It’s Mother’s Day, and everyone on my social media feed is posting mushy things about their moms. As I scroll through Facebook I’m reminded that “paradise is found below your mother’s feet” and “God can’t be everywhere so He made mothers,” and that moms are saints and/or angels. I see everyone’s baby pictures with their moms, and crayon portraits done by toddlers for Mother’s Day showing moms with super-hero capes. Everyone is grateful to their moms, and those of us lucky enough to be moms certainly feel appreciated.
But I also feel, as I look at these things, that there are real misconceptions about what it means to actually be a mom, and that there are huge over-expectations imposed on moms today. I have two boys – 8 and 5 years old – and I really don’t want them to grow up thinking that I’m some kind of super-human. It’s true that I love them more than everything else in the world. That does not mean, however, that I have an endless supply of patience, or humor, or energy. I don’t want to have to tell them to brush their teeth or put their clothes away or finish their homework fifty times every day, and be expected to do it with a smile because I’m supposed to be saintly.
People love talking about how selfless moms are, but women shouldn’t be expected to be selfless when they become mothers. When I sit on my prayer rug and raise my hands in prayer, I do first pray for my children’s health and happiness. But it’s not because I’m selfless. It’s because I know that if something happens to them the person who would suffer the most is me, because their troubles devastate me. I don’t chase after my kids to eat right or study or get to bed at a reasonable time because I’m selfless and don’t need a break. It’s because I know that they won’t prosper in the way I want them to prosper if these things don’t happen, and I would have to deal with the fallout.
Moms are not tireless, though we are often described this way. When I get home from work, after having woken up at 5:30 am to get myself and then the boys ready, having dropped them at school and put in a full day at work and then rushed out to get home to them by 4:30 pm every day, I’m almost woozy with exhaustion. Yet I usually drop my office bag at the door, swoop down to grab them from the couch and hug them, and then we talk and study together. I usually just want to collapse into bed and read something mindless, but instead I hang out with them and ask them about their day.
Some days around 6 pm I have to get on another round of work calls, and I’m supervising dinner and bathtime and bedtime at the same time. And while this is all happening and I’m trying to be happy, involved, chirpy mom, I’m thinking: I’m going to fall down on my face. This is exhausting! And so increasingly I’ve started to give myself a break. One or two times I week I try to send them off for playdates, and slump on the sofa to watch the Kardashians. And that’s ok. I want the boys to know that Mommy gets tired and needs a break.
Moms have can have lives that extend beyond their mom duties. Despite what many people seem to expect of mothers nowadays, the happiest moms I know are the ones who have lives that involve pursuits other than just the pursuit of their children. I learned the importance of this when we moved from Chicago to Dubai a few years ago. Unlike what I grew up seeing in Chicago, here most moms feel comfortable sharing their parenting responsibilities with relatives, nannies, maids and friends. They have hobbies and social activities that do not involve their children, and as I’ve become more comfortable joining in things I never did before, I feel myself relaxing. Not since I had Hamza 8 years ago have I felt as socially engaged as I do now, and it’s really a relief.
I want my kids to know that despite all I do for them, I’m not some magical being descended from Heaven to care for them, I’m not the soil in which they have been sown like seeds to grow forth. I’m a person, and I have the needs of a person. I need them to give me a break sometimes, to understand that if we go out and they get tired, I get tired too. If everyone in the house is sick at the same time, that means Mommy is also sick and shouldn’t automatically be the one expected to get off the couch while everyone else lounges so she can dole out medicine and make chicken soup. If I cultivate a friendship with my children, as so many parents do these days, I expect them to treat me like a real friend, one whose feelings they care about and whose burdens they share. A “friendship” shouldn’t mean that I’ve lost parental authority and now they can brush me off or disrespect me as though I’m their age.
I’ve stopped thinking that I need to transform myself completely into a mythical being called “Mom” and leave behind my pre-Mom life and self. For a while after Hamza was born I felt like motherhood was taking away my identity. I was no longer Mariam – a wife, daughter, lawyer, political junkie, lover of romance novels, yo-yo dieter. I was just a rather average Mom, trying desperately to live up to the Mother’s Day idea of Super Mom. During Hamza’s first few years I went up and down until finally it dawned on me that this pursuit of Super Mom-hood was making me miserable. So I forced myself to slow down, to stop being so critical of my own abilities as a mother, and to re-approach the person I was before. I carved out time for myself, I hired a live-in maid, I made new friends, I started writing again, I went on dates with my husband. And so I started feeling better.
On this Mother’s Day I reflect on the kind of mom I am, and the kind of mom I was raised by. I realize that my mom deals calmly with me and my brothers despite her desire to clobber us sometimes, not because she never gets offended or hurt or frustrated. I realize my mom doesn’t have to make fresh curry and home-made roti every day, but does it because that’s her way of showing her love. I realize how much I’ve taken her for granted in the past 34 years, how much patience, wisdom, and kindness she has, and how much it takes to be the arbiter of other people’s problems for a lifetime.
Today I understand that my mom is no superhero or saint, and neither am I. We are both just women trying to do our best, and that should be good enough. Happy Mother’s Day to my Mom and all the other moms out there!
Mariam Ahmed is a Pakistani-American lawyer from Chicago, currently working as the Head of Compliance at a financial institution in Dubai. She was a regulatory lawyer at a large law firm in Chicago before moving to Dubai in 2012. She has two little boys with her husband, Haroon.
Photo Credit: james goodman