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Lynn Ruane This Mother's Day, let's celebrate those mothers doing a tough job in challenging circumstances

Mothers with very little income, who manage to ensure their babies are warm, fed and in school on time – often alone or in tough or even violent situations, writes Lynn Ruane.

ONCE A WEEK  I visited Sarah in her flat. I would sit in the grey coloured armchair as she got Zach ready for school.

I watched as she rolled up the sleeves of his navy school jumper, high enough up his arm so he couldn’t feel the wool on his wrists.

Zach has some sensory issues, but we didn’t know what as no one responded to Sarah’s requests for support.

Zach was chatty and would thank his Mam for remembering to cut the crusts off his toast.

When he was settled, I floated an idea by Sarah, that today maybe she could come to visit us in the addiction services, where I was working at the time. 

We were planning a Mother’s Day event with our women’s group. Much like every other day, Sarah never quite looked me in the eye. She said: “You know that I can’t, people will know I have relapsed, they will report me.

“I am too ashamed to come back to the group. What if I lose Zach?” she said. 

It is very hard to argue against the shame a mother feels when she expects that others will only see her struggle but not her strengths.

Sarah herself grew up in care and never really had a foster Ma that she could turn to as an adult.

On days like today, when we are celebrating the mothers of Ireland, I think of women like Sarah, women who are being wonderful mothers through difficult times.

I try to make peace with the parts of myself that, like Sarah, struggle to see ourselves through the prism of our motherhood success. Instead, we tend to internalise the expectations of perfection, that society places on all women as mothers

Some mothers struggle

Mother’s Day itself, while full of love and adoration of women – really only emphasises one type of mother. It often ignores those women who are working mothers, or mothers parenting in poverty, or who are forced to live in hotel rooms, usually parenting alone.

These are the mothers I think of on Mother’s Day. They know first-hand how hard being a mother can be, especially if you don’t have someone to share the emotional responsibility with.

I wonder if like me, these women carry the shame of living in a society that deems them to be imperfect mothers

My own shame is rooted in the fact that I parented during years of poor mental health,  through years of not feeling good enough for the wonderful children in my life.

I once asked my girls if they could change one thing about me what would it be. They both said: “Your shouting Ma…you shout a lot and it’s scary!”.

That day of mothering was particularity hard. Allowing my girls the space to speak about my flaws was hard. But it was also good and it was needed.

I needed to explore what they didn’t know, that what was behind the screaming and shouting was the trauma that I had been living with. Behind that, there was a scared little girl who was really afraid to show people who she was.

When Mother’s Day comes around I am reminded of ALL the mothers who are out there, who feel the same way I felt, worried about not having the ability to separate their hardships from their nurturing, trying to hide this shame and uphold the ‘perfect’ ideal of mothering that the world expects. 

Well, I’m here to say I wasn’t perfect. When I became a mother I was young. Still finding my way through my teenage years, learning who I am, while growing up in a community that was entrenched in inequality.

As a society do we ever consider how women who have lived through trauma and who are healing the emotional scars of the past, struggle with motherhood?

Do we support these women? Do we celebrate them?

Don’t panic

When we become mothers, no matter how much we value that role, first and foremost we are still people. 

We think, we feel, we love, we judge, we have our own hopes and dreams as individuals and we are flawed. If we are struggling with life that doesn’t automatically stop the day we become mothers.

I feel a certain level of fear and panic at the fact that I am someone’s mother.

I love my kids with a power that cannot be explained but I also love them with all the broken parts of me too.

My daughters are the most powerful, open-minded, opinionated and hard-working people I know, and this is reflected in the other women and girls in my life, and throughout our community.

The experience of being a mother is both wonderful and sometimes awful in equal measure- but no one really talks about this.

Many of us have struggled to hide the hard times for the shame of not being perfect.

I once read that “no one can develop freely in the world and find full life without feeling understood by at least one person”.

I think that is why I write about the parts of myself that cut deepest. I am reaching out for understanding, I am hoping to see my struggle as a mother reflected in the lives of others.

In writing this article I want to highlight the imperfect side of mothering, and in some ways celebrate that.

To celebrate Sarah, who is doing it the hard way and those women who feel completely alone yet somehow find the strength inside to get up and keep going.

In their gaze

As the great philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre wrote, it is only through the gaze of another that we become aware of ourselves.

It is in the gaze of my daughters that I see the mother I have been, even in the midst of difficult circumstance.

In the end, it is their perception of me that matters the most.

On my tenth attempt at writing this piece, my daughter said to me: “Don’t worry Ma about writing this article, we love you, but feel free to go Sylvia Plath on it – she had many conflicting perspectives on motherhood.”

I thought to myself, ‘wow, you are my daughter and you are amazing.’

This is a child who has been quoting artists and poets that I had never heard of since she was in primary school.

I look at her and think, why am I so afraid of being your mother?

Let’s celebrate women

Today I want to celebrate all the women who helped me on my motherhood journey. My own family, my daughter’s families, the women in my community. 

The women who with very little income, managed to ensure their babies were warm, fed and in school on time, often managing this alone, or in tough or violent situations.

What about the woman who, even in the depth of addiction, never missed a parent-teacher meeting.

Or the woman who made sure her kids were at every single one of their football games through rain, hail and snow and who stood strong at the side-line cheerleading her kids all alone.

These women might internalise their hardships as though they created them. They didn’t.

They are raising kids in the most difficult situations without realising the injustice of that. 

They remain strong in their commitment to their children even under the constant scrutiny of a society that doesn’t care about the hardships they endure daily.

Today I want to thank my own mother for being the person that she is. All the good parts of me, I learned from her.

To my daughters, it was my role to facilitate their growth in this world, yet it seems sometimes that it was them that facilitated mine.

Lynn Ruane is an independent senator. 

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