Mother’s Day: Earning It
When my son was in active addiction, I hated holidays. All of them.
Mother’s Day was among the worst.
Walking through our town, I would pass families with teenagers, toddlers, and baby carriages. My eye would catch a grandmother as she smiled alongside her daughter, both women wearing painfully bright pink corsages or carrying a single long-stemmed red rose or, worse, a full bouquet—testament to their family’s love and adoration on this day of all days.
The sight of them hurt.
Where was my carnation? My long-stemmed blooms?
Years ago, my father, a successful businessman, chided me for making a fuss over Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. He claimed that these “days” were simply commercial celebrations to fill restaurants and sell cards, candy, and flowers.
Nevertheless, I grew up looking forward to them. Especially as my mom aged and became sick with cancer, Mother’s Day was our date for brunch. It was just the two of us. We would sit across from each other at a small, softly lit table where I could savor the protected and precious time with her. Even today, these are sweet memories.
So why wouldn’t I grow up to expect the same from my children?
Except my son was incapable of knowing it was Mother’s Day or any other day.
Jacob began smoking, drinking, and using stronger drugs in high school. Freshman year at college was a disaster. Two years at home attending community college were no better.
Each year, Mother’s Day brought crushing disappointment. Where was my corsage?
It wasn’t until I found Al-Anon that an understanding of addiction—and its effects on me—began to help. I had to mourn the loss of so much: my son not finishing college, starting a career, saving money to buy a house, saving money to buy anything except drugs.
I had to learn that it was all about expectations, and I had to let them—and him—go.
It was in Al-Anon that I learned the kind of mother I needed to be. My son needed a very loving mom—one who understood boundaries, who relinquished a control over him she never had anyway, and who would allow him to grow up on his own.
Not until we gave Jacob an ultimatum—to enter treatment or leave our home—did his “growing up” begin. By then, all I cared about was that he would get well and one day would be “drug-free.”
This understanding—hard won—took time. Today, Jacob is eight years into recovery. His sobriety has brought him to all the milestones that he wanted to achieve: a college degree, a career, and a beautiful young woman he will marry next year.
His mother is in recovery, too, still learning how to be the mother he needs.
On Mother’s Day, he calls me. We might FaceTime between his home in Florida and mine in Maryland, but he always remembers it.
To get my son back, I had to let him go.
And to celebrate Mother’s Day, I had to earn it.
Author of Secret No More
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