Mother's Day is bitter-sweet, with much pain for many

The Queenager: Eleanor's Letter (March 19th 2023)

If you are finding today difficult, don't worry you are not alone

Dear Queenagers

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I’ve got a whole big newsletter ready for you with my Midlife MOT and thoughts on the budget and a big quiz informed by loads of conversations with all our experts – but I’ve decided to send that out tomorrow. Instead you are getting this, hot off the press, about Mother’s Day.

It is such a bitter-sweet day for so many of us. I know that nearly a third of Queenagers according to our Noon research, don’t have children so the overkill of Instagram style #blessed #motheringsunday stuff gets pretty smug and sickly. And even if you are a mum, that doesn’t necessary make it any better. I had a long chat with a good friend this morning who was in floods of tears about the contrast between her own mothering of her children and the maternal experience she had herself. She was abandoned by her single mother when she was under one and then adopted. “I have been such a great mum to my boys,” she said. “They’ve smothered me in cards and love today but deep in my own heart there is such a wound of rejection, or pain, of abandonment. And sometimes the knowledge that I have been so great to my own boys, I gave up work to be there for them, they have gone to university now and are the centre of my world, but that doesn’t fill up the hole of having not been properly mothered myself. I’ve been thinking about it, how that kind of completely unconditional maternal love gives a child a Ready Brek glow of security, an unshakeable confidence and belief in themselves, like they are protected by a force-field of love. But although I feel incredibly proud that I have done that for my kids, today of all days I have just been floored with sadness about my own sense of lack. It is a lifetime of work to fix it.” She told me she had been weeping on the sofa all morning. I’m sure she’s not the only one.

That conversation and another one with a friend who is childfree (and not by choice) about the agony she feels on Mother’s Day about the babies she lost as embryos and with them the life she had envisioned for herself, made me want to write about the complexity of this day.

Motherhood is so at the centre of female identity in our culture; in a patriarchy it is really what we are there for. But the reality of the web that is mothering is so much more complicated than we usually acknowledge. Many of us have toxic relationships with our mothers – their care and concern interleaved with judgement of our choices, or weird kinds of competition or a sense of disappointment, which cuts both ways. The Queenager generation are particularly conflicted here because we are at the cultural interface of a massive shift in expectations around women’s roles: our mothers were bred to find themselves a man, primarily.  We’ve been bred to work, to define ourselves outside our relationships with men or indeed as mothers; yet that can put us in a constant conflict with our mothers’ views of what we should do and be. There is no script still for the later stages of women’s lives where they are not mums; it is one of the things we are really thinking about at Noon, what legacy and purpose looks like for the nearly a third of you who will have different kinds of immortality. I love this article by Tamsin Calidas about coming to terms with not being a mum, through her relationship with nature and her own creativity. And this brilliant piece by Karensa Jennings about being childfree by choice. There are so many rich conversations to be had here and so many incredible women putting their talents and drive to different kinds of legacies. Re-creating the world.

I’ve just been for a walk and a swim on Hampstead Heath which was full of family groups noisily taking photographs and celebrating their matriarchs (as well they should). I got into the pond after a heavily pregnant woman who said that tomorrow she is having a Caesarian section to deliver her twins: Wow she has some busy times ahead. Being suddenly responsible for a living being is a total head fry – two is going to be intense to overwhelming; I have never felt so broken as when I had two children under three, I was so pulled in different directions by what felt like their impossible demands, that for a bit I totally lost myself. Yet that is hardly ever talked about. Motherhood is hard yards, not just smaltzy cards and little pudgy hands in yours. And it doesn’t get any easier when the sleepless nights with small babies end. Small children, small problems.. big children… The agony of mothering a teen in pain has been a particular theme around me recently, so many amazing Queenagers are tussling with children with anxiety disorders or anorexia or self-harm. The unthinkable becomes routine: “I never thought I would get used to manhandling my teen covered in blood out of the shower but she self-harms so often its kind of becoming normal,’ confided one Queenager the other day. If that sounds familiar you might find this piece helpful.

Today is also a day of pain, of poignancy – for those who are bereaved, who had loving mums who are no longer with us. Who are struggling with that terrible sense of loss, who are bereft. I am sorry for that hole – but count yourself lucky that you were mothered and loved so you can feel that loss; that in itself is an honour and a privilege. The pain is part of the bond that you had which can never be taken away. And let’s remember step-mothers here too – I lost mine a few years ago, we miss her still.

In Cornwall where I have been for the past week, the magnolias are in full bloom – pink and blousy, fecund and bursting with life. They always remind me of my now dead grandmother who had a huge magnolia tree in her garden; at about this time of year we would have tea (Lapsang souchong) and cake (always made by her) outside if the day was sunny. It was a kind of ritual of spring. It’s funny how flowers remind us of people past (or passed): magnolias for granny, cowslips for my stepmother, birds of paradise flowers for my late Stepfather. Mother’s Day is about loss, too.

My daughter just came back from her friend’s house with a big pot of lillies for me: She is called Alice Lily and when she was born the house was full of them, their scent sweet and heady. I was so moved, I cried.

So whatever you are doing for Mother’s Day be kind to yourself. Have a little weep if you need to – run yourself a nice hot bath and get in it and read Frenchman’s Creek or Georgette Heyer, or whatever your go-to comfort book of choice is. Eat cake. Hug those you love close – no matter if those are your children, or your furry friends, or friends or partner. Give yourself some love; speak to yourself as if you were the child of the most-loving mother. Ask yourself, and really listen to the answer: How do you feel, my love?

Just remember nothing is ever as good or as bad as it seems; that in all great loss there is some small gain.

And standby for your Midlife MOT tomorrow!

Lots of love


By Eleanor Mills


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