When Mama Breaks the Rules

This guest post comes to us from Chrysula Winegar. Chrysula is a mother, blogger and agitator for work life policy reform at WORK. LIFE. BALANCE. and maternal and child activism at When You Wake up a Mother. She is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post and MomsRising.org. Chrysula is passionate about mothers using their outside voices. She currently serves as a Primary teacher and Activity Day Leader in her ward.

I come from a culture where motherhood is revered, and where the narrative of sacrifice, patience and perfection in one’s mothering is both inspirational and overwhelming. On days like Mother’s Day, the weight of all that mothers are supposed to be can feel like a blessing and a burden. The talks and sermons at church are beautiful. The children’s singing has us all in tears. The flowers and chocolates are a delightful acknowledgement. The beautiful tributes and video clips everyone posts on Facebook, my own included, bring more tears and smiles.

And yet.

What if your mother wasn’t like that? And worse. What if you’re not like that? And perhaps, heretically, are not sure you want to be?

I wasn’t raised by a perfect and patient woman. I was raised by a vocal, often strident and obstinate woman. Flawed and passionate and opinionated, her gift to me wasn’t the same as the narrative of motherhood I have heard all my life. Her gift to me was a life of faith in spite of a litany of flaws. Her gift to me was the capacity for honest and hard conversation on any subject I brought her way, even if she didn’t understand what I was on about. Her gift to me was zero hesitation to cry when it all fell apart, as life frequently did. Her gift to me was honesty about her fears and stresses and traumas.

I have watched my mother’s world collapse over and over. And I have seen her and my father, with their fiery, complex and yet unified way, put it back together again. And again. And again. Sacrifice yes — in abundance. Right there in partnership with my father. They worked so hard, gave up so much for my brothers and me. Their sacrifices in some ways, were made all the more beautiful to me because of their distance from perfection.

There are beloved women all around me who I watch and learn from every day. Who are truly representative of those beautiful qualities so iconic to the title of Mother. I need them, love them, revere them. But as my Mum reminded me today when we spoke, we all come to the families we need to. I guess I needed bold and bossy and strong.

And Mama, I wouldn’t have you any other way.


  1. I needed this so much today. Thank you.

  2. KerBearRN says:

    Me too. Thank you from another differently-abled mom. And here here!

  3. I loved this. What resonated most is the sense that, as you argue, most (if not all) parents give gifts to their children and that part of being a child is to learn to see those gifts and to cherish them for what they are. Wonderful stuff.

  4. anonymous says:

    My mother wasn’t perfect, but I know she always did the best she could with the talents and information she had at the time. I am thankful for her unending support through many challenges in my life. Oftentimes I feel like I don’t live up to her example.

    On the other end of the spectrum, as a survivor of incest, I find that Father’s Day is much more excruciating. I know that no parent is perfect, and that even people who make terrible mistakes can repent. My father hasn’t chosen that course, but I hope he does some day.

    Even with that hope for him, I can’t make myself go to church on Father’s Day. It is less issues with worrying about the sappy talks on what great dads can do to raise great kids, and more that I can’t handle all the well meaning questions from ward members who don’t know my history. the questions probably seem innocuous, but asking me if I will see my father, or what I got for him for Father’s Day leave me running for the door before I totally break down in tears.

    I know people say that we are sent to the family that Heavenly Father wanted us to be in. I also hear a lot that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I know that is a comfort to many people, both children and parents. Neither bring much comfort to me.

    I am not saying that I disagree with the post, or that there aren’t some wonderful thoughts in it. I just hope that when the topic of imperfect parents, and the need to still love and honor them comes up, that more members can be sensitive to those of us who struggle daily with the scars left by one or more parents.

    In my ward I am aware of 6 members who are either incest survivors, or who were married to someone who was. There may be more. In talking to the group of us who know about each other’s history, both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are painful, and after too many well meaning talks, lessons and discussions, it is easier to just stay away.

    (I usually sign my name, but for this comment I am going to just go with anonymous.)

  5. My mother wasn’t perfect, but I know she always did the best she could with the talents and information she had at the time — the same here. She tried, and is trying, so very hard.

  6. Thank you Chrysula, and thank you to those who have commented. I had typed a whole long post of both commiseration and sorrow but the malfunction of my iPod Touch told me it was not time to be as open as I was in that post. Thank you again.

  7. Stephanie says:

    “I have watched my mother’s world collapse over and over.”

    This. Except she did it alone. The fact that she remained sane and faithful and alive through all of it amazes me and makes me stronger. The older I get, the more I appreciate her simple endurance. It doesn’t look like much, but at the same time, it is everything. She is an amazing example.

  8. Thank you for this. I resonated completely with it.

  9. Antonio Parr says:

    Your mother sounds great, as do you. Peace of Christ to you both!

