Friday, May 7, 2010

Putting Mother's Day - and Motherhood - into perspective.

As a psychologist, and psychotherapist, part of my job is to help my patients "put things into perspective". Often, during this process, revelations applying to my own life often come as a huge surprise and smack me right between the eyes. This week was no exception. I had planned to write a blog merely extolling the virtues of gratutide and appreciating mothers; what follows is how it developed.....

When Anna Jarvis, from Grafton, West Virginia, created a day to celebrate mothers, with the help of wealthy Philadelphian John Wannamaker in 1908, it was the realization of a dream her own mother had for many years. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson made it offical: the second Sunday of May would be that day. Little did Anna Jarvis know at that time, within just nine short years, her mother's dream would become a commercialized phenomenon that it became known as "The Hallmark Holiday". Mother's Day is now THE most lucrative holiday for florists, greeting cards, and restaurants around the nation. I am sometimes ashamed to admit this, however, my own family is BIG, and I mean HUGE, on the greeting card front. In fact, we should have bought STOCK in the Hallmark Company (and, according to my Dad, the electric company). The ultimate goal on holidays is to find THE best card, and make the recipient cry. To this day my husband and I still play this game. The objection many had to the commercialized version of the holiday is that it takes away people's need to actually write down their feelings, and we let someone else do it for us. For some who lack the gift of writing, it's the only option. Either way, it's a very impersonal way to get personal.

Despite all of the hard work Anna Jarvis invested into making Mother’s Day a reality, it was not long before she came to loath the vey thing she had created. Long before the present, this day to honor the woman who carried and guided you into the world became SO commercialized that Anna Jarvis later denounced the holiday and spent her remaining years, and every last penny, protesting and fighting against the very day she created, obviously with no success. What many people do not realize, Mother's Day is celebrated around the world, from the Arab nations to Europe, Africa to Canada...and is also observed on different dates throughout the year.

So why do we need a special day to celebrate this beloved woman who gave you life?

For many, Mother's Day is a wonderful day to remember and celebrate all the special things your own mother has done for you; after all, you would not be where you are today, if not for Mom. Giving thanks to her on this day is not only the right thing to go, it's good for your mental health! In fact, Martin Seligman, Ph.D., Director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Penn, states that of the five factors he found to be most important in having a happy life, gratutide is the most important. (check out for more info on Positive Psychology).

Over the years, I have often wrestled with the meaning of this holiday in particular, primarily due to the fact that I lost my own mother when I was still a teenager, some 22 years ago. This left me with several options. My first solution was, I could honor my father on both Mother's and Father's days...since he was "both". So, I trudged to the Hallmark store for those first several years and purchased Mother's Day cards "to my father". After a time, I came to realize that this was not a real solution because it didn't really ring true. After all, as much as I love my Dad, he is still "Dad". The next “solution” involved simply honoring the other "Mothers" in my life. My grandmother, my sister, and my stepmother. Nice, and it is great to honor the "mother's" in our lives, but it's still not the same. Some years, I went to the cemetary, some years not....I even wondered at some points if I could simply ignore the holiday. After all, no Mother - no Mother's Day. Great idea THAT was – all that accomplished was to leave me bitter and angry that there was a Mother's Day at all and that I was not able to participate and honor MY mother like everyone around me. NOT FAIR!!!

Fast forward to 2000. I met, and fell in love with, my wonderful husband, Mike, AND his 5 children; every single one of them. I am especially close with Nicole, who moved to be near us and lives just across the street with her husband. She is 24. I think that our special relationship lies in the fact that I have never tried to be her mother. She HAS a mother. In fact, I have never even tried to be a step-mother. As a psychologist, I realize that going down that road will lead to sure disaster. So I tried very hard NOT to be a mother. None-the-less, as the years have gone by, Nicole and I have developed a very special bond. However, I never thought of it as a “Mother – Daughter” type relationship.

Yesterday, I received a Blackberry message from Nicole. She wanted to know what we are doing on Sunday. I replied "I don't think we have plans, why?". She replied that she wants to make dinner or take us out. Wow. That is nice (wonder what she wants - haha). I called Mike to let him know. "I don't know what is up" I said. He replies "She wants to take you out for Mother's Day". Wow. Blown away doesn’t BEGIN to describe what I was feeling after hearing those words! Even when I was planning this blog and KNEW Mother's Day was Sunday, I never made the connection! Without even trying, I had become "a mother" to someone. In fact, once I thought about it, on my recent birthday, I received three text messages that said "Happy Birthday Mommy!". It seems that in spite of the fact that these wonderful human beings have TOLD me that they think of me as a "mother", I needed it to smack me between the eyes to "get it".

I can honestly say that, in spite of many very important women in my life, there has never been anyone to replace my own mother. I miss her every day, and this Mother's Day, I will reflect, and honor her memory. She obviously taught me something profound about being “a Mother” in someone's life, even if I don’t realize that I am filling that void. I am proud and thankful that these “step-children” chose me. Thank you Nicole, you have given me one of the most important lessons of my life: Anyone can have kids. But being a Mother is something else entirely.


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