Another Mother’s Day is past, thankfully. While I enjoyed celebrating my mother-in-law and spending the day together, I’m just not a fan of that particular holiday. It stirs up a lot inside that I’d rather ignore. It’s better than it was in my youth, but reading all the schmaltzy posts on Facebook about how great mothers are gets tiring.
Author Anne Lamott wrote a piece for Salon in 2010 on Mother’s Day which really nailed it for me. (You can read the entire piece at: http://www.salon.com/2010/05/08/hate_mothers_day_anne_lamott/) She wrote: “But Mother’s Day celebrates a huge lie about the value of women: that mothers are superior beings, that they have done more with their lives and chosen a more difficult path. Ha! Every woman’s path is difficult, and many mothers were as equipped to raise children as wire monkey mothers. I say that without judgment: It is, sadly, true. An unhealthy mother’s love is withering.”
If you’ve read much of my blog, you know my mother did not parent well. That’s just the way it is. She wasn’t even a “good enough” parent. She just couldn’t do it. In a rare moment of honesty she told me that she thought that since Grandma had been such a good mother, she’d naturally be one, too, and was surprised at how those maternal instincts never kicked in.
But lest the reader thinks my mother was the personification of evil, I should set the record straight. Mom was damaged by her own home life and her marriage, and just couldn’t recover. I was collateral damage, but it wasn’t intentional. She did her best to provide for me by working full time at Sears in the bookkeeping department and she was also very aware of the potential of sexual child abuse. Paranoid about it, actually. I only met one man she dated when I was in my teens. The rest she kept away. The one I met was a peach, but I think he knew that mom was not marriage material and moved on. I remember him fondly.
Our relationship broke down so much that for over ten years mom didn’t even speak to me. Our story is not dissimilar to the story Jesus told about the prodigal son, except she’s the one who left and I’m the one who forgave and welcomed her back. It took Alzheimer’s to get her to the place to ask for forgiveness. Not a small thing for her to do.
While I try to be absolutely honest in my recollections about my life, here’s something I don’t want you to miss. While my mother was a deeply flawed person, she did ask for forgiveness and I did forgive her. Through forgiveness, I learned much more about faith, life and love. I’m still on a journey of healing, but caring for mom through Alzheimer’s took me much further down that road than if I had hardened myself to her and refused to let her back into my life.
If there is someone in your life who has failed you in a major way, do not hang on to unforgiveness. It only hurts yourself. Jesus pointed out when He was teaching the disciples to pray that we are in God’s debt and need to forgive as freely as He did. We like to skip over the part of the disciple’s prayer (aka the Lord’s Prayer) that says “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” We love being forgiven…it’s just letting other people off the hook that’s so hard.
But remember...it’s a biblical principle that we will be treated as we treat others.
Note: If you have been abandoned by a parent, you may want to pick up Leslie Leyland Fields’ book Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers. It’s about finding freedom from hurt and hate and written with Dr. Jill Hubbard.
My mother and father were two very immature people who should have never married, nor should they have had children. By the time I was four years old, I was living with my grandparents. In contrast to my parents, Grandma Kate was a rock of faith that anchored me in a turbulent childhood, and her prayers continue to affect me to this day. Her life was hard: a hard childhood, a hard marriage, death of a child, prodigal children, and even raising a grandchild until her very hard death. She was a woman of faith and prayer, but at the time I couldn't say that I saw much change in her circumstances from that faith and prayer. That may be because I was so self-absorbed, as children often are.
Her husband (my grandfather) did eventually come to faith, but to my way of thinking back then, it was too little too late. She was in poor health, their marriage had fifty years of abuses stacked up, and change comes slowly. His eternal destiny might have been changed, but it didn't seem to change the seventy plus years of misery which made her life.
Still, I can't shake her influence. I did not know her Savior until after she'd died, nor did her daughter - my mother. Grandma did not see much fruit from her prayer, yet often when I would come in from playing or from school I'd find her kneeling by her bed praying or sitting in the front room reading her bible. She stayed faithful in spite of years of not seeing any results. She had the faith of Abraham – to grasp God's promises and not let go, even though she didn't live to see the results. I think she's amazing.
When I was eleven, my grandparents sold their farm, and we moved into a very small ranch house in a suburb of Detroit to live with my mother. Up to that point, I had only seen my mother every other weekend when she would come from the city to the farm to visit. She always seemed so glamorous to me. She dressed nicely for work and would come to the farm on Friday nights straight from her job in bookkeeping for a major retailer. She was so beautiful.
But living with her was another matter.
By the time I was twelve, Grandma was in the hospital almost non-stop. She died when I was fourteen and my grandfather died a few months later. The man who'd been so unkind to her all their married days found he couldn't live without her, and while there was nothing wrong with him physically, he willed himself to die.
There I was, alone as a teenager with my mother. As one can imagine, it wasn't a smooth transition. My parents had separated when I was three and divorced when I was four. After that, my mother gave me to my grandparents. I had always thought it was because mom couldn't find child care, but the truth of the matter was that she really wasn't that interested in being a mother. We didn't really know each other, and, as we started off on this new part of our story, we found we didn't really like each other very much. That never changed.
Even so, Grandma's prayers followed us.
Donna Kemper put aside her art career to care for a mother she hadn't seen in over a decade. For seven years she followed her mother's journey into dementia, caring for her and putting forgiveness into action.