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The Curse of Having a Good Mother

Debts You Can Never Repay

picture credit: Andrew Branch


“Through the blur, I wondered if I was alone or if other parents felt the same way I did - that everything involving our children was painful in some way. The emotions, whether they were joy, sorrow, love or pride, were so deep and sharp that in the end they left you raw, exposed and yes, in pain. The human heart was not designed to beat outside the human body and yet, each child represented just that - a parent's heart bared, beating forever outside its chest.” — Debra Ginsberg


I have a good mother, and I know the truth. A good mother is never truly appreciated.

The gratitude owed to her will always be overdue and underpaid.

A mother lays her heart bare for you to swing at so that you can work the worst of yourself out on her and give the best of yourself to the world.

But oh, how annoying she is, your good mother.

She gets under your skin and she gets in your business and she thinks she knows everything. Her fears and her anxieties for you annoy you; they frustrate, like weight on the shoulders of your big plans, your expectations, your freedoms.

Then you grow, taking for granted who grew you.

And then you have a child of your own to grow.

And loving him so completely overwhelms you and your fears for him overtake you.

And while you watch him fall asleep, safe, peaceful, unburdened, you sit on the edge of his tiny bed and think:

What would his life be like, if I weren’t here? Who will love him as much as I do? Who will know that he likes his hair stroked, and the weight of my hand on the middle of his back, as he falls asleep?

What will he be like when he’s older? Will he be kind? Will he treat other people’s feelings like they matter? Will he bully? Will he drink and drive? Will he treat his wife or his husband well? Will he be nervous in crowds? Will he be a good parent? Will he save his money? Will he have the same regrets I have about my youth?

Yes, if you have a good mother, you have made her life fuller. But you have shortened it, too. I am sure of it.

All the daggers you threw, all the harsh words and rolled eyes and heavy sighs and slammed doors and grumbled insults and ragged resentments, were all done simultaneously with her planning for what was to come, preparing for your day ahead, saving for your future.

She accepted the tantrum as she washed your face for bed. Breathed through the screams and clenched fists as she served you supper. Let the bedroom door slam as she folded laundry. Remembered angry words from the night before over her lunch break.

She built you up when you needed it and reigned you in before it was too late. She lived every minute of every day with the fear of losing you or of you losing yourself.

She sat on the edge of your bed, and she worried that you would wake in the night and feel alone. She sat on your bed and she wondered if you would be kind, if you would get your heart broken, if she would be able to teach you all the things you need to know before it was too late.

She wondered if she could protect you more. If she could wring more hours out of the day to be more for you, all so you could have the utmost privilege of rolling your eyes, slamming doors, and answering in heavy sighs.

The curse of adulthood, and certainly of motherhood, is realizing all the debts you can never pay back to your mother. Your good mother, who never gets the hours back, who never really recovers from the worry and the sacrifice. Who allowed you to blame her, to label her: crazy, annoying, overbearing, loud, invasive, out of touch, uncool, embarrassing, unfair.

Though her eyes looked tired, and sometimes they brimmed with tears, her arms never faltered. They never wavered, never threatened to lower and end their welcome of your body and your heart into her embrace.

As my son rips from my protective hold and leaps off the edge of a platform my fingers and my toes go cold and fear fills my eyes. They meet my mother’s, and for a second I can feel her, sitting on the edge of my tiny bed, watching me sleep, wondering if I would be a good person, if I would one day sit on the edge of a tiny bed with my heart bare, raw, and hopeful.

And she says, “Don’t worry, he’ll be fine. You’re a good mother.”


A. Sutton
A. Sutton

Amanda owns 11th Hour Consulting ( www.eleventhhourconsulting.com ). She helps others express their professional and creative voices, and clarify their business communications.

Two bossy cats and one spirited toddler call the shots.

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