The Secret of Motherhood and Why It’s Wrong

Karen Patten

I worry that my boys deserve more than my best. Even my best means that sometimes I loose my temper. Sometimes I yell. Sometimes I don’t listen. Sometimes I ramble. And sometimes I nag.

I wonder if my mother ever worried that her best wasn’t enough? Because it wasn’t. And now I’ve learned the secret of motherhood and why there’s a better way…

The secret of motherhood is unspoken, but passed from generation to generation without fail. I learned the secret of motherhood, and now I also know that it's wrong. And here's why...

My mother wanted so desperately to be a mother. At age thirty-seven, my parents adopted me. My mother felt she owed me a special maternal duty because she had chosen to adopt me. (I’m sure she meant no offense to birth mothers – obviously, they also choose and really want their children!)

She took her duty very seriously. Maybe this was the crux of my not getting what I needed from her. Owe. Duty. Serious. Where’s the joy and love in all of that? She was dutiful. She signed me up for gymnastics, ballet, horseback riding, piano lessons, everything that was available because that’s what she believed good mothers do. When she saw that our public school wasn’t a good fit, she scrimped and saved and sent me to a private school. You name it; she did it.

Why My Mother’s Best Wasn’t Enough

My mother was a very private person. She didn’t share herself easily. But I wanted her; I wanted to know her – warts and all. Not knowing her created a hole in me. Unfortunately, I can’t say that I knew her very well.

Even if it wasn’t all pretty – which it wasn’t. Her life was painful – with abuse as a child and loss throughout. Sharing that pain was something she just couldn’t do.

Maybe she felt that she had nothing left worth sharing with me? Or that she didn’t want her sweet baby touched by all that left stains on her? I can’t ever be certain. But more than any gymnastics, ballet, or horseback riding lessons, I wish she could have shared herself so that I could have known her. But she locked that life away and slipped into the life of mother.

[bctt tweet=”My mother acted dutifully. But I missed out on knowing her – knowing who she really was.” username=”@SpoilMy”]

Just like every mother does, she loved me fiercely with the tools that she had. Everyone has a different set of tools available to them. She did not come from a safe, loving family. She was physically abused. Her sister died at an early age. It was a hard life.

For my mother, parents who were dutiful, serious, and who had a sense of owing her a good life must have been the pinnacle of parenting. That was what she missed out on. It must have been her vision of the ultimate parent. And so she passed on to me all that she felt she missed. She was, to me, her own vision of the ultimate parent.

The Secret of Motherhood

And now, just as my mother did before me, I try to pass on to my boys what I feel I missed. I want to give them joy; laughter; spontaneity (although I’m pretty bad at that one); respect for who they are; a commitment to knowing who they are: warts and all; sharing deeply of myself and showing them who I am: including the not so pretty parts.

I want to give them an appreciation for their uniqueness and individuality – different from mine though it may be. And most importantly, I want to give them love that truly flows to them without expectation of anything in return – unconditionally. Unconditional, unwavering presence and love – joyfully expressed and shared. Before anything else.

Ready for the secret of motherhood? Each mother’s “vision” of the perfect parent is delivered through her personal pair of tinted glasses. Tinted glasses contain history, experiences, and emotional baggage. But, as mothers, we strive to pass on to our children, as best we can, our “vision” of the perfect parent. We each parent in a way that delivers what we feel we missed.

[bctt tweet=”We all pass on to our children our own personal vision of the ultimate parent. ” username=”@SpoilMy”]

Now, you want to know why that misses the mark?

Here’s Why The Secret of Motherhood Misses the Mark

So here’s the thing, the reason that we are getting it wrong. What I feel I missed may not be what my boys need. It’s what I needed. They may need something completely different. Since the secret of motherhood is that we instinctually pass on what we missed, but we need to connect with our children to discern what they need, not what we needed as children.

[bctt tweet=”We parent the way that we wanted to be parented; not necessarily the way that they need to be parented. ” username=”@SpoilMy”]

So I’m going to try to take of my glasses that are tinted with my upbringing and what I missed. And I’m going to try to be finely tuned in to and connected with what each of my boys uniquely needs of me as a parent. And then I’ll try to deliver the best I can.

We need to deliver ourselves to our children.  Even the hard, ugly parts of ourselves that we are not fond of. They need to see us in all our glory and  in all our imperfections. There will always be times that we aren’t AT our best, but we are still DOING our best.

So I’m sure that I’ll still loose my temper. I’ll still yell from time to time. I’ll still get so engrossed in something else that I won’t listen. And I’m sure I’ll still ramble and nag from time to time.

