life lessons, motherhood


I was raised with lots of expectations leading me to a lifetime of feelings of not good enough over my lifetime. Expectations are a double edged sword. We set them and expect. We expect certain behaviors, we expect performance, we even expect people to show up and act like they should act based on our own set of standards and values. In a work environment, this is standard practice and is a necessary piece of the puzzle we call careers. In our families, though, at times, expectations can also have layers of guilt attached and this is when they can turn into something other than what was originally intended.

In my family, when I was a kid, there was always an expectation of being good. What does this even mean? We use this one liner well into our adult lives when we say things like, “I’ve been good,” as it relates to avoiding the enjoyment of a nice big bowl of ice cream when we rationalize the stop on a warm summer day. “I’ve been good,” we say when we have decided to stop doing something that could interrupt us mentally or physically like going to the gym, abstaining from the nightly routine of a big glass of red after a long hard day at the office or making a big purchase when trying to say on a strict budget.

I’ve been good is a phrase so easily tossed around when our brains need to change some behavior that may have otherwise been helpful to our beings and we need a rationale for the change. At least this is me and my patterns. It is all too easy to blame this belief system on how I was raised, but the truth of the matter is, expectations are set so we have something to reach. At times they may seem unobtainable but we keep trying to climb anyway. We fall off the horse and we either walk away or we get back on and try again. Sometimes the very expectations that are set are subtle. In my memory much of our experiences are subjective when we look back. Two siblings can live under the same roof and have two completely opposing memories of one experience. I linked an interesting podcast below on the subject of memory from Malcolm Gladwell that will surely question your own memories.

When it came to birthdays and Mother’s Day, I was expected, as many of us were, to give at least a card and as I got older send one in a timely manner. This seems reasonable on paper, but for me, because there was an unwritten code that this was something I was supposed to do, often I would forget or be late in getting the card in the mail. This would cause hurt feelings, causing me to feel like a failure as a daughter, guilty as charged for missing the boat, lacking thoughtfulness and consideration for the person who gave birth to me.

I could never seem to get it right. Mother’s Day is always on a Sunday and if I mailed the card on a Monday, it would surely arrive in time. But Monday seemed to early, so Tuesday or Wednesday would be my target date so the card would arrive in perfect timing for Sunday. But I wanted the card to arrive on Saturday because for some reason earlier than that seemed contrived. At least in my monkey brain of aiming for perfection and then finding myself forgetting to mail the card completely until it was too late thus arriving after Mother’s Day defeating the whole holiday all together.

Clearly there was more to the simple act of sending a card here, years of expectations all fully present in all of this thinking. As easy as it sounds to get birthdays and Mother’s Day right, one slip up and you get it wrong and two people end up feeling bad defeating the purpose. Perhaps if my relationship with my mother hadn’t been so tumultuous over the years, these issues would be non existent. I never forget my son’s birthday or anyone I am deeply connected with. Ironically, this entire problem was solved when my mother stopped talking to me and in some ways it was freedom from the pressure of not getting it right.

The true irony though is not sending my mother a Mother’s Day card when she wasn’t speaking to me became almost painful. So at year two, I sent her a blank one that I had hand written simply, “You are still my mother,” and sent it on its way. In all of the years of those silent thunderous expectations, this card was probably the best Mother’s Day card I had sent. Because it was my own thoughts and heart that sent it, not Hallmark’s, and not my mother’s. Mine. My decision, my kindness.

When I had my own child, I made a decision to not set the barre for any of this nonsense. If my son made me a card, sent me a card, wrote a few lines with a stubby pencil on a piece of scrap paper, simply said Happy Mother’s Day or none of the above, this one day did not summarize his lack of love and adoration for me. I would not allow one day of the year to dictate the other three hundred and sixty four. The feelings of guilt in not getting it right and my own mother’s hurt expressions over the years would not be something I would put on my son. Ever. And I think because of this deliberate act, I have been the recipient of lovely handwritten stubby penciled notes over the years that have more meaning than any five dollar sappy card. As a result I have had lots of lovely Mother’s Days and I enjoy them so much because I know that when if time comes when my son could get married and have children, these Mother’s Days will have a shift for sure. So they are precious and appreciated.

I write this today so that we can remember that days like Mother’s Days are not about professing a years worth of maternal adorations for all of our hard work. If your child forgets to do something special, or not as special as you would have liked, could it be possible to just allow this and use the day to remember how lucky we are that we actually have children? Maybe we could choose to not say anything, not show hurt or disappointment but to just show gratitude for the day.

Every single day is special and as my own son gets older, I am more in tune with the privilege of having a healthy child who is still alive and well, who has made it this far so far. This is the best Mother’s Day gift I could ask for. Keeping this in perspective is the lesson from my mother over the years that I have learned the hard way, but my son gets to reap the rewards from.

one of the many lovely Mother’s Days out for a walk with my boy.

Happiest of Mother’s Day to all of you who get to wake up to your child tomorrow. There are so many moms who don’t. Lets try to remember this as we lie hoping for the breakfast in bed or the call that may not come at exactly the time you wanted or at all. As my grandmother used to quote frequently, “Those who hath no expectations shan’t be disappointed.” Easier said than done, but perhaps just relishing in the day and using it as an excuse for breaking your own rules, going out for your own ice cream sundae or a walk alone in the park listening to the birds and celebrating your own goodness as a mother. Enjoy the glorious day and cherish the little people we have raised. This is something to celebrate for sure.



