Mother’s Day is a celebration of all the cherished forms of motherhood. This one is for the strong mothers, the nurturing ones, for the mothers who have lost children, for the children who have lost mothers, for those who are aching to be mothers, for those who choose not to be mothers. Read more here.
Mother’s Day is coming around again, and for most people, that means planning to do all kinds of cute things for the mothers or mother figures in their lives. But for some of us, it’s a bit less happy and a lot more stressful. And at least in my family, it comes down to good old generational trauma.
So it started with my grandmother, my mother’s mother, whom we all call Naano. Naano had three children, and my mother was the second of them and the first daughter. And unfortunately, in South Asian families, daughters don’t mean a lot and they have no significance other than their ability to do house chores or get married. The misogynistic treatment was then compounded because her older brother was six years older than her and her younger sister was ten years younger than her. That meant that no matter what she was doing in life, there was always something more important happening with her siblings.
And admittedly, all of this is pretty superficial; things with Naano and mum go way deeper and are far more complex. But needless to say, they do not get along, and in fact, Naano pretty successfully ruined any self-esteem that mum could have had. Naano just made everything in mum’s life miserable, from what we’ve heard. Mum has said countless times that she agreed to marry our father entirely just because it would get her away from Naano. She’s constantly beating herself up over something that Naano said to her during her childhood, and when she falls into one of those moods, it’s hard to get her to see that Naano was wrong.
And those moods are much more frequent around Mother’s Day.
I’ve grown up with her always saying that Mother’s Day is silly because you shouldn’t need to mark a day on a calendar to love your mother. And really, that makes a lot of sense. It makes much more sense to say that you love your mother every day and you celebrate them in small ways all the time. But really, it’s not the holiday she’s mad about at all. It’s the idea that she would be forced to celebrate a mother who she feels was never acted the way a mother should towards her. She still calls and keeps up with Naano, of course. But she will always just conveniently forget to call on the second Sunday of May. She hasn’t wished Naano a Mother’s Day since she got married and moved out.
Fun fact to make all this much more complicated, my mother’s birthday is May 10th. That means it always falls within the second week of May and always falls less than a week from Mother’s Day. And this year, it will fall right after Mother’s Day. Things have been hard enough for the past year, but my siblings and I aren’t sure what to expect in the coming days.
She doesn’t talk about her birthdays from her childhood much, but the few stories we have heard made things pretty clear. Naano would throw large parties and dress mum in elegant clothes and show her off to all their family and friends as if she was always that loving. But mum never liked parties or the clothes, so there’s no way to argue this was done for her benefit.
For as long as I’ve known, mum doesn’t like celebrating her birthday. It’s not as moody as Mother’s Day; she generally forgets she has a birthday if someone doesn’t remind her. When she does remember, she won’t say or do much. She’ll usually insist that nothing happens and things carry on like usual. While not nearly as loud as the Mother’s Day rant, her views on birthdays have shaped how they are treated within the family. We mainly don’t celebrate any birthdays, and when we do, it’s always just a gift a day before or a day after, never on the actual day.
The generational trauma in the family runs deep, and it’s a lot of work to try and unlearn everything. My siblings and I do whatever we can to try and set things straight. We’ve been trying slowly to help mum understand that she is worthy of love and happiness, but it’s a long road to healing all the trauma. One of our usual strategies is to buy her a small birthday gift either well before or after her actual birthday. It’s usually a card or something equally small because she tends to feel undeserving of larger gifts, and that’s not a topic she’s ready to tackle just yet.
Luckily this year, Eid will be falling right after Mother’s Day and her birthday. So we’re having fun planning to make some small cakes and ordering her favorite cartoon characters as French macarons for the event.
She won’t have to think of it as anything more than a way to celebrate Eid if she doesn’t want to, but she’ll still know that we care for her, and the surprise will make her happy.
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