Proud of You

“I bet your mom’s proud of you.”

I sat in the car at the last intersection before entering the parking garage, on a typically cloudy spring morning in Chicago, just another ordinary day of work. A young man crossed the street in front of me: average height and build, light brown hair, clean shaven; neutral expression, walking with intent, apparently familiar with his route, a well-worn work bag slung across his chest–student? Office worker? I can’t say why I noticed him, as he was not the only pedestrian in the area. But as I watched him continue on his way, apparently oblivious to me, I started to wonder: Does your mom know where you are right now? Is she thinking of you? Is she confident that you are safe? I bet she’s proud of you–no matter what you’re doing, whom you’re with, what you will do today–I bet she smiles when she thinks of you.

This was years ago; Son and Daughter were still little kids. My thoughts surprised me, overcame me with something akin to nostalgia over the future? Out of nowhere, my imagination had cast me to sometime close to today, when my own son lives out of state. I don’t know where he is or what he’s doing at any given moment, and I do always smile when I think of him. I am proud of him, irrationally (though justifiably) so, just because I’m his mom.

On this day each year we drown in myriad writings, images, and expressions about Motherhood and Mothers’ Love, etc etc, ad nauseum. So let me make my contribution! It’s a complicated ‘holiday’. May you feel respected and validated, however you experience it. Personally I find it ambivalent and a little awkward, like an earned Valentine’s Day and birthday combined. Thank you to Sister for sharing this sardonic piece on the irony of Mother’s Day, and to Ellen over at The Examined Life for sharing this more contemplative perspective on all that women hold.

I think about Son, Daughter, Husband, myself… Of Ozan and Shane, Friend, Friend, Friend, Tribe. I know in some cases, and assume without question in others, that our parents are indeed proud of us. Some of it may stem from what we do–our accomplishments, status, etc. But cultural standards and social norms notwithstanding, I think true parental pride blooms when we see who our children are. Outside the distorting lens of evolutionary drive for progengy survival and intrinsic, self-perpetuating narcissism, who better than our parents see everything about us–our strengths, quirks, triggers, and regrets? Who else witnesses the full panoramic mural of our character, built brick by laborious brick, painted in layers of pigment and divergent media, over our lifetime, starting in our mothers’ wombs? The most fortunate of us benefit from the love and guidance of multiple supportive adults throughout our development. But parents, and moms in particular, hold that special place–that vantage of deep observation and knowledge of the whole of us–or at least the full potential of it.

As usual, when I experience some profound sensation or insight, I feel a need to discharge it. I need to put it somewhere, do something useful with it.

So what about the people for whom I have a hard time imagining proud parents? They are the ones I perceive as uncaring, arrogant, mean, belligerent, and harmful to those around them. How do their moms see them?

Now there’s a fascinating thought experiment. Can I imagine their mom? What does she know that I don’t, how would she respond similarly to and differently from me, witnessing the same behavior in her child? Could she and I, in the best circumstance, help each other understand her child better, more wholly? After all, parents are human; we have biases (see intrinsic narcissism) that blind us to certain realities about our children. It helps us to hear and see outside perspectives, if/when offered in love and compassion.

What makes us say, “…only a mother could love” about someone or something? How cutting and dehumanizing, no? Yikes. We must do better. What tools, frames, mantras, and mindsets can we access, to make more generous assumptions about one another, even/especially about those for whom our default narrative is ‘enemy’ or such? Not much that’s generative or productive emerges when we stand and live in that perspective.

When I see you, talk to you, hear you, experience you, what if I try to take your mother’s best perspective of you, and look harder for her sources of pride in you? Maybe I’ll try this experiment this week. I bet I learn a lot.