“What is this fictional portrait of a mother? And what does that do for you as a mother?”
For many years, I didn’t have a therapist. I talked to my therapist a few times a year, both before I had children and as I dealt with childcare. But after I gave birth to my first, I quickly realized that I wanted someone else to talk to me more. She was a father.
My friend made me an appointment right away, because she worried I might need a professional outside of the family. When she came to my house, I explained to her what I had experienced so far with my mother. “How did she react to you?” she asked. And my own feelings about my mom.
“That she was a supportive and loving presence,” I told her. “Because that’s what I needed as a mother.”
And that is what I needed as a mother. Making sense of what happened in my own life — how all of my peers were thriving, while I could barely put my daughter to sleep — let me reclaim my own life, which had begun to feel like a never-ending question mark. In my mind, it was as if the “why” was a mystery that only I, my friends and other mothers could solve.
This idea — of “motherhood as the mystery of motherhood” — is the starting point for Being Erica, a show on the public television series Great Performances that debuted on Oct. 23. It presents a unique family dynamic as a portrait of a family — especially a family with a mother — as it struggles to love and raise kids. Erica’s world is similar to mine. She loves her children and loves what she’s done with her life. She does not want children. But she loves her children — and loves what she is doing with them. And she loves making art and her garden. She’s being authentic, in whatever form that takes.
I am a little embarrassed about watching this series. The stories of these women and how they see motherhood are so familiar — to me, at least. Being Erica reminds me of everything I’ve seen on camera before — who I saw. And from Erica, I don’t see a mother. I see a friend.
I often have moments where I think, “Hmm. That’s not my world.” And a different part of me does not like the way Erica talks about her kids. But the other part of me understands. I have pictures from home when my kids were small that look a lot like Erica’s children — just the right age. And I want to see a woman like Erica take care of her kids. I want to see a woman in all of her complexities: The mother. The mother who needs help. The mother who wants her children to cry.
For her part, Erica still dreams of having children. When she does not, she tells me to stop judging her. But I think it’s unfair to judge her. I have my own challenges, of course, and they won’t be easy. And I have my own history of injuries and upsets, of challenging feelings. I don’t know that there’s a perfect model of motherhood. And I don’t know that it is anyone’s job to find a perfect model.
But what I do know is that being realistic, authentic and compassionate — and joy-filled — is the best model. I want to watch Erica move forward, and watch her children grow into loving, successful, grateful adults. I want to be a part of her narrative.
And because I am a journalist, I’m fascinated by Erica. I am curious to see how people react to her story. And whether she will be the model of every mother who tries to do the best for her children.