A little over seven years ago, I sat in a crowded room and listened to one woman’s personal account of her own life.
I only remember one thing from that night, but it radically changed my perspective:
She stood alone at the podium and asked, “Did you ever once in your life wake up and say, “I’m gonna f*ck my kids life up as much as I possibly can today?” No?! Well, neither did your parents.”
And there it was—radical forgiveness.
Although I had not yet stepped into my role as a parent, these lines forever changed the way I looked at both my mother and father.
The tears were instantaneous, right there over my rocket-fuel flavored coffee, surrounded by strangers standing shoulder to shoulder. Compassion suddenly filled where anger had previously existed. I was at a place in my life where I was working to know and release any anger and resentments associated with the two people responsible for my conception and earliest life story; this statement couldn’t come at a better time.
I came to the conclusion, that my parents absolutely never thought that, there was no way. I knew without a doubt, they both did the best they could, with what they had and what they knew.
It’s almost Mother’s Day, and I reflect on my life as I sit cozy on my wicker couch and covered front porch of my home with my favorite tea to my left while my mother sits over 600 miles away. It’s late morning; she’s probably smoking a cigarette at her sisters kitchen counter and drinking her third cup of Folgers original roast.
I imagine her being un-apologetically herself—calling my brother “fat boy,” worrying about money and taking care of every child who walked through that front door as if it were her own.
My mother was awarded full custody of my brother and I when I was 14. I was the epitome of a sarcastic and defiant teenager. I struggled with drug addiction and self-mutilation. I used addictive and risky behaviors to hide my rage and numb myself emotionally.
I didn’t sleep. I was haunted by my actions and alone in my pain.
She was freshly divorced from a marriage she had described as controlling. We lived in a dead-end road in the country, with family on all sides. It was not uncommon for us kids to be left alone. There were summers we seemed to somehow live off Ramen noodles and crackers with mayonnaise.
Friday and Saturday nights I waited for the bar to call so I could pick her up with only my driving permit; It almost always came. She would usually pass out on the picnic table and wake up ready to fight. Every serious boyfriend she brought home was bought or given a truck and place to stay whenever they wanted. My brother and I felt a slighted second-best at times.
I stayed angry and never shied away from verbalizing my feelings to the men in her life.
I often get told, “I wish I had that kind of relationship with my mother you have with yours.” I usually laugh, roll my eyes, and shake my head. I often utter something like she’s ridiculous. I pretend like she does nothing but drive me crazy until the thoughts of her un-wavering support and total acceptance of me start rolling in, and I am reminded of how lucky and blessed I am to have her.
Her open heart always welcomed me home, figuratively and literally, no matter my physical or mental state.
In my young adult life I blamed my mother for many of my struggles. I had wished she had done some things differently, There were times I felt she could have listened more, been more present, allowed me to be more of a child instead of her friend.
But the fact is, without her being exactly who she is, I wouldn’t be exactly who I am.
How often do we blame our mothers for the characteristics we’d rather not have— It’s because of my mother I can’t maintain a decent relationship; it’s because of my mother I’m afraid to pursue this dream. My mother always told me I’d never amount to anything. She didn’t love me enough; she didn’t give me enough. She…(Insert a personalized complaint here). These things in particular were not true for my mother, but I have heard them before.
Trials offer us strength. At the very least maybe our mother showed us what not to do; who we didn’t want to be. Heartache can be a gift. It teaches us faith, courage, and survival. It forces us to learn forgiveness, patience, and understanding. Without loss how do we have room for gain? Without fight, why would we learn forgiveness? Without an understanding of the world around us, how are we ever to understand ourselves?
Mothers are humans, too. They make mistakes. They don’t always live up to our expectations and they, too, have felt pain, loss, anger, etc. They have their own demons to fight. We cannot give what we don’t have, and some Mothers have a lot more to give than others. Maybe, they weren’t given much themselves.
How different would our lives and our relationships with our Mothers be if we looked for the gifts they gave us instead of their shortcomings? Maybe, it was freedom. Maybe, all she gave was life. Maybe, she didn’t stay around long, because she wanted to offer better opportunities, better parents, a better chance at life—I can respect that; maybe she couldn’t, due to reasons beyond her control like mental illness or addiction.
I believe all Mothers do the very best they can; it can be no other way. There is an innate desire to do so with the birth of a child.
My mother gave everything she had—physically, financially, emotionally—she gave it. That’s who she is; sometimes it wasn’t much, but she would give every last drop of what she had. Her love was always abundant, that never faltered. She worked assembling cars for years, driving almost 100 miles one way, destroying her body, so my brother and I could have the clothes we wanted, the cars wanted, and take the school trips we wanted. I watch her heart shatter every time I leave Tennessee as she stands in the driveway with tears pouring down her face, every time.
There is always that chance this could be the last time we see each other, an unspoken understanding that another day, another trip, is no guarantee. But she has done it countless times over the last 10 years because she wants the best for me, and she knows it isn’t there.
She’d rather hurt time after time than deny me the life I am suppose to live.
One of the greatest gifts my mother ever gave me was letting me go. Yet when I was younger, I saw it as her not caring. She let me make all these huge life decisions about college, custody, and moving three states away with little input.
I remember being angry when she acted like my friend instead of my mother.
But guess what? I learned independence and strength. I was never afraid to face the world. She taught me about acceptance and letting people be who they are. I’m able to be un-apologetically be myself, because she never made me feel less than enough. She taught me unconditional love, perseverance, and that it’s okay to forgive quickly.
It’s okay to be angry, yell, then let it go and love.
My mother could scream like a mad woman for 20 minutes, then turn right around and ask me what I wanted for dinner. I used to think she was crazy—but really, who wants to be angry all day?
Not me, my mother taught me that, among countless other things.
I have known true unconditional love because of my Mother. She is ridiculous, and she’s made her share of mistakes, as have I. But I can call her anytime of the day or night, for any reason at all. I can show up unannounced and have a place to sleep. I know without a shred of doubt, my mother will always be available and always love me, no matter what I say or do.
I wouldn’t have her any other way than exactly the way she is.
I know she wrestles with guilt. I think, she too, feels she could have been more present and done some things differently. But she shouldn’t. I wouldn’t be the woman I am today, without her being the Mother she has always been, and I’m doing pretty good. I hope she can forgive herself as she has forgiven me for my own shortcomings as a daughter.
Happy Mother’s Day, Momma, I love you.
Thank you for being who you are.
Note: All information in this article was published with the express permission of the author’s Mother.
Author: Dottie Hollingsworth
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: author’s own