I hope I don’t sound ungrateful admitting this. Despite the beautiful, heartfelt cards and presents my children gave me, certain events on Mother’s Day left me feeling a bit battered and bruised. Judging by my Facebook newsfeed, I’m not alone in feeling like the day didn’t quite measure up to expectations. Of course social media is half of the problem: posts of extravagant gifts, images of “perfect” families, and a glossy portrayal of Mothering Sunday left some women feeling inadequate. I frequently remind my children that the fastest way to misery is by making comparisons, but sometimes it’s hard to resist.
One Facebook friend half jokingly wished all of the other moms lots of enjoyment eating their chocolates and so on… hinting that her sons had given her nothing of the sort. Comments immediately followed reassuring her that their lack of generosity was in no way a reflection of her mothering. The thread contained statements like “Boys are less thoughtful than girls,” or “That’s just typical of teenagers,” and “Mother’s Day is just another commercial holiday invented to promote consumerism!” Others left affirmations such as, “You’re a great mom” to make her feel better. It struck me that many of us- myself included- attach too much meaning to this one particular day. The result is that a lot of pressure is placed on loved ones to create a perfect day, which is almost impossible to fulfill.
There was one post that particularly resonated with me. It consisted of a small child’s drawing of his entire nuclear family, including the half-brother and sister he rarely sees due to a messy separation. The boy’s mother shared the picture and wished all moms, step moms, and women in various roles to have a great Mother’s Day. She mentioned that blended families are great, although it’s hard work to keep everyone happy at the same time. I appreciated her honesty and could relate to what she had expressed.
I was tempted to make a glowing post of my own, but decided against it out of sensitivity to my stepkids’ mom. Considering that I spent more of the day with her children than she did, it seemed fair not to post anything that might upset her. We are all still adjusting to our circumstances and ever changing family dynamics.
The day started off perfectly. My family insisted I have breakfast in bed. I read happily while I waited for food to be prepared. Christy and his daughter cooked a beautiful meal for me, delivered with several bouquets of wildflowers, a vase of roses, and a potted orchid. Every room of the house smells of springtime and hyacinths. My stepdaughter made sure the boys remembered to write messages inside my card. I could hear the strained tone of my daughter’s voice when asked to sign as well. “I have my own card,” she said tersely to her stepsister. To say their relationship is strained would be an understatement.
My 12 year old daughter and I have always been extremely close. She’s very thoughtful and had taken the time to paint a floral card. She also included a voucher to my favourite cafe so I can treat myself and a friend to lunch. My 14 year old son apologized for not having enough money for a gift or possessing his sister’s artistic talent. He sounded genuine when he said wistfully, “I wish I could have made you something beautiful too.” He asked if there was anything I’d like for him to do and was happy to cut the the grass for me. My primary Love Language is Acts of Service so I much appreciated his gesture.
I enjoyed the special attention my family gave me, but somewhere along the way things began to unravel. The four kids wanted to stay in pajamas and relax past midday. The previous night the clocks moved forwards so we had already lost an hour. Since the sun rarely shines here, my partner and I were anxious to make the most of it. We planned to take everyone for a walk beside the sea. Not long after the breakfast dishes were cleared, and other household chores completed, the kids were hungry again. It’s an endless cycle on the weekends when we’re all at home. It felt like we’d never get out of the door!
No one would cooperate and I started to get frustrated. When my kids started talking in Irish- knowing full well that I couldn’t understand them- I sensed they were ganging up on their stepsister. There has been a build up of tension, and I was extra sensitive to the unresolved, petty resentments between them. “Please don’t be mean. Can’t everyone make an effort to be nice to each other for just one day?” I implored.
I can’t say for sure if it was pregnancy hormones, but I eventually snapped when the kids ignored my plea for harmony. I hid in my room as a flood of worried thoughts accompanied my tears. How will I cope with a newborn and sleepless nights thrown into the mix in just a few short months? Is it selfish and unrealistic to expect my biological children to embrace my partner and his kids just because I happen to love them? Will my daughter ever stop feeling jealous when I show affection to my stepchildren? Is it simply a matter of time before our kids fully accept our situation? No one can replace my children’s dad since he passed away, but I hope that their new father figure will be welcomed more fully into their hearts as the years go by.
My daughter knocked on my door, apologetic and full of promises to make more of an effort for the rest of the day. A few hugs later and I was back on my feet, only to discover a new drama had evolved in my absence. Christy’s ex was on the phone demanding a last minute change of plans. He had already conceded to handing their children back early on account of Mother’s Day. Her latest request would impact our day too much so he refused. As they argued, I became annoyed that once again her behavior affected all of us. It’s an ongoing pattern that she makes decisions based on what suits her, ignoring the fact that Christy has a new family to accommodate as well. From what I’ve read and observed, all blended families are complicated.
At last we packed everyone into the car with the dog and drove to our destination. My back ached so I couldn’t walk far, but the fresh sea air did wonders to clear the cobwebs from my head. Did the kids stop fighting? Not really… I just quit caring so much. In between squabbling they did manage to run, play, skip stones, and share stories about school with each other. We took photographs and you’d swear we were one of those perfect- if offbeat- families too. Although we had promised to go for ice-cream Sundaes after the walk, we ran out of time. The younger children’s mother arrived so we said our goodbyes.
We spent the rest of the evening at Christy’s sister’s house. She invited the whole family over for an impromptu Sunday roast. It’s rare that we all gather together so it felt like a special occasion. It’s the first time I’ve seen Christy’s dad since he had major surgery last month, and he seemed different. He was in the mood for telling stories so we all listened attentively.
I realised then how much they all missed Cathy. Christy’s mom passed away 17 years ago, leaving a void that can’t be filled. While Mike reminisced about the night he met his wife in Oxford back in the 1960’s, we were each transported back in time to the beginning of a great love story. I was intrigued by new details about Cathy’s character and wished I could have met her. I reached under the table and squeezed Christy’s hand.
Was the evening stress free? Not really… Even as adults, I noticed the tension that quickly rose to the surface from time to time between Christy’s siblings. Their parents hadn’t divorced, and yet their dynamics were similar to our children’s. I somehow felt reassured by that. Family life simply isn’t easy, but nothing is more worthwhile. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
I have a piece of artwork on my piano that serves as an important reminder whenever I look at it:
The beauty of life lives inside the smallest of moments