Flowers, cards, breakfast in bed. You know the drill.
If you’re a lucky mom, Mother’s Day comes with a fairly predictable playlist. But often, an unwelcome condiment comes along with the coffee lovingly poured into the World’s Best Mom mug – a heaping side of guilt.
Don’t believe me? Google the words mother and guilt and you’ll get more than 10 million hits. That’s not a side dish, that’s an all-you-can-eat buffet of remorseful regret.
No matter how many articles, books and blogs advocate guilt-free mothering, I don’t know any moms who don’t struggle with feeling bad about some aspect of their parenting. Much like unicorns with rainbow wings, guilt-free moms are mythical creatures.
The things we feel guilty about are myriad. We feel bad that we worked outside the home or bad that we stayed at home. We regret not having more children or terrible that we had too many. We agonize over every time we lost our tempers and shouted things that shame us, and worry over all the times we were too lax, too soft, too permissive.
Most of us have a mental checklist of our perceived failures, and all the sweet Mother’s Day cards in the world can’t make us untick even one of those boxes.
No matter how we came to motherhood, whether by birthing, adopting or step-parenting, each of us has an ideal mother in mind – that’s the goal we struggle to achieve. Sometimes the ideal is our own mothers and sometimes it’s anyone but them.
None of us really dreams of being June Cleaver. Once, I actually tried vacuuming while wearing a dress, apron, heels and pearls. It was every bit as silly as I imagined.
But the home June created? Now, that still seems magical. Spotless, warm, love-filled – a place where every childhood problem was happily resolved by the end of each episode. Who wouldn’t want that?
Even worse than trying to live up to mythical ideals is the way we constantly compare ourselves with each other. Oh, we swear we won’t. Vow we don’t. But we do, we certainly do.
We look at the Facebook photos of our friends’ brilliant, talented, successful offspring, and we weigh and measure our mothering skills against theirs. As if being a perfect mother would guarantee perfect children. As if any kind of perfection among humankind is attainable.
For some, the Mother’s Day tally of gifts and sentiments either verifies our value or proves our unworthiness – either temporarily assuages our guilt or fans the flames of self-recrimination.
And this year, what I most wanted for Mother’s Day created a week’s worth of angst for me. You see, I wanted something different. Something I was sure other moms would judge me for. Something I felt guilty even mentioning.
Ala Greta Garbo, I wanted to be alone.
I felt incredibly selfish even mentioning it to Derek. I mean, what kind of mother doesn’t want to spend the day surrounded by her children? Plus, we usually have both of our moms over for dinner. What kind of daughter messes with tradition?
A tired one, perhaps?
It’s been an especially busy season in our household. Kids coming and going, juggling jobs and community commitments, maintaining friendships and important connections. As someone who needs a certain amount of solitude to recharge, I was drowning in a sea of obligations of my own making.
Thankfully, I married a man who knows me well. When I dithered and dallied over Mother’s Day plans, he encouraged me to give myself a break. So I did.
We took our moms out to brunch on Saturday. And on Mother’s Day I didn’t leave the house. I relished a solitary breakfast in bed, while reading the newspaper. Then I enjoyed long phone conversations with two of my sons and briefer conversations with the other two. Then I turned my phone off.
I didn’t get out of bed until noon. Stayed in my sweats sans makeup all day and binge-watched the new “Anne of Green Gables” on Netflix.
It was heavenly.
The flowers, cards and gifts from Derek and the boys were sweet, but the best gift was the one I gave myself – a feast of solitude minus the side of guilt.
Contact Cindy Hval at email@example.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval