/ The RE's Muse: On my mother's mothering and mine

The RE's Muse

After 4 years of infertility, 2 surgeries, 1 miscarriage, and 19 months of high risk pregnancies, hubby and I now have two little women in our lives--one a toddler, the other not far behind. Buckle your seatbelts, it's gonna be a wild ride.

Friday, February 25, 2005

On my mother's mothering and mine

Like many people, my upbringing was not the most traditional. My parents relationship was a rocky one. In fact, my father used me as a pawn to get girls. Seems dragging along the cute little girl was akin to going somewhere with a puppy--it helped him score some prime tail, all while he was still married to--and living with--my mother. And I was sworn to secrecy, which I honored. There was also the added treat of watching him use my mother as a punching bag from time to time. Oh, yes, life was swell in my series of childhood apartments. Notice I didn't say "homes" because they never were. We didn't stay long enough to make it home-y nor did my parents ever have enough $ to buy their own place.

After my parents finally split up (but didn't divorce until many years later because neither had the $ to get an attorney and/or actually file for divorce), I went with my mother. She wasn't the best of moms but she did what she could. A few years after my father and she split, she went through a promiscuous phase (when I was about 11 or 12), bringing guys back to the studio apartment we lived in--where we had beds a mere six or so feet from one another and where--on one particularly memorable evening--I got woken up by the "melodious" sound of their rutting mere feet from my head. Despite some of these setbacks, I know that she worked hard to provide for us--usually in a series of menial jobs, mostly waitressing. I know she did her best, don't get me wrong, but she did make some poor choices along the way. I'm not faulting her for this, merely pointing it out.

Perhaps as a result of her model at the time, I dropped in with a rough crowd in high school. Heck, I even dropped out of school in the 10th grade because all my "friends" were doing it. After a year or two of BS, I got wise, realizing that I would never be better than my parents if I didn't keep learning and bettering myself through an education. I went back and completed my diploma. From there I went on to earn a college degree from the University of Florida, and am currently one credit hour (and about 35 thesis pages) shy of my master's degree. I met and married a wonderful loving man who is my partner, my best friend. We have traveled the world, shared experiences, grown as both a couple and as individuals, and more. We've bought a home (actually, this is our third, thanks to moving out of state--first to Georgia and then to Alabama courtesy of his work transfers) and filled it with love, happiness, memories, and hopes for the future.

Returning to my upbringing, perhaps the worst thing about it was the fact that not once did my mother ever tell me she loved me or was proud of me. I never heard those words growing up--a time when you need to hear that kind of thing so desperately, a time when you're still trying to establish your own sense of self-worth. The first and only time I heard her say she was proud of me is when I told her I'd be graduating from UF. But I didn't invite her to the graduation ceremony...that's a time for families who've been a part of their child's life, their education, for sharing the day and taking some honor in raising them to accomplish their goals. I didn't think she deserved that credit. I put myself through school both emotionally and financially (and have a sizeable DOE student loan to prove it). And I didn't want others there at the graduation (who didn't even know me) to have the assumption that ours was a normal family, that she was a part of my college experience, that she was in my corner rooting for me while I was working so diligently to better myself.

In recent years--say the last four or five--my mother has begun to tell me repeatedly that she loves me. That's all fine and dandy but I don't need to hear it now and, quite frankly, I somewhat resent hearing it now but am not exactly sure why. Nowadays, I have a healthy sense of self-worth, a husband and friends who love me, a good career, an education, a beautiful home...in short, the good life I feel I'm deserving of and that I worked so hard to get. Where were these proclamations of love when I needed them years ago?

She currently lives in an apartment (she still can't afford a house) about 3 hours away from us. Shortly after telling her we were expecting, she announced that she wants to move back to a town about 45 minutes away from us. A town that she used to live in until about 3 years ago and hated because of it's small town-ness--in fact, she couldn't get away from it fast enough when A and I moved out-of-state a few years ago and it is a town she had no interest in returning to when A and I moved back to Florida last year. As far as family goes, I am her only child and her only living relative except for a distant second cousin who she has no contact with.

But moving back closer to us? I think she may have an altered perception about the reality of what her living fairly close by will be. We are not close as a mother and daughter, and quite frankly, I don't want her to be too involved in my daughter's (g-d willing we have a live baby in a few months' time) upbringing. Yes, I realize that the very people who raised us often are different creatures with their grandkids. My best friend swears she doesn't know who her father is when he's with her two little boys. But still....

A thinks I should let bygones be bygones and let her in, forget the past. I say, it's too little too late. I forgive but I don't forget. Yes, I realize that I would be devastated if I lost her, I'm not saying I don't love her, don't get me wrong. There's so much I've left out here because I've already gone on way too long about this and my feelings are so very complicated.

I know, however, that I don't want to be like her--that I don't want to raise my daughter like she raised me. A has told me on numerous occasions that I am nothing like my mother--that by age 25 I had already accomplished more than she (or my father) ever had. He has seen me grow and he is who I credit with helping me establish my self-worth, my ability to love, and my strength.

