Andrew Fiala

This Mother’s Day, take mom off the pedestal and love her as the human that she is

Vivian Velasco Paz, with daughter Gabriela in a 2017 photo.
Vivian Velasco Paz, with daughter Gabriela in a 2017 photo. Fresno Bee file
We are all familiar by now with the snowplow parent, the helicopter parent, and the tiger mother. The tiger mom expects too much of her children. When things don’t go according to her plan, she jumps in her snowplow and clears a path for her precious snowflake. She then climbs into her helicopter and follows her child wherever he goes, refusing to allow him to take a risk — or grow up.

It is easy to mock the anxieties of parents who are trying to do what’s best for their kids. Snowplow parents and tiger moms seem deluded, selfish, lonely and overbearing. But the problem may simply be that they love their children too much. They may be unwise in their love, but their hearts are in the right place.

Andrew Fiala Fresno Bee file

Many children could use a mom (or a dad) who loves them at all. One in seven children is a victim of child abuse or neglect. More than 1,700 children die every year from abuse or neglect — that’s about five children per day. The victims of child abuse could use a snowplow, a helicopter, or a tiger to rescue them.

But let’s return to those moms who love too much. Mother’s Day may be part of the problem. The holiday celebrates an inflated ideal of motherhood. On Mother’s Day, motherhood becomes a caricature of saintly virtue and self-sacrifice. It is no wonder that mothers get anxious and go overboard when they compare themselves to the romantic image of the perfect mom.

Kahlil Gibran once suggested that “mother” was the world’s most beautiful word. He explained, “The mother is everything; she is our consolation in sorrow, our hope in misery, and our strength in weakness. She is the source of love, mercy, sympathy, and forgiveness.” Or as one oft-quoted Mother’s Day proverb puts it, “God could not be everywhere, so he created mothers.”

This all sounds nice. But it puts a lot of pressure on mom to be a stand-in for the Almighty. The proverb implies that not even God can be everywhere and do everything. So let’s not expect moms to be all and do all.

Most mothers love their children. But they are not divine. They are human beings. Their love is neither bottomless nor unconditional. Only God gives unconditional love. The rest of us run out of energy. We need gratitude and solitude to recharge the batteries of love.

A merely mortal mother is not omniscient or omnipotent. She works long hours. She makes mistakes and does dumb things. She is not perfectly good. She gets sad, angry, jealous and tired.

And she struggles to accept that her children do not belong entirely to her. A child is a gift a mother gives to the future. But it is never easy to give such a gift. Mothering is tinged with the sadness of the empty nest.

So let’s not pretend that mothers are goddesses perched upon pedestals. Mothers suffer and age. Eventually they leave us, just as we leave them. Mother’s Day is a chance to remember those mothers and grandmothers who have departed. We would not be here without them.

Mothers deserve our thanks — and our compassion. Mostly they did what they thought was best. But there is no recipe for cooking up a human being. And mom occasionally messed things up.

To love a merely mortal mother is to embrace her in her imperfect and anxious humanity. She thought you needed a snowplow. But you wanted to be left alone. She thought you wanted to be left alone. But you needed a tigress. She wanted to follow you in her helicopter. But you wanted privacy and independence. She did her best to give you what she thought you needed.

You can’t blame mothers for loving too much or unwisely. There is no instruction manual for love. And it was you she had to deal with— with all of your own anxieties, failures and flaws. Despite all that, she loved you anyway. So let’s celebrate mom by helping her down from the pedestal and loving her for who she really is — a mortal woman who gave you to the world and made you who you are.

Andrew Fiala is a professor of philosophy and director of The Ethics Center at Fresno State: @PhilosophyFiala