherhood and even the words mother and mum have always carried a deep-rooted sense of pain and loss for me. My feelings about Mother’s Day are not something I’ve ever really talked about before, except with my husband and, to a far lesser extent, my sons, but apparently, today is the day.
It should be the reasonable expectation of every child that their mother will be the person who loves them unconditionally, nurtures and supports them, provides them with a safe place to land when they fall, and keeps them safe from monsters. In the case of my childhood, my mother was the monster. I won’t labour on it too much except to say that there was extreme neglect and abuse. Behind the closed doors of our middle class, architecturally designed home in the suburbs, life was not normal.
My mother was not a good mother, to me. She would swing between starving me and then feeding me – but telling me my food was poisoned. She would verbally and emotionally abuse me – every day. She would hit me and slash knives under my bedroom door in an effort to cut me as I used my body to brace the door to keep her out. As a child, I would wake to find her sitting on the end of the bed staring at me intensely, and in silence, or wake, gasping into the pillow covering my face, with her knee on my chest as she suffocated me until I stopped flailing. She would come into the bathroom while I was in the bath, plug in the hairdryer, turn it on, and swing it in a pendulum arc over the water. She would let it go, and until it clattered on the bathroom mat, I did not know if I would live or die. And like so many abusers, she would do these things to me, at least the extremely violent and life-threatening things, when no one else was around.
The abuse took many forms over the years. At sixteen, after having the harrowing and profound realisation that no one was ever coming to save me, I swallowed a bottle of pills in an effort to secure my freedom and die at my own hands instead of hers. I would have died but for the quick action of a classmate from Stuartholme who found me and, with help from her mother, got me to the emergency room. She quite literally saved my life, which I did not thank her for at the time – that took a while, but it led to me getting the help of a fantastic psychiatrist, who helped me process the trauma I’d been through, and create a life of peace, purpose and joy for myself.
And spoiler alert – my life has turned out fabulously well.
Before my father left and subsequently divorced my mother, I loathed the superficial acts of buying my mother presents and taking her breakfast in bed to mark Mother’s Day. She was not a mother worthy of celebrating. After my father escaped the war zone that was our home, leaving me behind, aged ten, I only marked Mother’s Day to the extent required to maintain my immediate safety until I would rescue myself from the situation by leaving, aged seventeen.
I had my first son, Joseph, at eighteen, and I quickly realised that the pain, loss, anger and betrayal that I felt on and around Mother’s Day were not going to magically disappear because I was now a mother. And so, by accident or design, I never really started celebrating Mother’s Day. And any incidental encounters with Mother’s Day activities, like receiving school-made cards from my sons, were more a reminder of what I had missed and been deprived of rather than the gift of joy my sons intended them to be. I did my best to hide it from them, but I know I was not always successful.
So, when the committee invited me to speak to you today at this Mother’s Day Lunch, I hesitated. But then it occurred to me that there are some things I’ve learned about Mother’s Day and motherhood. Insights it has taken me years of observation, contemplation, and introspection to learn and understand. So, hopefully, there might be a gem or two worthy of your time and attention today.
Like many mothers – I love a list. I love organising my thoughts into lists, I love writing them down, and I love re-writing them onto nicer paper or colour coordinated post-it notes, especially when done as a way to procrastinate and delay actually doing the things on the list. So, here is my Top 7 list of things I’ve discovered about motherhood and Mother’s Day – as someone who has been a staunch non-observer of the annual celebration for over four decades.
1. Motherhood is hard.
Society has imposed some pretty lofty expectations for mothers. Many of these expectations are completely unreasonable. They are often fanned with the flames of heavily curated glimpses into the Insta-lives of ‘successful’ mothers who are managing to have it all. Please don’t buy into this bullshit.
No one is showing you photos of the projectile vomiting or when the poop leaks through the nappy and then the onesie all over the cot. They’re not showing the private disagreements and frustrations with partners over whose turn it is to get up with the baby, stay home with a sick kid, or clean the kitchen. They’re not showing you photos of themselves choking back tears and gathering themselves in a toilet stall before walking into a boardroom to deliver a presentation having just been told by their teenager that they are the (all caps) WORST PARENT EVER exclamation mark!