There is a famous twelve step quote Progress not Perfection and it’s meaning is significant for perfectionists like me and many women I know. The word PROGRESS though implies achievement so I have switched the word to say PROCESS instead. As I get older I have learned that relationships and life is indeed a process as I learn and continue to work on facets of myself to improve upon. At the same time I try to allow and accept them as they are knowing I when I place my head on my pillow I have been kind in my day. Perfectionism used to be my nemesis and its personality traits are the vaporous results of growing up with alcoholism or any ism for that matter. The need to get it right, the need for the outer veil to look gilded when the inner isn’t quite so. Perfectionism can be debilitating and energizing in the same span of the moment it takes its hold. Many perfectionists don’t even realize that their need to get it better than good enough is a driving force of the perpetual angst they feel as they try to achieve. I sure didn’t. I have struggled with the need for better and best for most of my life. It can be something that helps greatness in a business with the result ultimately ending in a successful company and it can also cause incredible disruption because nothing will ever be good enough. The latter can be the hardest for perfectionists because it is their own inner compass of feeling like nothing will ever be exactly a ten that drives the bus on the long trip with no final place on the map to actually stop and smell the roses.

Breast cancer the first time around started to free me a bit because as I went from doctor to doctor doing my own overachieving research, I realized that no matter how much I learned, how many tests I had, how many doctors I spoke with and google searches I navigated around, I still had breast cancer. Nothing was going to change the stark reality that it was out of my control. Breast cancer told me I am not in control. I can think I am, but none of us are. I can park the bus and take a nice nap in the resting spot coming up on the exit I would have otherwise driven past foot heavy on the accelerator. (unless I had to pee, which would have been highly likely, but if I didn’t I would have flown past onward and onward, no stopping necessary to get to that proverbial destination just around the corner over there some place).

Breast cancer twice sealed the deal, but in the middle of the first one and the second one, my mother decided it would be better if we didn’t speak. Again. Ever.

I prefer you never contact me again. She wrote this to me almost two years ago to the day. Mother’s Day time. My son’s high school graduation time. Between the first diagnosis and the unknown second one. I have written about this in my earlier writings and have done a lot of my work because of this significant event in my life, our lives. There is safety in I prefer you never contact me again. That last sentence may read strangely, but the finality of it and the response it requires is a large bold period at the time, not a comma, not a semicolon, not a dash. My first response besides the traditional sadness and fury one might expect was the word relief. It is no fun to be in a relationship with someone who you are on constant eggshell walking with; it is not a walk in the park to be on guard and feeling like everything I say has to be carefully orchestrated as to not invoke a negative. It is not enjoyable to be in a relationship with someone who seems completely disinterested in everything you say all the time, like you are a nuisance and like they are watching the clock to see when its over. This was how I always felt around my mother and it turns out, she seemed to feel the same way around me. Oil and water to say the least.

The second breast cancer diagnosis was actually easier because she wasn’t speaking to me, I just went through the entire experience without her, and instead surrounded myself with all of the women who have supplemented my mother for me. There are many and I am blessed with the superchick tribe I get to call my pretend mothers and sisters. But in the sadness of the reality, they are not my mother. So at the time of my grandfather’s one hundred year birthday party this past November, as I sat on the beach one of the days afterwards, an entire letter came to me in my head to write to her. Like the many eulogies that have come through me in the past, I scribbled it quickly to get it out of me and when I got back to his house, I feverishly typed it not knowing at the time if I would send it. So it sat. The fact that it came to me on my brother’s twenty third anniversary of his own passing because of cancer does not go unnoticed here. Death anniversaries are capable of this, bringing up unfinished business and previously thought surrendered emotion.

When I got home, I decided to mail it old school. The words were kind, gentle, understanding, but also truthful and direct and bare. They needed to be said and I said them as eloquently and heartfelt as I could. There is an old Indian saying that I have often referred to when I have needed to have courageous conversation as my social worker dearest mama friend, Karen calls it.





The reason for the bold fourth line is because this is the hardest one to have to deal with. It really means LET GO OF CONTROL, EXPECTATIONS, IT IS NOT ABOUT THE REPLY. Like an eager child though, it is a natural feeling to be hopeful that you will get the fantasy reply you dream of or any reply for that matter. This wasn’t the point though. The point was to let my mother know that her request was not something I agreed with. That I honored it to let the boiling water reduce to a slow simmer, to give it the time it needed, but that it wasn’t the finality she may have hoped for. I am not even sure it is what she wanted when she hit the send button that contained those seven words that made up the sentence difficult to unsend.

It took her awhile but she did write me back, and this started a very very light dialogue as we began our dance of reconnection. Distant, both physically as she lives in Alabama, and mentally as the fragility of our connection is like a frayed wire being slowly and carefully wrapped back up in electrical tape.

I decided this year to send her a Mother’s Day Card. Mother’s Day is difficult when the Hallmark version doesn’t match your own. So I created my own, handwritten in one of the beautiful cards a client of ours draws.

You are still my mother. I wrote. Thinking of you this Mother’s Day.

Process not Perfection. Baby steps on a path that will never complete other than the kind truth of the millions of pebbles sprinkled along the way. This is good enough and this is what makes my Mother’s Day this year better. Not only because I get to spend it with my son in the way we have defined for ourselves over the last twenty years, but because my mother and I are at least making an attempt in the way it works for us, throwing the pebbles towards the middle hoping they don’t take out an eye, but land gently at each other’s feet to keep the path open.

Happy Mother’s Day out there to all of you Moms whether you are one, have one or act like one.