I know a lot of mothers. I know patient mothers, shouty mothers, smug mothers, insecure mothers, distracted mothers, helicopter mothers, and guilt ridden mothers. I know stay at home mothers, working mothers, and mothers who do a mixture of both. I know mothers who practise attachment parenting and mothers who swear by Gina Ford. I know mothers who send their children to school and hope for the best and I know mothers who never let a day pass by without doing school work with them at home. I know mothers who let their children sleep in their bed all night out of sheer tiredness and mothers who would rather die than break their ‘no children in bed’ rule. I know mothers who don’t allow television and mothers who allow children to decide how much they want to watch. I know mothers who don’t think they and their children will ever survive the teenage years. I know so many mothers. And all of these have so little in some ways but everything in common in others: they only want the very best possible for their children, and they wonder daily if what they’re doing is the best.
I know a mother with the type of patience and commitment and ability to play shops all day that I can only aspire to, who every day wonders how she could have been better. I know a mother with the most amazing four children you can imagine, who are resilient and caring and clever and kind and thoughtful, and she questions every decision she makes and has made. I know a mother who spent the entirety of my children’s baby years giving me the best advice and support you could imagine, and who I look up to more than almost anyone else, and at least once every day she is certain she’s done the wrong thing for her children.
And I know my own mother. I don’t like talking about her in the past tense, because she still feels very present to me. Not in some kind of religious, she’s-in-heaven sense, but in who I am. When she was alive, I didn’t always realise what she was to me. I knew she loved me, I knew she would do anything for me, and I felt lucky to have her. But I didn’t realise that she made me the person I am. With all my imperfections and perfections, all the things I would change and all the things I wouldn’t, she made me who I am, and the kind of mother I am. Because she was the kind of mother who made me understand, every minute of every day, that I was everything to her. She loved me beyond reason, beyond sense, and to the ends of the earth. When she died, I lost the person in my world whose love was truly unconditional and without end. But she taught me everything, and mostly what I’ve learned is this: it doesn’t matter what kind of mother you are. You can be impatient, frightened, insecure, difficult, shouty, moody, kind, cheerful, loving, affectionate, patient. You can question yourself. You can be guilt ridden over your decisions every day. You can make the wrong ones. And you’d be just like all the other mothers out there, who are all of these things some of the time. But as long as your children can see and understand that your love is entirely unconditional, that your love is entirely without end, and that all of these mothers you are is just somewhere behind that, you’re doing just fine.
Because as Philip Larkin* once said, ‘what will survive of us, is love.’
*The Larkin quotes comes, of course, courtesy of my mum and her love for the grumpy poet. It couldn’t sum her up more. I miss her every day.