But as long as we have connected with our children and figured out what they each individually need from us, we’ll go a long way toward being the parents that they need.


  1. Stacie @ Divine Lifestyle on May 1, 2015 at 3:30 pm

    Mothers’ day is a mixture for me. It’s a time when I’m so happy to have my mom and to be a mom to my great kids. It’s also a time when I remember some great mothers I lost.

    • Karen Patten on May 2, 2015 at 3:59 am

      It’s definitely a mixture here too! I’m sorry for the mothers that you lost.

  2. Melissa Pezza on May 1, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    Mother’s Day is an overall wonderful experience for me. I love my mom to pieces, I love my kids, and they love both me and their grandmother. It’s pretty much a love fest.

    • Karen Patten on May 2, 2015 at 4:25 am

      That’s so wonderful! I hope you have the best love fest ever this year!!!

  3. Robin Rue (@massholemommy) on May 1, 2015 at 4:27 pm

    Mother’s Day is generally happy for my family. It’s just that we spend so much time visiting our moms that I don;t get as much time for ME.

    • Karen Patten on May 2, 2015 at 3:58 am

      Hahahaha! Here’s to wishing for time for you!

  4. Christy Maurer on May 1, 2015 at 4:28 pm

    I agree that we do the best we can. My mom is great. She is fun and loving and I am so blessed. I am sure you know that your mom did her best too. I’m sorry she’s got alzheimer’s now. Hugs for you this mother’s day!

    • Karen Patten on May 2, 2015 at 3:58 am

      It is reassuring to know that she loved me and loved me with all of her heart and did her very best. It makes me so sad that her childhood was so hard.

  5. Liz Mays on May 1, 2015 at 9:55 pm

    It think it’s a great thing to try to learn from your own upbringing. It’s definitely a cycle and it can get better and better with each generation.

    • Karen Patten on May 2, 2015 at 3:57 am

      I think so too! And knowing that gives me great hope for the future. I know we can’t all get everything right, so I enjoyed seeing how each generation works to make the lives of their children better 🙂

  6. Jeanine on May 1, 2015 at 11:14 pm

    I’m not quite sure what Mother’s Day is to me. I love celebrating my beautiful babies, but it’s also a day I miss my mom. Who passed away when I was 16. So the day is a mix of celebrating and missing.

    • Karen Patten on May 2, 2015 at 3:55 am

      It must be so hard to be missing your mom. Have a wonderful day with your beautiful babies.

  7. AJ @ Roaming Family on May 2, 2015 at 1:08 am

    Mother’s Day to me..I’m not sure. It’s almost always about my kids because I enjoy spending time with them- so we always do something as a family.

    • Karen Patten on May 2, 2015 at 3:54 am

      It’s always nice to have a special day to spend together as a family! Especially when the day is all about you 🙂

  8. touristmeetstraveler on May 2, 2015 at 3:18 am

    I love mother’s day, it helps you really sit down and think about all the things your mother has done for you; I’m lucky to have one as great as mine!

    • Karen Patten on May 2, 2015 at 3:54 am

      It is a lovely time to spend thinking about good times. Now that I’m a mom, I can appreciate all it took for my mother to do all she did!

  9. Krystal on May 2, 2015 at 6:27 am

    I certainly have mixed emotions on this day. Now that I am a mom I try to do the best that I Can do!

    • Karen Patten on May 5, 2015 at 12:53 am

      We all always try to do the best we can do. For all our successes and failures – that I believe. Even the worst of parents have such a strong bond with their children that, fail or succeed, I believe they try their best 🙂

  10. Rebecca Swenor on May 2, 2015 at 7:17 am

    This is an awesome post indeed. I think as mothers we all pass on to our kids what we feel we were lacking in our childhood. I have an awesome relationship with my mom but it only happened after I was older. I love to make Mother’s Day a happy day for my mom by making it her day. Thanks for sharing.

  11. HilLesha on May 2, 2015 at 8:33 am

    Don’t me wrong, because I love the concept of Mother’s Day. However, I feel Mother’s Day shouldn’t be reserved for one day (although it makes retail merchants happy) since mothers should be celebrated everyday. 🙂

    • Karen Patten on May 5, 2015 at 12:52 am

      It’s so interesting that you say that! As I was researching this post, I learned that the woman who started Mother’s Day was so upset that Hallmark (they were specifically named) began to profit from the holiday that she tried to have the holiday that she worked so hard to establish rescinded!!! I agree – we should always show one another that we love each other every single day!

  12. michele d on May 2, 2015 at 11:47 am

    Usually Mother’s Day is a special day for me. Even though, I don’t live near my mom I make sure I speak to her.

