Mother’s Day: It’s Complicated

I’m fairly certain I’m about to show my age in a big way but here goes anyway. Do y’all remember when Facebook had a relationship status? You had a few choices: In a relationship, Married, Divorced, or It’s complicated. “It’s complicated” could define many of my relationships, (but the one with my husband is not one of them). Well, my least complicated relationship is far and away with my spouse. He’s my best friend and partner and has been the most consistently good relationship I’ve ever had in my life. So, I’ve got that going for me, which is nice. Unfortunately, with the exception of a few friends, that is where uncomplicated starts and ends.

I love my mom. There’s no question. She went through hardship and heartache and it shaped who she is and who she was when I was younger. Through the lense of hindsight, of course, I can see she and Dad were doing the very best they could. So I don’t blame my mom for things that were difficult, but it doesn’t make those things not hurt in some ways, decades later.

Adding to the complication of Mother’s Day is my children. Again, I love them so much. And their trauma has made it so hard for them to be able to communicate in healthy ways. But als,o, it makes forming a bond a gamble. They love me. But sometimes they also hate me (sometimes at the same time). And sometimes they express their conflicting emotions moments from each other leaving me with emotional whiplash and a physical headache.

But. Well, I longed for Mother’s Day to be a happy day for me. I cried over it. For a while I had to avoid stores the last weeks of April and first weeks of May lest I be emotionally assaulted by the wall of pink floral mother’s day decor as I walked through the entrance of big box stores.

So, when I finally, finally had the chance to be “Mama” I wanted that pain to disappear. I felt it my due. I had put in the work, now I deserved to be gifted flowers and chocolate and sweet homemade cards. So, imagine my dismay when my first Mother’s Day after adoption was kind of awful.

See, I have a problem with setting myself up for disappointment. I have what could be charitably described as an overactive imagination. Couple that with a not so great memory and special days are always rife with potential for disappointment. Much like my kids who will self sabatoge happy days, I find myself preemptively sad when my day starts out in a way that is not what I imagined.

Am I saying I don’t deserve some effort? No. But I also probably don’t deserve the imagined scenarios that only appear on a Hollywood sound stage with a full production team.

Also, it feels important to note that, though my husband is great, he’s not psychic. So, if I have an expectation I never take the time to verbalize I have a 99% chance of being disappointed from the start. I’m nothing if not blindingly self-aware after the fact. It’s a problem.

What I’ve learned over the years is that Mother’s Day is only “perfect” for a select few individuals. Lots of people struggle with feelings of being unappreciated, especially when they pour so much into making everyone they love feel special on days that matter to them. For me, it’s taken several tearful conversations and many well-placed reminders to get to a place where I Mother’s Day isn’t a disaster for me emotionally.

And again, it’s not that they don’t try. It’s that, for my kids, there will always be thoughts of special days that cannot be with their biologcial parents. And, while I’m an adult who has wrestled through my mommy issues like an Olympic gold medalist to get to where I am now, my kids aren’t there. They can’t embrace the nuance of caring about two people in two separate ways. I know I have a role in their lies I shouldn’t have. By rights, they should be with their biological families celebrating their biological parents. The fact that I have a relationship with my mom that, until late adulthood I didn’t feel was worth celebrating much, it doesn’t mean they have that same detachment from their biological moms.

So what is an adoptive mama to do? For starters, I lower my expectations. I also make it clear if there is a certain activity I hope to do on that day. Three of my kids are young enough to not remember their biological moms at all. That doesn’t mean they don’t feel the loss, they just lack memories to go with the blank space in their heart where Mom should fit.

We talk about adoption, biological parents, and choices people make. We talk about how it’s okay to love people differently, At the end of the day, it will be up to them how to handle their feelings. For my youngest, she genuinely doesn’t care right now that she’s adopted. Her older brothers have told her about what life was like with bio parents and she said “No, thank you” to that. I suspect when she’s older there will be more quesitons; but for now, she’s happy for me to fulfill the mama role in her life. She is my little ray of sunshine on supposed-to-be happy days. She’ll pick flowers for me and tell me how much she loves me. She makes me feel so loved it’s difficult to feel anything else.

My other two younger kids were in foster care for their formative years and whatever fuzzy memories they have of that time are generally good ones. They don’t remember bio parents but they remember foster homes with kittens and rides on ponies. They resent, without understanding why, the fact they don’t have things in their lives they used to have, however briefly. The girls can remember good things from before me and I am a reminder they can’t have those things now.

They aren’t old enough to appreciate the fact they have a permanent home with parents who love them. I feel sad about it, but it isn’t their fault any more than it is mine. It’s just a thing we are working through.

I will say that every year on Mother’s Day, I do get things that make me smile when I look at them. Every year they fill out one of those papers that say “All About Mom” where they write my age (anywhere from 12 to 100 over the past 4 years between all of them) my favorite things: quiet (absolutely), cleaning the house (what?! no.), laundry (again, who do they think they live with?), favorite food (spaghetti? Hotdogs? Why? No.), and things I say all the time (“I love you to the moon and back.” At least they got that one spot on.)

As corny and repetitive as those papers are, I love them and have kept every one. Special pictures they drew, cards they made, and paper flowers they created. Those things have all gone into a box of special things I want to remember because they are so precious to me—not the papers themselves, but what they represent. I am a mom. And yeah, it’s complicated. I’m not what or who they want sometimes. When they’re older I will probably have to share that title more with a bio parent if they want that. I might not ever get what I imagined on Mother’s Day. It might always be a bittersweet day. But I’m thankful for it regardless.

Because I’m not so far removed from the days of sobbing into my pillow over another year passing when my relationship with my mom was weird and I didn’t have kids of my own. I can remember feeling sick when I got a birth announcement or baby shower invite in the mail and then feeling immediately disgusted with myself. I can still feel the headache from crying myself sick in the bathroom some Mother’s Days.

So, if your Mother’s Day is complicated, I see you. I’m there too. It may never be uncomplicated and that sucks. But really, almost nothing about this mom gig is straightforward so I don’t know why I’d expect this part to be any better. Happy Mother’s Day to all the adoptive, step, foster, half, estranged, conflicted, and “found family” moms out there. You deserve to be celebrated and I’m sorry if you aren’t. Here’s your permission to go to the store the morning after and buy yourself all the flowers and chocolate your heart could want.