My Mother — The Screw Up

Me and My Mom at the Zoo

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A Little Advice

Let me give you some advice. If your precocious vocabulary-blessed child comes home from school one day with an A on an essay and says, “I might be a writer when I grow up,” sit that child down and tell them “No.” Scream if necessary. Stomp your feet. Tell them that if they love their mother they will never ever become a writer.

Being a good writer requires some internal honesty. The kind of internal honesty that when someone walks up to you and says, “You have the best mother ever,” you instinctively think, “Best? I don’t know, there are an awful lot of mothers out there, best seems like a stretch.

The Best Mom

You see, my mother was good. In fact on my most honest days I would have to admit that she was a great mother. She was the kind of mother where that above scenario of people randomly walking up and telling me she was the best happened rather often. She raised six children and we all managed to come up well-adjusted and happy. Often women approach my mother and ask her for the secret to her parenting success.

But I worry a little bit about all this mother adoration. The closer I listen, the more it seems that every time someone praises their own mother, it leaves all those listening finding themselves wanting—because our idealized mother stories leave out the messy details that we are so intimately familiar with in our own lives. And when we hear others stories minus the messy details we may think they don’t have any.

My Mother—the Screw up

And this is so far from true. You see, my mother was a screw up. When I was thirteen, I threw a doozy of a tantrum, threw a pillow at my mother, and told her to shut up. Well, she raised the beacon of punishment on me. I was grounded, which interfered with my planned trip to Knott’s Berry Farm two days later. I begged. I apologized. And my mother gave in. In exchange for a few chores the next day I was able to take an entire day at the amusement park in the middle of being grounded. And this was less grace and more giving up.

Or there was the time in 9th grade, when I was invited to go out with a bunch of friends from church. She set out a list of rules for socializing until I turned 16. I told my mother that by following those rules, I would be cut out of so many socializing opportunities that by the time I was 16 I would hardly have any friends left. She insisted. And I was right.

Or a couple years later when I came home from a drama practice with red eyes, and she asked me what I was smoking. I told her I hadn’t smoked anything. And for a couple hours she didn’t believe me.

My Mother In All Her Flawed Glory

And if you think I’m petty for holding these things over my mom for all these years, you’ve missed the point. I don’t hold them over my mom. In fact as painful as these things may have been at the time, they are simply an integral part of our history.

The reason I wanted to flip the script on this mother’s day is to show you her humanity. Show you that my mother was great—in all her flawed glory. Even though I used my Mother’s day column to tell you some of the things she did wrong, she was the best. I hope it will give you hope that, with all of your motherhood flaws, you too are the best.

Christopher D. Cunningham is the managing editor for Public Square Magazine and contributor to Third Hour. He loves emphatically celebrating the normal healthy development of his sons Albus and Whitman, writing about the Church of Jesus Christ, finding the middle ground on most controversies, and using Western Family generic brand lip balm. Christopher is a proud graduate of Brigham Young University-Idaho, and a resident of San Antonio, Texas.