Honoring All the Mothers (Who Are Loving the Kids They’ve Got)

Special note: If you are struggling with Mother’s Day due to any number of complex emotions, I’m sending you a virtual hug. Some of you want so much to have biological children but struggle with infertility. Others have lost children, spouses, or their own mothers. Others wrestle with complicated relationships with their moms or their children. If Mother’s Day is a painful time for you, set this one aside and come back for next week’s blog. We’ll be here waiting for you!

Shaunti Feldhahn

At a recent high school event, several friends and I were comparing notes—and I was struck by a very important undercurrent I heard. A beautiful pattern that I think often goes unnoticed. Especially by us moms who can be so critical of ourselves.

These women and I discussed how, when our children were small, each of us looked forward to diving deep into that parent rabbit hole called “sports parenting.” We were eager to be those obnoxious moms who don the jerseys, cheer loudly, and try not to give too much advice from the stands. And each of us has an older child who is indeed passionately athletic and with whom we did all those things.

But that wasn’t the end of the story.

Each of us also has a younger child who felt the early weight of those same expectations—but just isn’t as interested in sports. In one way or another, the moms described a quick pivot being required.

One mom described realizing how she could switch from enjoying lacrosse to enjoying robotics competitions. Another described the adventure of finding specialized art lessons so her son could pursue his interest in anime. Several others celebrated their kids’ incredible musical gifts and enjoyed their delight at being onstage. One of these suburban women even proudly described her son’s unexpected desire to get a college degree in how to care for farm animals.

I listened to all these moms with a swelling heart. They didn’t even realize what they were saying: that without fanfare, without cheers from spectators to their own life, they had truly been loving their kids for who they were, not who they had perhaps expected them to be.

Moms, we can be so attuned to what we might be doing wrong as a mom that we can absolutely miss what we are doing right. The mom-guilt struggle is real. But so is the reality that we don’t give ourselves enough credit for: Most moms see their child for who they are and try to love them well. Sure, in early years they may have dreamed of designing banners for the gregarious extrovert who was always elected class president—but in reality, they loved and celebrated the sensitive bookworm son or daughter who won anonymous creative writing competitions instead.

Our kids may not consciously recognize that we love them for who they are—but down deep they experience it nevertheless. It is surely one reason why our research with thousands of teens for For Parents Only uncovered the most heartwarming finding of all my research studies. Something I want to leave you with for this Mother’s Day.

In one of our nationally representative surveys, hundreds of teenagers had been brutally honest when they answered the questions: they were straining for freedom, sometimes angry about Mom and Dad’s restrictions, wishing their parents would listen better, and on and on. But then at the end of the survey we gave them a blank space where they could say whatever they wanted. We asked them, essentially: If you knew this was your last day with your parents, what would you like to say to them?

To this day, I still cannot read their comments without crying. After two dozen survey answers filled with candid frustrations, a switch flipped. These kids were brought up short to really think about not being with their Mom and Dad anymore. And they poured out their hearts. They said, essentially, I love you so much, I’m sorry I’ve been such a brat, and when I’m a parent I’m going to parent just like you. There were a few angry or lonely comments, but more than 95% of the kids would want you to know: you’re doing a great job as a mom. (And a dad, for that matter!)

This Mother’s Day, I’ll leave you with just a few of the first comments on the long list. But I encourage you to take a few minutes and read the hundreds of other comments for yourself. And be encouraged. This is how our kids feel about us. Because they know that, as imperfect as we are, we are working to love them well. 

(Some comments here are shortened or lightly edited for clarity.)

  • Dad, Mom, I love you with all my heart forgive me for all my misbehavior and bad attitudes. I just love you so much.
  • Stepmother: I know I’ve always had jealousy towards you ever since you came into our family. I really regret saying that you should’ve never married my dad. I’m just really glad that God brought you into my life. Without you, my dad, my sisters and I wouldn’t have made it his far. I’m just really sorry. If I could turn back time I would change my attitude towards you guys. I love you both!
  • Even though I have not acted like it all the time, I just want to let you know that I love you. Thank you for pushing me to become the best person that I could possibly be. Even though I may have felt that you were being unfair, I realize now that it was all worth it and that you did it because you love me.
  • Even though I’ve yelled a lot, and said some things that I wish I could take back, I just want you to know that I love you.
  • Even though we get into a lot of fights, the things I said never meant anything and even though you didn’t take it that way I always felt bad. I love you. :o)
  • I would want them to know everything I ever did wrong and make sure they forgave me. That’s the most important thing to me.
  • Forgive me for the wrong things I have done, tell them I love them very much.
  • How much I love and appreciate them.
  • How much I love my mom and how much I appreciate her even when I act like I don’t. She tries really hard, and I can act like a brat, but she means the world to me.
  • How much I love them.
  • How much I love them and appreciate what they have done for me. At times I may seem like I hate them, but I always love them and they have always supported me. I wouldn’t want them to feel like they have failed as parents. …I love them so much.
  • I am so sorry for everything I have done in the past. I realize I have made mistakes and have acted stupid lately, but I love you and respect your opinions.
  • I am so sorry that I said any mean things to you. I love you soo much. I don’t know if I can live without you. I will miss you way too much.
  • I am sorry for all the trouble that me being a teenage mom has caused you. I truly know and appreciate how much you care about me and my son. Thank you for supporting us in hard times.
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