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Happy Mother's Day: 7 essays on the joys and challenges of motherhood

The mother-child relationship is unlike any other. Our views about ourselves and the world around us are uniquely shaped by our mothers. And then when women become mothers themselves, they find their lives changed by their children. These essays explore the joys and challenges of being a mother — and having a mother.

1

"My mom was a world-famous model. It took me decades to finally feel beautiful." by Anna Murray

I learned from Mom's clear-eyed assessment of me that I have long legs but a short waist. I have a classically beautiful face but will never pull off clothes like my broad-shouldered sister. On my small frame ("from your father's side"), five extra pounds will "show like nobody's business."

Mom didn't mean any of it as criticism. She meant it as fact. Her lesson: Know what you have and make the most of it. Hurt feelings only get in the way. The best thing you can do is to acknowledge the truth of your body and deal with it. Beauty for Mom was almost disembodied, like a vase or a piece of furniture — an object to be positioned for best advantage.

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2

"Why daughters fight with their mothers" by Eleanor Barkhorn

Mother and Daughter 2

These conflicting desires — the mother's desire to protect versus the daughter's desire for approval — set the stage for painful misunderstandings and arguments. The well-meaning mother gives advice; the approval-seeking daughter takes offense and tells her mother to leave her alone; the mother throws up her hands and says she feels like she can't say anything that won't upset her daughter.

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3

"What it's like to be a mom when Google knows you're a felon" by Morgan Gliedman

I'm a mom in Manhattan. I'm also a felon and former addict, with a horrific Google trail and a raging rap sheet. Making mom friends can be awkward for any new parent, but for me, typical playground small talk — "what does your husband do," "did you have an easy pregnancy," "what was your life like before you had kids" — is like navigating quicksand, constantly trying to balance my desire to be transparent about my life with my dread of people judging my child for my past.

I am not alone: 23.5 million Americans are addicted to alcohol and drugs, and there are an estimated 20 million felons in the United States.

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4

"Bullies ruined my childhood. Then I realized my daughter is one." by Kate Young

I knew that when I became a parent, I did not want my children to experience the pain of what I had gone through. I wanted them to have confidence in themselves and their unique abilities while still being compassionate and empathetic to others. I felt my mission as a parent was to ensure I had well-adjusted children. I based my personal worth in that goal.

In my attempt to shield Emily from anything that could hurt her emotionally, I harmed her. My "hands on" parenting did her a disservice by giving her mixed messages. On one hand, I was telling her to be kind to others and to be inclusive. On the flip side, I was telling her she was the most important person in the world.

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5

"How homophobia turned me against my gay mother" by Joshua Gunn

I'm still ashamed of how I treated my mom after she came out. I'd grown up in a community suffused with homophobia — neighbors and family members alike tossed around works like "dyke" and "faggot" all the time. At first, that atmosphere turned me against my mother. It made me so angry at her I could barely speak. As I grew older, thankfully, that anger dissolved into love and acceptance of her and our unusual family.

But even after I made peace with my family, I still had to face the world around me, a world that was still at war with families like mine. Bigotry and stigma were constant shadows throughout my childhood. As a result, I felt a persistent, nagging pressure to uphold an image of perfection for myself and my family. Every argument between my parents, every bad choice I made, every lousy report card I took home, felt like a referendum on the way I was being raised.

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6

"Why I’m too selfish to have children" by Sung J. Woo

So what, then, for this eerie childlessness in the Woo clan? Why is it that three well-adjusted children who grew up to have steady partners and steady jobs and steady residences all decided against reproduction?

Not that I want to be a cliché or anything, but I believe the answer lies within my mother.

My father left for the United States when I was a toddler and we weren't reunited until I turned 10. During the formative years of my life, my mother was all that I had. But as a child, I never quite felt my father's absence because my mother deluged me with love. I could do no wrong in her eyes, even if I did do wrong.

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7

"9 things I wish I'd known before I became a stay-at-home mom" by Lisa Endlich Heffernan

The one job I never imagined having is the one that I've held for the longest. When I had two very small children and was planning a third, I quit my job at the London office of an American bank and became a stay-at-home mom. Although I wrote while I was home with my sons, I spent most of my time taking care of them. This decision ran counter to everything I was raised to believe in the 1970s and '80s and everything I had done to prepare myself for adulthood.

In my world, if you went to school alongside the boys, and then worked alongside the men, you didn't give it all up because parenting small children while working full time turns out to be really tough. But give it up I did.

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