Many of us imagine the perfect mother as some combination of TV matriarchs June Cleaver and Marion Cunningham. Those mothers and the ones so often portrayed in film and literature are happy, well adjusted souls. They act as the rudder, steering the family through the choppy waters of life. Society’s image of “the perfect mother” is someone who puts aside her wants and wishes, her goals and ambitions, and focuses on those of her children or her spouse. In other words, to fit the mold, the perfect mother must be the perfect martyr.
I’ve never been much for molds. I don’t like them for my characters and I don’t like them in my reality. I’ve also never been much for martyrdom. If I’m nailed to a cross then I can’t hug my kids. Hands down, I think hugging and frequent reminders that my love and my support are unconditional beats trying to guilt my two phenomenal sons (Zack -18- and Sam -11) into doing “the right thing.” Who says it’s the right thing anyway? The phrase makes my point – social norms make mothers into judges who decide absolute right and absolute wrong, who know that Junior must do this or that to be happy and productive but that doing the other thing would not only be wrong, it would make him miserable.
My image for the perfect mother isn’t the judge, it’s the artist. The same creative spirit that puts word to paper, paint to canvas, and insanity to Youtube videos, acts as a guide to show our children that life, like literature or art, can take many forms and many paths. If I’m a good mother, I show my kids the roads and cheer for them on their way, support them when they stumble and remind them that there is no shame in starting over along a new path. My kids may take paths I never walked, but it doesn’t make their choices right or wrong. It means they chose, they decided. It means I did my job.
I’ve written one mother in my books that I adore. Violet Crandle in Faerie is Heather’s Aunt Vi who guides her tranformation. In Golden she is Viv’s mum who sends her daughter out in the wee hours of night to save the man who saved Viv. This is one of my favorite scenes with Violet Crandle from Golden:
“And you men say women are illogical,” Vi threw her hands up as though giving up on the whole sex. “She showed him what she thought. She thought he’d just done the most heroic thing a man could ever do for a woman and she was amazed to see proof positive that the man loved her more than himself. What did her hero do? He shoved her away.”
Trying to defend his friend, Boz said, “He was trying to protect her. He wouldn’t want her to feel obligated to him based on guilt or pity.”
“Trying to protect her from her own feelings? Did he ever bother to ask her first what those feelings were?” Now Vi was striding around the room, swinging her arms wildly. Peter ducked and grabbed a vase but couldn’t save a small statue that crashed to the floor. “I’ll tell you, he did not. He decided what she was feeling and now he is despondent over what he decided her feelings were.”
“This is why women talk about what we’re feeling. It’s so we know where we stand.” She shook her head as she continued, “How like a man to decide he knows what a woman is feeling without ever bothering to ask.”
Boz reacts to the goings on a bit later and gets a reply from Viv’s brother, Peter.
“I’m not sure if this house is backwards or if it’s the rest of the world that’s confused,” Boz said as he got up to follow Viv.
“We’re never sure either,” Peter replied.
Good mothers provide guidance. If they do it right, they don’t have to provide direction. With the foundation of proper guidance, love and support, the children will direct themselves on their journey to adulthood. Whether their mother is the judge or the artist, growing young people will model themselves after what they know, what they see. If their mother is the artist, they will see how chaos creates its own order. They will see joy and sorrow and the turmoil of the creative process. In the long run, what they will see most is growth. From certifiable (or nearly so) mothers, they will see that we can embrace the insanity of life with dedication and humor. From mother, the artist, they will learn that we create our destinies.
With apologies to June Cleaver and Marion Cunningham, the best mothers are not rudders at all. They are sails.
Happy Mother’s Day!!