The advertising world would have us think that planning the perfect Mother’s Day is the most natural thing in the world: that mothers everywhere beam at the thought of their adoring children bearing perfume and spa gift certificates and taking them to a fancy brunch.
The reality of the day is much more complicated, just like Mom herself.
This Mother’s Day, two smart new books offer guidance to navigating the most complex relationship of all: that with Mom, if she’s still with us, or her legacy, if she is not.
Hope Edelman and Iris Krasnow stand out from the current crop of motherhood authors who write about and for affluent women bemoaning the rough, rough road of modern parenting. The two best-selling authors incorporate the experiences of women from all races and socioeconomic backgrounds, and they write about topics that resonate with everyone.
In “I Am My Mother’s Daughter: Making Peace With Mom Before It’s Too Late,” (Perseus, $25, 223 pages) Krasnow addresses the 66 million baby boomer daughters as they themselves age. As women live into their 80s and 90s, there is more time than ever to heal old wounds. And well you should, Krasnow says: Mom may be coming to dinner for the next 20 years.
Edelman, author of “Motherless Mothers: How Mother Loss Shapes the Parents We Become” (HarperCollins, $25.95, 410 pages), maps the sorrow and longing felt by mothers who are motherless themselves.
Edelman offers thoughtful guidance for women who find themselves mourning their mothers anew as they embark on parenthood. She recently spoke with The Oregonian about becoming a mother when yours is gone.
Q. How do you advise women who lost their mothers early to face Mother’s Day?
A. Women who aren’t mothers yet, or at all, find it to be a difficult day because there’s no place for them. There’s nothing for them to do with the feelings they have because everyone else is celebrating with their mother in some way. It’s easier when you have children, because the day is about you. But you’re still thinking about your mother, and still missing her.
A year before I had my first child, motherless daughter groups started holding luncheons around the country. It gives women the chance to honor their mothers. It doesn’t have to be sad. You can remember her by putting her pictures out or planting some flowers. You can call a sibling and say, “Hey, I’m thinking of Mom today. Are you?”
Q. How do you feel when friends complain about their mothers?
A. Every woman I interviewed said that at some point, she wants to say, “You don’t know how lucky you are.” They see three generations together with the grandma pushing the stroller and the mom holding the shopping bags. Women without their mothers will never enjoy this simple pleasure.
But it’s also important to realize that we idealize the relationship we might have. If our mothers were here, we’d be complaining to our girlfriends, too. And we don’t want our women friends to have to censor themselves around us.
Q. Many women hope to have a magical relationship with their mother-in-law. Did you?
A. I expected to have unconditional acceptance from her and that she would know everything I wanted or needed. But I met her for the first time a week before our wedding. She lives in Israel, and we live in California – that’s our choice and no one’s fault. English isn’t her first language, and sometimes we’ve had miscommunications. I wanted her to hit the ground running with our family – she is the grandmother, and she’s far away. There’s a big hole in our family where any grandmother would be.
Q. Can anyone ever fully recover from the loss of their mother at a young age?
A. I’d say that “full recovery” is “mourning to the extent of one’s ability.” After I wrote “Motherless Daughters” and revisited the details of my mother’s death, I felt I’d gotten as far as I could. And then I became a mother myself. The process of pregnancy and birth reactivated the mourning. When you hit significant milestones, you reach a different level of mourning.
Q. Having a baby is hard enough when you do have your mom around. It must be extremely difficult without maternal reassurance.
A. Of all the women I interviewed, 52 percent of the motherless mothers said they managed alone after the birth of their first child. Motherless mothers become accustomed to not asking for help. They are used to getting through tough spots by themselves, and just went on looking at parenthood in the same way. And the truth is, it’s OK to ask for help – from friends or relatives or baby nurses or doulas.
Q. What does it feel like to be the public face of mother loss?
A. I never get tired of hearing the stories, and I’m always so glad to hear about how people go on to live happy lives.
When you lose a mother, you lose the person who uniquely sees you, who catalogs your needs and desires. It feels good to people to have others understand their loss. But I’m just a vehicle for everyone’s stories, and I synthesize the research. I tell women at readings, “Talk to the woman next to you and behind you.”
Q. You’ve been writing on the topic of mother loss for many years. What’s next for you?
A. I’m coming up on age 42, the age my mother was when she died. My husband asked me what I wanted to do. I’m not sure myself. So we’ll celebrate in a big way when I turn 43. My mom was diagnosed when I was 15, and she died when I was 17. So the teenage years seem like a vast white space. But I’m looking forward to them. It will be an incredible gift to be the well mother of teenage girls.
JL END GLASER
(Gabrielle Glaser is a staff writer for The Oregonian of Portland, Ore. She can be contacted at gabrielleglaser(at)news.oregonian.com)