  10. Chrysula at WORK. LIFE. BALANCE. says:

    #4 ~ I can only imagine. Actually I can’t. So all I can offer is empathy and support for your decision to stay away on those painful days. The benchmarks our culture has established for the characters of mothers and fathers must feel cruel when your reality is so horribly far from what a father should be. I send prayers for your ongoing healing. Thank you for your call for more awareness and sensitivity. An absolutely essential reminder.

  11. janelle says:

    God bless Chrysula and her mum!

  12. Antonio Parr says:

    4. Anonymous: Sincere (and active) prayers for your healing and peace. Thank you for the courage to share your experience and perspective.

  13. isolatedmormonwoman says:

    I have a daughter who found the Mothers’ Day program on Sunday untenable. She is beginning to ask questions and wonder about things, such as the way women are both put on a pedestal and sometimes subjected to condescension (she used the word “patronization”), and how it’s all right to do both of those things. She was disturbed by the “pretty picture” she saw and heard during the program and how it affects the young (and old) women of the church, mothers and not mothers.
    I had a wonderful mother, someone worthy of praise. But my spouse had a mother who disappeared not long after his birth (as did his father). Giving praise to someone, as my daughter said, for “giving life” seems very shallow when the people who helped her father to attain adulthood weren’t the ones who created him. She’s seen this; she’s seen that it’s not as black and white as our prevailing culture would have us believe. So, thank you for your “alternative” opinion. Many of us have believed that the best relationships aren’t about image and superficiality, and Mothers Day in many LDS wards in May would have us believe that. It’s not true. Thank you.

  14. isolatedmormonwoman says:

    and #4, thank you. You aren’t alone. I didn’t have this experience, but I know some who did, and I will never ask anyone those questions for that reason. Assuming that everyone had parents who are worthy of respect isn’t wise or right. I would never ask anyone that question. I know several circumstances. In my husband’s case he was abused terribly by the parents who left him when he was very young; he was abused in unspeakable ways that will dog him ’til he is no longer mortal. There are not very many people to whom he can talk about it. And yet he’s endured Mothers Day and Fathers Day, just because it’s what men do. And, no, I haven’t asked him to do that; sometimes he does have to cry about it
    I also know that there are other circumstances that are painful: infertile women, women and men who have lost their children to death or divorce or legal action (especially those who aren’t culpable and even those who are), single men and women who wonder if they will ever have children, people whose good parents died too young. There are a lot of people walking around with holes in their hearts. I would never, ever, ever question anyone’s not attending a meeting that could only cause heartache. Good for you for doing what has been fair and just to your own heart. I commend and support you from far away (probably) and anonymously.

  15. StillConfused says:

    I am most assuredly NOT one of THOSE kinds of moms. My kids were NOT my everything and they knew it. They were a part of a community but that community did not revolve around them. As a result they grew up with independence, empathy and healthy boundaries. And I would not have it any other way.

  16. bubbatis says:

    It has been maybe more than 20 years since I sat through a full fledged mother’s day program. This year, the ward I’m in now, there was a song from the primary, and something the young men made and gave out to all the sisters 18 and older. That is similar to what all the wards I have been in have done.

  17. StillConfused (15) to tell you the truth, I think we actually did benefit from my mother feeling that way as well. Granted, my mother sort of took it to extremes and we pretty much raised ourselves, but I don’t see a lot of parents today emphasizing independence in their children. They want to be their everything, and for their children to be everything to them.

  18. Last year my husband was asked to speak on mothers day. I reminded him that I was not his mother and then warned him to not say my name. He proceeded to speak of only me and with unabashed exaggeration, told tales that made me sound saint like.
    I sat fuming. (obviously no saint)
    People came up to me after to say how nice the tribute had been and instead of, “thank you”, I scowled, cringed and cursed under my breath.
    The new rule in our home is:
    NOBODY speaks in church on mothers day . . . if they value their life!

  19. Wonderful tribute, Chrysula.

  20. I enjoyed reading this very genuine tribute, an honorable tribute. When the time comes for my rowdy crew to give MD talks, I can wll imagine words like “flawed, and passionate, and opinionated” and Heaven grant me that I may continue this “life of faith” I have chosen.

    Anonymous, thank you, from me, for speaking up. I am a survivor myself, yet still was not able to spot the abuse of my children. Raising them has been the most painful experience of my life. Sadly, incest and sexual abuse is far more rampant than anyone is willing to aknowlege, even within our culture. Whether it is Mother’s Day (yes, many women are also guilty of this life-altering abuse) or Father’s Day, or just being able to get through singing, “I am a Child of God” without being reduced to hysterics during “parents kind and dear”; membership in such an idealistc community is often painful to the most wounded. I can’t even count all the seemingly “helpful” remarks that can make me turn and bolt in sheer panic. It isn’t fair! We didn’t choose this! God DID NOT “give” us these trials to make us stronger, or because we weren’t righteous enough, or any other absurd reasoning. Sick people in our lives who should have known better, made evil choices that would forever alter us. Some are miraculously cured in this life. Most of us have to wait with hope for the Resurrection for complete healing. Meanwhile, speaking up, rejecting the shame that was never our own, and educating our leaders and membership may help us become more of a refuge to the wounded.

