Standing in the Shadow of Mother’s Day

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Please don’t ask mothers to stand, please don’t ask mothers to stand, I thought over and over this past Sunday morning.  I would not stand, even though I’ve been like a mother most of my life.

When I was young, and my mom only had five or six children, I remember looking forward to each Mother’s Day.  At the time, we attended a very large southern church and each year without fail, the pastor would ask mothers to stand.  To make things interesting, he would say something like, “If you have more than three children, please remain standing.”  This continued until there were only one or two women standing; they were usually in their eighties and had between twelve and thirteen children.

Every year, my mom would proudly stand and wait as the numbers of women standing dwindled.  As a kid, I felt so much pride that this was my mother.  In my eyes, she was a super hero.  I loved the gasps that swirled around us as she continued to stand.  It wasn’t lost on me though, that the admiration for five turned into incredulity of her sanity by six.  The blessed “quiver full of arrows,” came to be seen as being placed in the hands of mad men.

And each year, my mother scanned the large congregation for her personal rival, Mrs. Merriweather.*  It began with child #5 and continued through until Mom eventually took the lead at #9, nine years later.  Looking back, Mrs. Merriweather may never have known that their birthing of children was a competition, but in my mother’s mind, she not only knew, but was a bitter rival.  Sneers, slights and unkind looks were reported by my mother on a regular basis.  But I digress.

It was between child #6 and #7 that pride for my mother on this day, turned to one of conflicted shame.  It was the shame of a partial lie.  It really began with Mom’s depression that began before the birth of my sister (child #5), but being only six years old myself, I did not fully grasp the situation.  I remember making the conscious decision that Mom needed help, but did not realize until later that she needed much more than that.  By child #7, my innocent understanding of life had crumbled like a sandcastle in the tide.  My eyes were wide open to reality.  Mom was so busy trying to cope with her own deep depression, that she was unable to be a mom except to the babies.  She loved and cared for the babies because they fulfilled her need to be completely needed, but as soon as they became remotely independent, they became my children to take care of.

I remember wanting children when I was really young, but after basically raising my younger siblings, I realized that I never even wanted to marry, much less have kids.  These are the things that I thought about as my mother stood so proudly each year on Mother’s Day.  I loved her and I knew that she was trying, and yet, I couldn’t help feeling sick to my stomach that she was not the only mother.  It felt like a lie.  Mom birthed them, I took care of them. I sat silent, covered in the shadow of her standing figure.  I never stood.

So this year, as Mother’s Day came around, I thought back to those days; especially now, raising Nicolas.  When I mention that I became my brother’s guardian and I am back in the role of raising him, most people are very supportive.  However, there was one particular woman who took me back to my shadow days.  She vehemently told me, “You’re not his mother.  You’ll never be his mother.  It’s not the same, so don’t try to compare yourself to one when you don’t know what you’re talking about.”  I was stunned to silence.  It took me back to one of my most painful memories as a teenager.  Most painful because it was the quintessential example of how adults who didn’t know my situation, viewed me.

Mom had 9 kids by this point, and she had just had her second miscarriage in a row. She was devastated.  The house was a wreck and as usual, I was doing my best to keep everything under control.  An older, well-meaning couple from our church came over to bring words of comfort to Mom.  After the wife prayed with my mom in a caring tone of voice, I showed the husband and wife to the front door.  With a child on one hip and a laundry basket on the other, I thanked them for coming.  But instead of leaving, the husband turned to me and said, “Your yard is a wreck.  You really should get a handle on the poison ivy outside.”

“I know,” I was embarrassed. “I’ve tried but I’m really allergic, and it keeps coming back, so it’s difficult.”

“That’s no excuse,” he said.  He proceeded to tell me how to do it.

At that point, the wife chimed in, stepping close to my face and sticking an angry finger a few inches from my nose. “You’re lazy,” she said.  Her gentle tone of voice she’d used with mom was gone.  In it’s place was a hard, steely one.  “You need to help your mom.  This place is a mess.  She has taken care of all of you, and what do you do when she’s in need?  Nothing, from what I can tell.”  With that, they turned and left without looking back.  Every time I think back to that moment, and even now as I write, I shake with how ashamed I felt.  It was being told that my sacrifice of my life up to that point was nothing.  It was not good enough.  I understand that they had no idea, but it still cut deep.

So as these memories and thoughts came back to me, I was relieved that although mothers were thanked and acknowledged, this Sunday, there was no standing involved.  I don’t ever want Nicolas to think that I’m trying to replace Mom.  I’m not.  I will always be his sister and I will always love Mom.  So thank you to the thoughtful people who whispered a happy Mother’s Day to me when he was not around.  It meant so much to me that you were thinking not only of me but of him as well.

