Things My Mother Didn’t Tell Me

Yesterday we had our classics book club meeting, and the talk turned to some unhappiness one of our members was experiencing with her husband. Of course, we all commiserated; most women in her shoes would feel similar frustrations, given her circumstances.

And then one of our members, a middle-aged woman whose children are raised and who has been married for over 30 years, burst out, “Pain and suffering! That’s what being a wife and mother is: pain and suffering!”

We all burst out laughing, shocked and exhilirated with the truth of what she’d said:

Pain and suffering.

Later, my daughter and I talked about the meeting, and my daughter rememberd the line as “death and suffering.” I recalled “pain and suffering.” Both of us knew what our friend had meant, though.

And this reminded me of things my mother didn’t tell me.

My mother didn’t tell me that I would feel sometimes that my happiness, and even my very survival, depended on my husband. She didn’t tell me how great a power my husband and children would have over me, and that I’d have to work the rest of my life to become a truly free person. She didn’t tell me that I’d only become aware of my own mental and emotional slavery as the result of being a wife and mother, or that the very instruments of my bondage would also be the keys to my freedom.

My mother didn’t tell me that I would change forever from the time I first knew I was a mother, from the time when a baby began to grow inside me, or from the time I first knew we would adopt a particular child. She didn’t tell me that I would sometimes feel sick with worry or fright over my children, or that these feelings would stay with me until the day I died. She didn’t tell me that I would grow dizzy and short of breath, fearing the dangers involved in marriage and childrearing and how they might (would) break my children’s hearts. She didn’t tell me how powerless I’d feel, or how full of love.

My mother didn’t tell me that, for weeks after giving birth, I’d feel like the ugliest woman on earth, with my belly all wrinkly and sagging down below my bikini line, that everything would leak, that it would leak everywhere, or that the mere act of thinking about thinking of my baby would cause breast milk to flow everywhere. My milk flowed like my love; it was abundant and unpredictable, having a life of its own.

My mother didn’t tell me how much sleep I’d lose, or that I’d lose it for years. (But she did tell me one time that she thinks that many mothers don’t sleep well until they no longer have young children or teenagers living under their roofs).

My mother didn’t tell me that I’d become more vulnerable with each child, and that a mother’s love is reckless and wild and that many women aren’t cut out for mothering. This is why so many mothers run away or stay asleep and unconscious to love. They know deep inside that they will have to die in some way, lose their lives, give themselves up. As Paul (not a mother) said:


My mother didn’t explain that the reason why people wave and say, “Hi, Mom!” when they’re on television is because mothers are goddesses. Every mother is a goddess in the eyes of her child, in the beginning. And it can be a lifelong loss and obsession when the child wakes up some year (no longer a child) and realizes, “My mother doesn’t love me, much.”

It only makes loving yourself that much more difficult.

But if you’ve been lucky enough to have a mother’s love–even if it came from a grandmother, or an aunt, or your father, or a sister or the neighbor lady, or a teacher–the love that sustains you for a long time (a lifetime), oh! It’s powerful. Every time you think of that mother’s love, you know that you are enough.

It makes loving yourself possible.

I think that women know that being wives and mothers is pain and suffering, but we aren’t bold or honest enough to burst out with “pain and suffering!” in the middle of a book club meeting. I’m glad our friend was honest and spontaneous, and that we could all laugh.

Being a woman and a wife and mother isn’t easy, and it never was easy. But there’s something oddly comforting about knowing that having these roles can cause a lot of pain and suffering; and that, as Jesus said, “Women shall be saved through the bearing of children.” I think he meant that when we carry a child–and I mean carry the child not only in our bodies, but in our very hearts, as real mothers who love their children–we are in a place where salvation is needed, and can come to us. As mothers we must cry out for help, for mercy, and for grace. And strength.

Being a mother and a wife can give us suffering that can lead to enlightenment, if we will just pry our fingers loose and stop resisting the pain and suffering.

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