My mother has always been harshly critical of other mothers. She focused her judgemental commentary on three women, all with the same name, but had no problem in lashing out at others when she found it appropriate. In retrospect I see that no one was really safe from her critical eye, the mothers of most of my childhood friends having been targeted at one point.
For reasons never completely understood it was my aunt who faced the worst of her blows. The mother of five children, she was constantly blasted by my mother for the choices she made. Clothing, schools, church and travel were all easy targets; the dynamics of family order a favorite topic for my mother who was convinced that there was no possible way to manage five children. That all five children are grown, amazing people with full lives of their own is the best response. My aunt, also the mother of twins, has supported me mightily for the past 7 years. She cheers me on, tells me I am doing a good job, and hugs me when I am tired. She was there on the day the girls were born; she held my hand, changed a diaper and confirmed what I had hoped to be true: my grandmother would have been very proud of me, and my family. Her love and support, not to mention proven track record, makes my days a little brighter.
Mothering is hard. My two children challenge me, enrage me, thrill me, love me and bring me more happiness than I could have ever expected. The choices I make are difficult; I don't always do what's best but I try to do what is best for us. I'm not immune to criticism; I fault other parents for putting their children in danger, for allowing them to run willy nilly through Trader Joe's and for sending them back to school before they have had time to fully recover from whatever kept them home. It is difficult for me to understand why some people fail to take responsibility for their own children, or why they don't see themselves as role models to children who watch everything they do. When it's my job to set the standard and take actions that support our children as part of a greater world, why isn't that the job of every parent? It's easy to criticize and hard to do the job that maintains the standards in which I believe. But I try, I try not to be critical of others, and I hope that most people are doing the best job they can.
Certainly there are mothers who, simply put, are just not good at this. Mothers who harm their children, or put their needs categorically in front of those of their child; mothers who abandon their children or worse, although that is something that I now, as a mother, cannot even discuss. But in the end, I do believe that we are trying our best. It's from other mothers that I draw encouragement, and occasionally reprieve. My girls know to find Tracy at school if I'm not around, that Kari will teach them to do flips in the pool, Lisa will join them for tea, and Sato will spend hours teaching them to jump rope; but for the influence of these people my children's lives would be far less colorful . We may not do everything the same but we all do what we think our best is, and that is not anything I can ever criticize.
Perhaps the very best present anyone can give their mom on Mother's Day is to grow up and be the very best person they can be. As much as I love the buttons and paintings made in art class, I think the very best gift is to see, even now, two happy and well adjusted children who work hard, have fun, treat others kindly and love their family. Happy Mother's Day to those who help, those who encourage, support and enlighten, those who taught me how to be a mother, and the two children who give me reason to celebrate.