  13. Cara (@StylishGeek) on May 2, 2015 at 3:55 pm

    Ideally I would love to be really pampered on Mother’s Day. But realistically it is one of those holidays that I am actually busy. My Mom is usually here visiting and I try to plan something special for her and my Mom-in-Law. But I’m not complaining. Their company is definitely priceless! 🙂

  14. Amanda on May 2, 2015 at 6:16 pm

    Happy Mother’s Day! For me it is a day filled of gratitude and always a special day to spend with my boys….as well as my mom and Nana. So sorry to hear about your mom’s illness.

  15. Kelly Hutchinson on May 2, 2015 at 11:14 pm

    This is not going to be a pleasant mother’s day for me. I lost my mom last year, so it will be difficult to get through the day.

    • Karen Patten on May 5, 2015 at 12:50 am

      I am so sorry for the loss of your mother. I don’t think anything, other than losing a child, is worse than losing our parents. After such a loss, Mother’s Day can be an especially difficult time. Please be gentle and kind with yourself and look for love and support throughout the day.

  16. lisa @bitesforbabies on May 3, 2015 at 1:19 am

    Mother’s Day has always been a happy day for the entire family however, this year is going to be quite different since my granmother passed away only a few months ago!

    • Karen Patten on May 5, 2015 at 12:49 am

      I’m so sorry for your loss. Although I haven’t lost my mother, I can imagine this must be a difficult time for you. Take care of yourself and have a wonderful day.

  17. Bonnie @ wemake7 on May 3, 2015 at 12:05 pm

    Mother’s Day is a mixture of feelings for me as well. On the one hand I have kiddos that make it special but my mom and I weren’t very close up until recently and I also have a special woman in my life that I considered my mom over the years.

    • Karen Patten on May 5, 2015 at 12:48 am

      It is always interesting to hear about different types of child/maternal bonds. They can come in many shapes and sizes. Celebrating with your children is always the best!

  18. Rosey on May 3, 2015 at 12:47 pm

    I have a little one in the house still, so it’s nice for me. I like the homemade cards and genuine awe that goes into the efforts he does. 🙂 You’re right though, the day is as different as our circumstances.

  19. Travis on May 3, 2015 at 2:05 pm

    Wow, this is an eye opener for me. I always just saw Mother’s Day as a day that I gave my mom a card and what not. Now I see there is much more to it.

  20. Shabby Chic Boho on May 3, 2015 at 3:28 pm

    Mother’s Day is near to coming, this is one of special day for those mother like me.

    • Karen Patten on May 5, 2015 at 12:47 am

      I hope you have a wonderful day! I always try to ask for hugs and kisses “on demand!” It’s my favorite gift.

  21. Nancy @ Whispered Inspirations on May 4, 2015 at 12:56 pm

    I cannot believe that Mother’s Day snuck up on us already. I can’t wait to celebrate my Mom and perhaps relax a bit myself!

    • Karen Patten on May 5, 2015 at 12:46 am

      Definitely try to get in some relaxation!

  22. Lynndee on May 4, 2015 at 2:50 pm

    Mother’s Day had always been a happy one for me because my husband and my son always made sure it was special for me. I also make sure that it is special for my mom too although she is a thousand miles away from me.

    • Karen Patten on May 5, 2015 at 12:46 am

      That is so wonderful! I hope you have a terrific day!

  23. […] My mom was a good cook, not fancy – but solid, and so I’m sad that she didn’t write down any of her recipes. With one exception (homemade pie crust), I don’t have any of them exactly. Now that I cook, I’ve tried to recreate as many of her recipes as I can. This is as close as I can get to her pot roast – it’s a quick and easy slow cooker pot roast. […]

  24. When Do We Become Mothers? - Dirt & Boogers on September 29, 2015 at 6:06 am

    […] I’ve always been clear about what I believe my job is as a mother. It’s my job as a mother to give my boys all the tools that they need to grow up into the very best versions of themselves that they can possibly be. I have some of my own ideas about that – I want them to be kind, grateful, respectful, and able to cook and do laundry. But, for the most part, I want the ideas to be theirs. I am a facilitator to help them discover who they are and what they are capable of. Much of what I believe I need to do as a mother I learned from my relationship with my mother. […]

  25. […] somebody said something that ruffled my mother‘s feathers, she’d call them out on […]


Hi, I’m Karen, the Atlanta mama, writer, and creator at Intentional Family Life. I’m a passionate advocate for intentional living so that you can experience all that you deserve for yourself and your family. Here, I inspire moms to chose what matters most and then to only do the things that move them closer to what matters most. Read More About Karen…

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