For my mama

I didn't post on Mother's Day because I was busy being a mother and a daughter. However, it's been brought to my attention that some people in this world believe that I believe my mother did it wrong, that she failed at parenting my sisters and I, that I actively work to not be the kind of mother she was (is).

Example A: This sentence in my previous post: "I had to do what my mom didn't know how to do, and what I have spent a lifetime trying to learn." For those who don't participate in my circle of writerly friends, I suppose this sentence could be read to mean that my mother was inadequate. I am very angry with this interpretation of my words, but I will allow that if taken out of context, it could be read that way.

My explanation: I was (am) a fearful person. As a child, I shrank back in social situations. I sucked my thumb and sat in the corner. I refused to speak in public. I never went anywhere alone. I deferred to my sisters, hid behind my friends, kept my head down when walking into a room. I never learned to ride a bike because I was afraid of falling. Fear. It ruled me. To an extent, it still does. I must coach and bolster myself in every situation and remind myself that the world will not end if ... someone doesn't like me, I say something dumb, I fail at a project, etc.

Another mother might have pushed and cajoled me into facing all of those fears. She might have forced me through doors and propelled me into situations where I'd be forced to use my voice and speak up for myself. But the mother God gave me was gentler than that. She finger curled my hair and allowed me to sit quietly in her lap. When I was too old for that, she offered me situations that would allow me to build up my courage, but she never pushed me out of the nest. Instead, she gave me opportunities to test my wings. And when I was ready, I used them on my own.

I am cautious about how protective I am of my children because I don't want them to live every day afraid, the way I have. I worry constantly that I will crush their beautiful spirits with the weight of my own insecurities. I don't know whether my mother had that fear. I think what she always wanted was for me to feel safe and loved. She did that. My job is to find a balance between them knowing they are safe and me allowing them to be free.

My fears or worries about how I parent aren't about my mother. I am not parenting in contrast to her. In fact, I see so much of my mother in how I protect and nurture my children. She is the only parent I ever knew, and she taught me so much about how to sacrifice and support those you love. When I have to decide what kind of mother to be, I don't think about my mother because she is so much a part of me.

What I think about is the version of me I want to influence them most. Do I want them to see the scared, fearful, afraid-to-fail version of me that I still struggle with? No. God, no. I want them to see the version of me that lets them take risks, that pushes them gently and allows them to push themselves, that closes her eyes and sends up a prayer but doesn't hold them back from doing something that I would never have the courage to do.

My life isn't about my mother. It's about me. Me finding myself and giving the best parts of me to my children and my husband. Whether they know it now or not, the best parts of me are parts that were shaped by my Mama. And I can only say that in so many ways.

My example: I entered a contest for Mother's day. The contest rules were to write what makes your mother special in 100 words or less. This was my entry:
My mother embodies the word love, but I didn’t understand that until she handed me her dog-eared copy of The Color Purple, which I’d been trying to sneak for days. She had drawn through every inappropriate word until the book was safe for my young eyes. Since then, I’ve seen hundreds more examples of her love and support for those around her — her family, her community, her special-needs students, the customers at her part-time job. My mother is a beacon of light for everyone who knows her and we are all better for having her magnificent spirit in our lives.
That's my Mama. That's the Grandma my children love so much. That's the woman who tried so hard to both love and protect me. And when people think about my relationship with her, it's what I hope they can finally understand. I am still angry with those who twist my words or who want to use them against my mom, but I feel better having said my piece.

And you know what helps? I won that contest. My mother now has four tickets to see The Color Purple on stage. That will be a full-circle moment for me, and hopefully for her as well. It is part of my hope that she'll know what her sacrifice and love and tenacity means to me, that she'll see herself in how I parent my children, and that she'll know how unbelievably proud of her I am.

I didn't say it here yesterday, so I'll say it now: Happy Mother's Day, mama. We love you.


  • Anonymous

    "My fears or worries about how I parent aren't about my mother. I am not parenting in contrast to her."

    Those lines resonate so loudly. Because our own mothers are often our strongest (or even only) examples of parenthood, we can easily be tempted to measure ourselves by the yardstick they crafted. But it's so important to remember - reminding ourselves and them - that it is the finger curls and redacted books that loom far larger than the missteps we are trying to skip over.

    Thanks for this post, Kelly.

  • Kelly Miller

    So true, Kristen. And the truth is my mom's yardstick is incredibly accomplished and courageous. There's no way you could get me to stand mine up next to it.

    It is definitely the finger curls and the books and the quiet understanding of who their children were that made (makes) our mothers so important to us. It's what we'll remember long after we don't have them to turn to anymore.

  • liz

    Oh my goodness! I can't believe anyone said anything to you to make you feel like you needed to defend or explain yourself! I'm sorry to hear that, Kelly.

    Congratulations to you and your mom; enjoy the tickets!

  • The Drama Mama

    This is a great post. The fact that you are such an awesome mom yourself is a testament to your mom.

  • Unknown

    I tried to convey what you have said here in a recent post of my own, but you did it much better.

    And I think this should count toward Momalom: Courage!

  • Jami

    Way to go, Kelly!

    I'm sorry you had to do it, but you sure did it well. :)

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