When June Cleaver Is Not In The Building

I remember reading an article that said “No mother is June Cleaver”. I think it was about the time “Roseanne” was on, and the point of the article was that more moms were like Roseanne. Other than the 50s formality and wardrobe, my mom was a bit closer to June. She was in charge, she was to be respected (not that she always was at first, but she always won in the end) and Mom usually knew best and modeled doing the right thing. I remember wondering whether it was I that was delusional or the writer of this article.  My thought was that while there were many kinds of mothers, there were more Junes in the mom world than Roseannes. At least that was what I had seen in my experience. Evidently the writer of the article’s experience was different.

I think it was my first year following college when it actually dawned on me that the term “mother” had even more variety than I ever knew. All kids did not have moms who made them a priority, or cared about their character, or even thought about them much at all. Knowing what I know now, I am sure that I had encountered many of these people prior to that, but I had been oblivious. But working as a houseparent at a children’s home at age 21, my eyes were really opened. Continued oblivion was not possible.

The life stories of some of these kids were evidence of a mother who did not meet the stereotype. There was the mom who sent her 12-year old son back from his weekend home visit with a supply of pot (we learned to search his things immediately after every visit.) There was the mother who was involved with someone in the mafia and left her son in the children’s home so she could travel out of the country undercover with her boyfriend, who was constantly in danger (the kid, then 15, had seen his babysitter gunned down right in front of him when he was younger.) There were kids with parents who were so caught up in the drug lifestyle they barely noticed when their kids were taken away. There was the 15-year old boy who was in the home voluntarily, tired of his parent’s fights. There were mothers who did not believe their daughters when they told them they were sexually abused, and so gave up the child and kept the abuser. There was the couple whose three children were taken away because they were seldom supervised (even though both parents and the bi-sexual mom’s girlfriend lived in the home.) Their 8-year old son smoked, and the parents gave a “what can you do?” laugh when they were asked about it. 

I learned not to make assumptions about mothers. Not only about those with obvious parental infractions, but I learned even “nice people” could be pretty crummy mothers. I learned that often there was more below the surface that may not meet the eye.

When I look at my current circle of friends, it is staggering how many had moms who were not really capable of being there for them. One’s mom left him when he was six months old. Several had mothers who were mentally ill. Some were left on their own growing up for long periods of time, essentially raising themselves. Some were abused, physically, sexually, mentally and verbally. Some had moms that were “religious”, with reams of rules and little love and forgiveness. Some were pawned off on their grandparents or with other family members to raise because mom had to find herself.

At this time of Mother’s Day, if you care about the hearts of people, stay alert. Be sensitive to the hearts and experiences of others. I have had a couple of people tell me it is their most hated day of the year. The first time I heard that I was shocked, but now after hearing it quite a few times, I am not anymore. Many skip church that day, just because it makes it even harder. I have learned sometimes Mother’s Day reminds them they were short-changed in the mother department, sometimes it reminds them their mom is no longer with them, sometimes it is because their mom is sick with a disease like Alzheimer’s and doesn’t remember them, other times it is because their mother is mentally ill and still cruel to them. Sometimes it is because they desperately want to be a mother and are not, sometimes because they have outlived a child, other times because their children have problems that tear out their hearts, or because they have children who are out of communication with them. Some have had miscarriages, abortions, lost their children in custody cases, or put their children up for adoption. There is a lot going on inside the people around you, so don’t assume it is a happy time for all. Know it can be a time of deep emotion.

I get a bit taken aback when someone wishes me a Happy Mother’s Day. Evidently it is the new “Merry Christmas”….I have been wished it three times in the past 24 hours. I always just say “Thank you”, but part of me feels the need to explain to them I am not a mother. Setting the record straight. It is uncomfortable. It makes me feel a bit like a mother imposter. It usually leads to a five minute dialogue….OK, monologue because it is just in my mind. What I “should” say, but don’t say. “Thank you” is much easier. Sort of.

All mothers are not Roseanne or June. All women of a certain age are not mothers. All mothers are not nurturing, loving, kind or good role models. Sometimes women are mothers without children to hug. If you were gifted with a good mother, know you are fortunate. Don’t take them for granted. Celebrate them. If you were blessed to be a mother, please love your children well. It’s a job few are sufficiently prepared for, but one that usually grades on the curve. You know, even when I was working at the children’s home where so many were shortchanged in the mom department, they craved love from their mother. The need for a mom’s love is instinctive. Even the love of a bad mom.

Good mothers are to be celebrated, and so I am OK with the Hallmark day, although a part of me finds it to be unnecessary. Good mothers should be appreciated more than once a year and it shouldn’t necessarily be on demand. You know how I hate celebrations “on demand”.
I will even celebrate the bad mothers too, on this Hallmark day, because amazing human beings were created as a result of them enduring their pregnancy. (But still, I don’t have to like or respect them.)
It doesn’t take a good mother to raise an amazing human being, but it certainly helps. If you are raising a daughter, teach her how to be a good mother. She is watching you. Talk kindly to her, listen to her, parent her. You do that by rising above the reality. You do that by acting a bit like June Cleaver. You are the grownup, and your child should get a childhood. You are one of the architects of that childhood. Plan and execute a firm foundation. Make it beautiful and fill it with wonderful memories. 
If you have reason to hate Mother’s Day, I hope this year you find comfort. I hope you find joy to eclipse your pain. I personally am glad you were born and hope you love and are loved. If you don’t feel you are, call me. We can work on that.

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