Mother’s Day – or Mothering Sunday to give it the more traditional name – feels like the start of good times.
Spring surely has sprung or at least is meant to have done and days are drawing out, daffodils are delighting us and clocks will be magically accelerated by an hour in a week’s time so that there will be more time for living in each 24 hours.
Or so it always feels.
(Of course it’s not always so – Mothering Sunday in 2020 was a day preluding the start of the first lockdown and our lives narrowing rather than opening up. And in 2021, the weariness of three months of lockdown 3 meant that Mother’s Day was somewhat muted ….but let’s focus on the vast majority of Mothers Days in coupling them with Better Things Ahead!)
And yet Mothering Sunday itself is inevitably a bitter sweet day.
For the lucky ones among us who have or had loving and much cherished relationships with our mothers it’s a time for warm, poignant memories. For the less lucky ones, reflections are no doubt of a very different nature.
And as for being a mother and on the receiving end of affectionate gestures, visits, gifts and warm wishes, it’s still a day of conflicting emotions. How could it not be when having a child is the most precious experience possible yet also the most visceral?
After all, it’s a life sentence of unconditional love and devotion matched equally by fear and anxiety. It means living in an inescapable landscape of happiness and joy that manages to threaten misery and helplessness around every corner.
To misapply and misquote Dickens: It is the best of times, the worst of times, the age of wisdom, the age of foolishness, the season of light, the season of darkness, the spring of hope ….
You get the idea.
And the paradoxical and extraordinarily painful part of motherhood is that it perpetually involves a process of nurturing in order to let go.
From the moment that precious child is born, we are encouraging them to do without us.
To sleep without our hourly attention.
To smile without our comfort.
To eat by themselves, think by themselves, protect themselves – without our intervention and support.
Yet at the same time we feel bereft when they achieve autonomy. When they have lives that are private to us or at least only partly shared. When they are muddled or confused or heartbroken and take those sorrows not to us, but to their good friends. Their peers.
Which is exactly as it should be and what we’ve prepared them for over the years. It’s our job, after all.
Even so. Even so.
There can be few if any greater lines on parenting than in the poem Walking Away by C. Day Lewis:
How selfhood begins with a walking away,
And love is proved in the letting go.
The entire poem is worth reading and sticking somewhere close to hand for times when it’s needed – it has to be all about Letting Go – it’s not just a lyric from Frozen!
But it’s hard.
Literature gives us some fairly unappealing examples of motherhood – think Mrs Bennet -think Mrs D’Urberville – as well as some annoyingly saint-like creatures such as Mrs March in Little Women.
And there are also a lot of absent mothers, of course, a series of early deaths or deaths in childbirth frequenting the pages of Victorian literature. We can only wonder what life would have held for Jane Eyre or Dorothea Brooke or Bathsheba Everdeen if their mothers had lived. Would their fates have been any different? I like to think that Jane’s mother would have seen through Mr Rochester’s mad wife in the attic deceit, that Dorothea would have been cautioned about boring old Casaubon and that the advice to Bathsheba would have been to accept Farmer Oak instantly as Sergeant Troy was clearly bad news.
But who knows?
Perhaps their mothers would have learnt the art of letting go and consigned their daughters to forging their own paths, making their own error-strewn but ultimately rewarding way – simply supporting from the side-lines, emotionally, practically, financially …
Which brings us back to the unconditional bit.
Motherhood is a job for life, without holidays, without pension, without pay ….
Yet we wouldn’t exchange it for the world.
Happy Mothering Sunday to all!