Mother and child in front of a spinning carousel at night

The Melee of Motherhood

by Jacqueline Jannotta

I’m not a fan of using militaristic terms and even try to avoid using gun terminology that’s woven into idioms. But ironically, it’s motherhood—or at least the push to become a better mother—that seems to best fit the paradigm of an ongoing battle. This constant striving and struggle have been at the forefront of my mothering mind recently since our oldest child just started college 2500 miles away from home.

The battle of motherhood is fought on many fronts. For me, it even included the fight to become a mother in the biological sense. And thanks to modern medicine, the stars lined up for a hard-fought and successful pregnancy. But from that point forward, as it is for most mothers, it’s the perpetual illusion of the “perfect mother” that teases, taunts, and wickedly motivates like a nuclear arsenal. 

This mater perfectum is nonexistent, though perhaps she existed in me before I had kids. She is the imaginary mom who does no wrong, and whose undying love and affection show up whenever it’s needed (yet lies low when she’s not welcome). She provides her children the right nutrients in the perfect amounts. She advocates for them, but not so much that they don’t learn to advocate for themselves. She ensures them an optimal education and the best possible health care. The idealized mother supplies her children with everything they need—but not to the point of spoiling them or blinding them to their privilege. The crowning glory of this fantasy woman is that she does everything in perfect balance while leaving ample time for herself to thrive. That perfect mother has been an oppressive and persuasive ghost who has haunted my every move since my children were born.

Another battlefront of motherhood is the clash with the mothering I received. It’s mostly about the childhood I should have had, but didn’t—because my own mother wasn’t perfect. This battle advances in ongoing skirmishes that challenge me to embrace my mother’s imperfections with compassion, while allowing her mistakes to be received as a gift. Her mistakes inform the ones I refuse to make with my children. Yet still I made (and continue to make) mistakes, while struggling to forgive myself when I do. This particular battlefield is huge, covering the past and present, and even more so, a future over which I have no control. As time passes, I may never understand just how my choices will affect my children as they become adults. 

Perhaps if my mother had shared her deepest thoughts with me when I left the nest, it would have softened some of the struggles I endured. So in the interest of doing things better for the next generation, here’s a message for my daughter. Maybe it will ease the burden of her own inevitable “mother battles” down the road:

     As you go off to college, all the mistakes I’ve made and the decisions I wrestled with will become a ghost that sits on your shoulder. I hope it doesn’t haunt you. When you come home during holiday breaks, I’ll try to be prepared for a new you: one shaped by your adventure with new friends and “family of choice”. I hope our home will be a respite for you, even if it might tempt you to regress. More than anything, I will try my best to not get in the way as you become who you are, battling a world that teases you to be who you are not.  

     And while you’re gone, know that your ghost will haunt me too. I’ll be seeing the old you, the baby-you, and all those cuddles I miss deep in my bones. The little toddler-you will echo in the house, singing songs and exuding her delightful innocence. Pulling at my heartstrings will be the inquisitive child-you who grew up—and who grew me up (even as we fought the insidious invasion of smartphones!). 

     Despite these ghosts, I hope we can allow the You and Me of the present to meet outside the various battlefields in our psyches. May we connect often, with both head and heart (sometimes using those very same smartphones;-).

     If together we had one wish, I propose this: that we abandon the battlefield, leaving any metaphorical swords behind… and just Be. Not mother, not daughter, figuring out who we are. But just us, being us. Happy in each other’s presence.


I like to reinforce every post I write by supporting relevant changemakers in the nonprofit world and this month I’m pleased to discover MADRE. This global women’s rights organization helps mothers and their communities in a variety of important ways, including the funding of an underground escape and support network in Afghanistan. I welcome you to join me in supporting MADRE.

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