  21. StillNotPerfect says:

    I had to stop lurking for this one.

    This has come up in my family, as well. Neither of my parents grew up in particularly healthy families. I was lucky that they did pretty well by me. Although the remnants were still there.

    My mom was also molested by her father. (among an amazing amount of other childhood trauma. She doesn’t even count the molestation the worst) I asked her about this one Fathers Day and she said it wasn’t easy, but she tried to focus on the good men that she knew in her life, and how they helped her. She feels very blessed in that regard and believes that they were put there by God to make up, to some degree, for what she missed. And she tries to think of her Heavenly Father, who has all the love that she missed out on in her earthly one. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t. The thought of fatherhood has always been complex for her.

    This was a big discussion in our family two years ago. My parents had several people over the evening after Mother’s Day. One of the sisters mentioned how mentioned how the meeting was hard because she was estranged from her mother. My parents shared their stories, and it turned out that every single person there had something uncomfortable with their family. the feelings ranged from “I love my parents, but I don’t think they understand how much X hurt me” to “I don’t know that I will ever be able to forgive my parents.” to “I hope someday my kids forgive me”

    I think this feeling is very common in the church. Maybe it’s nearly universal. I’ve thought we don’t do great service to children of flawed parents, or to the flawed parents themselves by extolling how every mother is assumed to live up to some amazing ideal of completely perfect love/wisdom/testimony/housekeeping.

    This happens on Fathers day to some extent, but women do seem to be put on the angel pedestal more.

    There a lot of people who cry because they didn’t have perfect parents. There are a lot of people who cry because they can’t figure out how to be perfect parents.

    I hope most parents and children love and support each other. But I know not all do.

    My mother is not a perfect person. She is, however the strongest person I know. And I admire her and my father more than anyone I know. We didn’t get many home baked after school cookies after she went back to work when I was eight. And she’s a little prickly sometimes, and sometimes the things she tries to say to me to cheer me up have exactly the opposite effect. But I know she loves me, and she is trying Guest’s mom sounds very much the same way.

    None of have perfect parents and none of us are perfect parents. Much of the hope I get from the Gospel come from the belief that the Atonement can make up for even that.

    I was a little excited to see the article in the Ensign that pointed out that not everyone loves those perfect Mothers Day talks. It was good to see that they know.

    I am including my prayers and support to everyone who sat through the talks thinking “That’s not my house!”. I hope that God gives us all what we need (whatever that may be) to find joy despite the blessings life has thrown at us.

  22. Anonymous says:

    StillNotPerfect, and everyone else who offered your stories, thoughts and prayers, I want you know that you are in my prayers as well.

    I testified at my biological father’s disciplinary council. I discussed my experience with almost 20 strangers and answered all of their very personal questions. (I have no doubt that all of the high counselors were wonderful men, but the only person in the room I had met before that night was the Stake President of his stake.)

    I am glad I was able to speak for some people who might not have spoken up if they felt alone. After going through such an intimate “discussion,” I have lost some of my natural reserve regarding my experiences of incest, but it is still a difficult decision every time I choose to talk about it.

    I have kept my “anonymous” in this thread to protect my children and siblings more than myself. Many of my siblings both read this blog, and are still in the denial phase of dealing with the effects of being part of an incestuous family.

  23. Anonymous, Can you contact me? I do not know how to reconcile my differences with my local leaders. I need an LDS perspective without the cultural dogma. I need support. I have very little to offer in return except openness and honesty and a willingness and desire to pay it forward once I’m out of the storm. Thanx, sorry for going off topic. http://gleaningthefields.wordpress.com

  24. Anonymous says:

    Ruth, I looked at your blog, but don’t see a way to contact you without leaving a comment. If there is a way to contact you, I would be happy to. After reading your posts I think we have been over some of the same spiritual ground.

  25. oops! heartbroken dot ruth at gmail dot com….except real dots no spaces. Thank you!

  26. sorry ’bout that, I updated my profile as well.

  27. To all of you who inspire me every day. I have decided that being anonymous isn’t as important in this thread as it was originally. So many of you have reached out to me, and I feel I owe you the chance to see how much you have touched my life. So, I guess you could say this is my “coming out” party/post. As a poet I find it sometimes easier to share my feelings in poems, although obviously I have no problem writing long-winded comments either. If you want to see the poem I dedicated to all of my “sisters” in the blogosphere, you can find it here.

    http://poetrysansonions.blogspot. com/2012/05/my-worldwide-sisters-tribute-in-haiku.html

    (Just take the two spaces out after “blogspot.”)

  28. Cheers, to Julia and all the brave women who dare to be “flawed and passionate!”