Comments

  1. It’s a messy “holiday” isn’t it? I thought of you often as I faced my second mother’s day without my own mom, and how I miss her, but at the same time felt that I wouldn’t be able to celebrate the mom that she was if she were still alive, anyways. So many have lost mothers, mothers that they had excellent relationships with, and mothers that they felt like didn’t know what it meant to really be a mother. So many long to be mothers, and struggle with getting pregnant or infertility, or miscarriage. So many are left in a painful place of being a mother because they carried life and even had to birth their babies, but there are no babies for them to hold now. And many, like you, who selflessly took in those who aren’t their biological children and raised them as their own. All of that to say, thank you for being a mom when you don’t have to be. I feel for and with you. love you.

  2. Marcy Froemke says:

    Anna, you brought tears to my eyes. God bless you for your selfless acts in mothering your siblings! You were forced into maturity early, and your natural sensitivity made the words of people who should have known better more hurtful than they should have been. The injustice of it boils my blood, but God knows, too. I understand exactly how you feel about the “standing-up-in-church” issue. When my husband and I were trying so hard to have a child, I would feel like God had forgotten me–even though I tried Biblical ways, such as asking my pastor to pray on my behalf, just as Hannah had done. When our desire for a child was finally met through adoption, I once again felt isolated during Mother’s Day at church. So much was said about the birthing process, and I never knew whether I should stand or not. I was most definitely a Mother, but I’d not had the privilege of giving birth. I remember particularly one pastor who made a point of asking the adoptive mothers to stand. That was worse! Why make us feel different? We had not made special sacrifices, as he seemed to imply. My baby was my baby! That was all that mattered. How many times have women been hurt on Mother’s Day by well-meaning pastors, I wonder. This year was different, though. Our pastor asked ALL the women to stand. He then thanked us all for our contributions to nurturing not only children (whether as mothers, teachers, or loving contributors to a child’s life), but he reminded everyone of the importance of women’s role in the church. Without women, churches would be dead. I will always remember this as the best Mother’s Day sermon ever! God bless you, Anna, for writing this and sharing your experiences. You have always impressed me as a Godly, talented, intelligent, and loving young woman. Now I am even more awed and thankful for you!

  3. Thanks for sharing. Rachel & I are honored to know you!

  4. Heidi Carter says:

    I’ve come to dislike Mothers Day, Fathers Day, even Grandparents Day (isn’t there one of those? Hard to keep track). I feel like it’s so much pressure from society to honor our mother, father, whatever, one day a year instead of constantly and repeatedly every day of every year like the Bible commands us. My goal with my boys is to ask them to ignore Mother’s Day in the future. I would rather have their respect and small kindnesses daily then one day of lavish attention. I would rather they acknowledge all their mother and father do for them periodically and spontaneously throughout the year than reflect on it one day a year when they’re told by society to do so. And I would rather receive a kind word or gesture on any random day than expect these things on that one certain day. It would be so much more meaningful! I kind of wish that pastors would stop bringing attention to it on one day and instead admonish children every Sunday to honor their mother and father daily.
    Anna, you have gained my respect in a whole new way. Not many young girls could or would step up, without being asked, and take over simply because it needed doing. The Lord blessed you with a maturity that is so rare nowadays. And though you’re not asking nor expecting, you shall be rewarded for these things. The Lord promises that to us. Thanks for sharing this, my sister in Christ.

  5. Marsha Gentry says:

    Hi Anna,
    I am Rachel Lonas’ mom. I remember you and Ethan coming to our church for you to sing. Tears fell from my eyes as I read your blog. Rachel’s sister is handicapped and we have had to endure rude people that have no idea what you have been through or understand your personal situation. It really makes me mad when “Christian” friends make hurtful comments like the couple did to you. Of all people, they should know better. At the end of the day, you are living for the Lord and doing what you believe he would want you to do. We have to ignore those with a sharp tongue. Your brother is very fortunate to have you and Ethan. You can be proud of what you are doing and will be rewarded in heaven for it. I enjoyed reading your message very much.

  6. Sara G. says:

    Anna-
    There are so many words that I would love to splatter all over this space but, as I often have to do, I am going to try to keep my emotions as contained and steady as possible. I could tell you just how personally this account has hit me in parts of my heart that I truly wish I couldn’t feel, or write countless paragraphs explaining why I am so amazed and empowered by you; but, instead, I really just want to tell you that you are incredible and I thank you so very much for opening up your heart through your words. I don’t know your entire life and all your experiences, and I don’t need to. I do know that I am very proud that one day I will be your sister-in-law. You’re very special and you just deserve for so many people to tell you that. Thank you for being the person that you are and for everything you have done for your family. I love your brother so much and I can see so much of your kindness and selflessness in him.

  7. Stand tall, Anna. You were and are a great woman who has been and continues to be a blessing to many!

  8. Johnny Canuck says:

    An elegantly told story. Reminds us that god believers, even when they are trying to help, can be insensitive and un-helpful.

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