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CHASING DOWN THE MUSE: Celebrating mothers — and their imperfections

It’s that time again. Throughout history, May and motherhood have been celebrated together. Maia was the goddess of spring in Roman mythology. She was linked with the growth and renewal of nature and her name spoke of a mother, a nurse and of universal increase and plenty. At the time of year when nature renewed itself, festivals were dedicated to the mother goddess as the source of new life.

Our modern version of this day of the recognition of mothers actually began simply enough early in the 20th century. A woman named Anna Jarvis felt that one day a year should be set aside to pay tribute to mothers. Since everyone had a mother — and Anna had been deeply devoted to her own — the assumption was that everyone would see this as a good thing.

Anna Jarvis started a letter-writing campaign that finally paid off when in 1914 President Woodrow Wilson officially declared the second Sunday in May as national Mother’s Day. Carnations became the official flower — white for mothers who had passed away and red ones for living mothers. Giving of presents and sending of greeting cards soon followed.

But how did paying tribute become about an idealized “perfect mother”? Why must we always have perfection? Is it blasphemy to ask this?

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My own mother has always said, “If you can’t say something nice, just don’t say anything.” But I think it IS nice to say that we have a right to a little imperfection here as mothers. I would a lot rather that the celebration of mothers be about the right to be imperfect; about the right to make and learn from mistakes; about the right to not know all the answers all the time.

That would be more real. That would be more human. That would be something to celebrate. Perfect mothers too often must also have perfect children. What a burden — on everyone! There’s enough stress already without that.

As mother, grandmother and daughter I want the right to be wrong sometimes, to have “bad” days, and to not always be compared to some glorified ideal. I want the right to then learn from the wrongs and the “bads” and the many mistakes I will make in a full, rich, real life.

As the old cigarette ad stated, we’ve “come a long way, baby!” Have we in fact come far enough to recognize mothers for the real, very human people they are?

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A woman poet whose name I have long ago forgotten said that her mother’s back was the bridge that she walked upon. I felt this recognition both honored her mother and carried with it the knowledge that many of the gifts from our mothers do not come in pretty packages, but in hard lessons learned through trial and error. Sometimes bridges are rickety and have missing slats. They still manage to carry us across many a chasm. Mothers are like this too.

My mother wasn’t perfect and still isn’t at nearly 93. Do I love her any less for it? Not at all. Can I forgive her her failures? I certainly can, for these formed the bridge I walked upon. My grandmother was not perfect either. Still, we all loved her deeply. And from these women I learned to care for and respect myself and others, to be responsible, to have patience, and to embrace joy.

As a mother, I have had my own failures. My daughter already has some of her own in raising her boys, I am certain. We are none of us perfect. Should we honor imperfect mothers, even celebrate them? Absolutely!

Let us in the process recognize just how difficult motherhood may be. Let’s see motherhood with all its flaws and imperfections. Let’s do it every day that we can for as long as we can. Let’s view motherhood with candor and humor and, above all, love.

Let’s acknowledge our mothers for all their quirks and their foibles and other so-called imperfections. In fact, on this upcoming Mothers’ Day, let us celebrate the very human qualities of our mothers and ourselves without any glorification and idealization. Let’s be real.

I like to remember that Charles Lamb said that mothers’ love grows by giving…pass it on. Happy Mothers’ Day!


CHERRIL DOTY is an artist, writer, and creative coach exploring and enjoying the many mysteries of life in the moment. She can be reached by e-mail at cherril@cherrildoty.com or by phone at (714) 745-9973.


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