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Saturday Morning at 8:05am, Or, I Spilled My Blood For You

My daughter IM’d me last Sunday. She said Happy Mother’s Day. And then she asked what I wanted as a present. I hesitated for a moment, caught up in all kinds of thoughts and feelings. I explained to her that Mother’s Day presents had to come on the day or they didn’t count.

That was hard for me to say. I knew it might make her feel bad. I hate to make my children feel bad. My childrearing was always of the sort where I wanted first and foremost for my children to do and feel well. I protected them. From so many things.

My Chinese American colleagues would joke with me about their experiences growing up. They teased me, the way I treated my kids so carefully. Their mothers, apparently, when they wanted their children to change behaviors, would say as encouragement, “I spilled my blood for you as you were born!”

Let me be clear. I would not remotely presume to be making a statement here about Chinese American mothers in general. That is a vast class of people who deserve much more than my little musings. I am making the very small and limited observation that two men I worked with who had immigrated to the US as babies and toddlers had two mothers, from China via Hong Kong and Taiwan, who said to them, “I spilled my blood for you.” And then I will make the small and limited statement that those words resonated in me. In the broad sense. These fundamental facts of motherhood sometimes get ignored, particularly in the upper middle class left-leaning circles who made up my playgroups when the kids were little.

I now believe that too much self-effacement as a mother is not always good. That even for the kids’ sake it is sometimes necessary that the mother remember she spilled her blood for them. When you let your kids off the hook they can be left with guilt. When you put your foot down, you may be annoying, but in some way you free the kids from their own tendencies to treat you less than perfectly, and in some ways probably make them happier. Or so I believe. Nothing in parenting is certain knowledge. The definitive handbook has not yet been written. But you have a right as a mother to ask for what you want without terrible guilt and anxiety.

My daughter said she was sorry. And later that day, Mother’s Day, flowers arrived. They are still on my counter. Pink lilies that smell really good.

14 Responses

  1. now, if only there were a handbook on motherhood called “i spilled my blood for you; apportioning responsibility for a tenable tomorrow” or something, i’d probably preorder about a billion copies.

  2. Good for you for saying it instead of not saying and resenting. I rarely get to celebrate things with my mom “on the day,” but that seems to be ok as long as plans are made in advance. No one likes to feel like an afterthought.

  3. I’ve been spared that, thanks to a mom who doesn’t believe in high drama.

    Putting one’s foot down, simply -without over-justifying, without wallowing in guilt afterward –is an art form.

  4. I’m with you. I’d actually rather my Mum/Mom (!) would say what she thought more often. She always says how much she loves me etc which is so beautiful, but I often wonder if she’s being honest with me and telling me what she’d really love.

    Thanks also for your lovely comment – I hope you enjoy the rest fo the month!

  5. Whenever I ask my mother whether she was hurt by something I did or did not do, she almost invariably denies the issue altogether. I am not entirely sure whether I am an overly-analytical guiltball or whether she is simply too proud and scared to admit certain feelings to her children. I would prefer her to be more assertive more often if it meant she was less likely to comes out with these crackers, seemingly from nowhere, that completey stun me.

    Nice post, LPC.

  6. Good for you. We can all be so worried about avoiding letting our kids feel any guilt that we miss the point:it’s okay to feel bad about something crappy you did.
    I’ve had to make this point with my son even with his sisters’ b-days. “I know you’re broke kid, but at least make a card. And get it there at least CLOSE to on time.”

  7. You said the right thing. Not too much, not too little.

    My husband’s parents are the masters of overdoing it. “You are the only joy in our life. Your brothers are SUCH a disappointment to us. We have nothing to live for but you.”

    OK, they have never said that last sentence, but they have said the first two, over and over and over. They know no boundaries and don’t understand the concept of taking care of themselves. (Their retirement plan is for my husband to fly to Florida twice a year to do their plumbing, yardwork, and other repairs.)

    So yeah, you called your daughter on something she deserved to be called out on, but you didn’t slap her down too meanly. Well done.

    PS Last year, well in advance of Mother’s Day, we were told exactly what $100 gift we were expected to send. It’s not as if my husband even forgets this sort of thing. And it’s certainly not as if we have that kind of money to spend. I don’t know what world they are living in.

  8. Sigh. This is exactly why I dislike Mothers Day (honesty! ack!) As we move closer to it being “my holiday” one of these days, my dislike has only strengthened, I fear. We call it the holiday of guilt… if you celebrate it, you don’t feel any real joy (like celebrating your mom on her birthday, or celebrating your mom just because) just like you followed the made up Hallmark rules. But if you don’t celebrate you feel guilt.

    Alas. I fear that Mothers Day and I will never be one.

  9. I think I have made my peace with this by trying to keep it really clean and simple. I want my kids to recognize me on the day. To acknowledge that they are obliged to me. No more. They may or may not like me very much at any given moment. They may or may not want to celebrate me ever…the relationships of children and parents in this day and age can be complex. But I want them to on that day muster up some competence and recognize that as their mother I worked hard. I don’t need sentiment. That way I am hoping to ask them for something that I want AND they can give. In other words, I don’t ask of them that they like Mother’s Day. I hope that makes it easier for them while addressing my needs in a pretty direct way. But, like all mothering, who the heck knows.

  10. You are simply remarkable Miss LPC, not just in the way you addressed the issue, but the manner in which you describe it for all of us. We’re with all those saying, “Good for you” with no malice or judgment in our voices, merely support and congratulations for not being ‘so’ nice that the truth is totally obscured.


  11. It was interesting to read this post after the whole “Tiger Mother” controversy. Though I’ve only read short selections of her book, your approach seems a bit more balanced to me than Amy Chua’s.

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