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Mother’s Day weekend is right around the corner, and I don’t know how you feel about the whole thing, but for most of the moms I know, Mother’s Day can bring on a whole range of weird emotions and dynamics. Life is rarely as simple as Hallmark makes it sound, and let’s face it–relationships are pretty complicated sometimes!
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In the summer of 2016, my husband, kids and I moved up to Washington State (from Florida) to spend a year living close to my mom. She had been diagnosed with dementia earlier that year, and we pretty much knew it was one of those “now or never” choices we were going to have to make if we wanted our kids to grow up having actually known their grandmother. Thankfully the fact that my business is online gives us a lot of flexibility, and off we went.
It was an interesting year, really hard in a lot of ways, but also full of a lot of sweetness, and a lot of important lessons.
IT’S NEVER TOO LATE
You see, my relationship with my mom has always been complicated. For most of her life—and mine—she has struggled with mental illness, and that often made connecting difficult. It’s not something I have ever really talked much about publicly, because it has always been too painful.
In my early 20’s, when I was going through my own struggle with depression, I was really, really angry with her for not being the mom I wanted, or thought I needed. I refused to talk to her or have any sort of relationship with her for almost five years. It wasn’t until I started dating my now-husband Chuck that he convinced me to work on repairing that relationship. To this day, my mom calls him “Prince Charles,” and he is her special favorite.
And while our relationship had gotten much better over the years, I can honestly say that the year we spent with her truly erased any remaining bitterness. The dementia somehow erased the mental illness, and left us with the sweet–albeit somewhat forgetful–woman that would have been my mom all the time, had she not been so affected by her illness.
For the first time, I was able to stop blaming her for not being who I needed, and to realize, with humility, that she was doing the best she could with what she had.
It’s true that time really does heal all wounds. It’s never too late to forgive, or to apologize, and to start all over.
LIFE IS SHORT
It’s easy to tell ourselves that there is plenty of time for those things we need to do, or those things we know we should do, but life doesn’t always work out the way we think they are going to.
Moving our family cross-country for a year was not a small feat. It was expensive, for one thing, and also hugely disruptive to my marriage and my children and my business. My husband struggled in a place where he felt like he didn’t belong, and my kids struggled in a whole new school with a whole new set of social norms. To be perfectly honest, we’re still trying to recover, even though we’ve been back home for almost a year.
My company went through some major struggles too, directly related to the fact that I wasn’t there. There were power struggles and difficult conversations and more than a few mistakes along the way.
It was really hard.
It was also completely worth it.
I’ll never regret that time we spent there, and the moments that were shared. And I would do it again in a heartbeat. Life is short. So make the most of every moment, because you never know what tomorrow will bring. Say I love you. Make the effort. Take action and don’t wait. Today is a gift, and the only thing you have for sure.
BE KIND, AND LOVE WELL
I think the most striking thing about spending that year in Washington was to realize what an important impact my mom had on so many people throughout her life. Because she was so much more than her illness.
And despite her own struggles, my mom was kind and she was thoughtful, and she truly saw people, and she would love them well.
Over and over, people would make a point of telling me how kind my mom was when they had just moved to town, or how she reached out to them and supported them when they were sick or had just had a baby or were going through a dark time. She always made the extra effort, when no one else did.
And that is a gift to be treasured.
The reality is that it is pretty easy to stay in our own bubble most of the time, but our kindness and willingness to meet other people right where they are is always needed.
I was not and am not my mom’s caregiver. I’m not in charge of her medical care, or her financial affairs. My sister and brother have taken on those roles, which is a huge responsibility. For that, they deserve so much credit.
The only way I ‘helped’ was to visit. And I’ll be honest. It never felt like enough. I’m a doer, an action-taker, so simply sitting and just being feels….insufficient. Often I’d go to visit and then after a little while, run out of things to say. It would make me uncomfortable so I would get up to leave, but my mom would always ask me to stay just a little longer. She didn’t need conversation or action, she just wanted me.
And I had to learn that sometimes just being there, just being present, is the best gift of all.
Sharron Jaynes once pointed out that “successful mothers are not the ones that have never struggled. They are the ones that never give up, despite the struggles.” Along those same lines, Jill Churchill noted that “there’s no way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good one.”
In other words, life is never perfect, and we always need the bitter to taste the sweet.
Although it is meant to be a celebration, I think sometimes Mother’s Day can have the opposite effect—it brings to light all those complicated relationships and reminds us, as moms and stepmoms or daughters and daughters-in-law, or sisters and cousins and aunts, of all the times we’ve fallen short, or the times someone else has.
But you don’t have to be a perfect mother—or the perfect daughter—to love well, and to be present. It’s never too late to start today, and the truth is that life is too short to not make the most of the moment that we have.
My challenge for you this week, is to celebrate your mama, your stepmama, your mother-in-law, and all those other women who have been like a mama in your life, imperfections, shortcomings, and all. And if you are a mama, or a step-mama, to celebrate that too, and to give yourself a whole lot of grace. None of us have gotten it right all of the time, but we’re each amazing in our own special way. Savor the sweetness.