I want to be a good mother. I want to give my child a happy home and a strong sense of pride in herself. I want her to know love, and happiness, and joy. I want to--and will, unlike my mother--tell my daughter that I love her EVERY single day. My child will never doubt my love for her--though she may at times resent it or perhaps feel constrained by it, but she will never not know it.

So I guess when all is said and done, despite overcoming my upbringing, I am a bad daughter. But I don't intend for my daughter to be one.

17 Comments:

At 12:52 PM, Blogger Soper said...

My mom and I were actually talking about this the other day. My dad was abused by his dad growing up, and he worked so very hard not to pass that on to us. I think each generation works to "better" the parenting from the generation before, which can be wonderful, and healthy.

Just don't let yourself get down when you aren't a perfect parent; all you can do is strive to be the best person you can be, one day at a time.

 
At 12:59 PM, Anonymous alex said...

Not saying I know how you feel but my situation as a child was very similar. My mom chose men over me alot...and still is in a way.

She thinks she has changed and she has but she is still not the strong mother bear kind.

The way my mother is in my life at this point is without expectations. I spent so many years riding a roller coaster with her wanting approval, tyring to talk to her, and waiting in the wings when a new man was around. Frankly I am tired of all of this and have a good life now like you said. I have a great guy and something that my mother will never have...a clear path to morals, values, strength, and love forever.

I pity my mother because she is a product of a bad upbringing who will never have what I have. At the same time I do need a mother in my memory which I will never have.

So when she is here she rarely ruffles my feathers because she has a place in my heart...albeit a distant one. I do not have an expectations of her...this is the only safe way of not getting on the roller coaster.

I imagine if I ever have children she will one day play some role that would be nice for the children....we will see.

I hope you settle on these issues....it is so hard. I think that it is like a tough old scar that mostly has no feeling but a few sharp points if touched the wrong way. I guess the issue will never be solved maybe just calmed.

Wishing some peace about this for you....alex

 
At 4:47 PM, Blogger Jen P said...

Dee, I read this with tears in my eyes because I see so much of a parallel between our upbringings. I too was never, EVER told I was loved unless it was beneficial to a parent, or used in a manipulative sense. And I have a cruddy and worthless relationship with my family.

I think about how this child will grow up every single day and whether or not he or she will ever even meet my family.

I know you will be a brilliant mother, kind, dedicated and loving. And I hope that by mothering your little one so well, the pains of your past ebb away a little faster.

Best wishes to you.

 
At 11:03 AM, Blogger Jenn said...

Dee- We do the best we can and learn from our past. You will find a comfort zone for your family and your mom that will work best for you--and you may not necessarily know what that is now--and it may change as time goes by. You know what your priorities are and what you want your loving family to experience. Try not to guess, now, what they looks and feels like--you'll know as it happens. You will be an amazing mom--enjoy this bonding time with your baby.

 
At 1:07 PM, Blogger Jen said...

A bad mother does not a bad daughter make, I think. You should be very proud for all you've accomplished, and now, you have to do what you feel is healthiest for you and your little girl.

Do you think maybe your mother now realizes how she failed you, and is hoping to get it right this time with your daughter? I don't know if that makes a difference or not, but maybe that's where she's coming from.

I hope you can get through this without it causing you too much more stress--now should be such a happy time!

 
At 1:22 PM, Anonymous Lily said...

Wow. You rose above a lot of things to accomplish much more than the average person. You will be an excellent role model for your daughter.

I also have a very difficult relationship with my mother, and I sometimes cringe when she mentions the crib she'll be keeping for "when the baby sleeps over her house". I'm not sure I would ever trust her alone with my child- and she's a pediatrician. Sure, she knows how to go through the motions of childcare, but she's not loving, or kindly affectionate the way I like to see children treated.

I honestly don't care if she's wonderful with my baby. She was terrible with me, and to me that's sort of the your-chance-is-over thing. So I know how you feel in that respect.

It will be an interesting road to go down, this one.

Lily

 
At 1:53 PM, Blogger Toni said...

I just had a similar conversation about this topic with my brother. My sister and I, brought up in the same household, came out completely different. She - similar to your mom - tends to spend most of her nights in the company of other men. She's still married - and has two children - but does not live with her 'husband' and only rarely has her children at her house at night.

I am the exact opposite. My point? I do have one. Raising children - it's kind of like knowing how it all ends. You know how you grew up and what you always wanted to happen in your life that didn't. So you do that for your daughter. A strict parents makes a more relaxed parenting child which makes a more strict parenting child...we all wanted something different that what we had.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that your mom doesn't deserve to spend time with her child or granddaughter - but she should be given the opportunity to earn the time. At least try her out - it's amazing how people change around their grandkids.

 
At 11:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My mother also never told me she loved me. Nor did my father. My mother actually once told me that the reason she never hugged me growing up is because she would have felt "fake," like she was pretending! So, know that you are not alone.

As far as future relationships go... My mother did not have great parents, but she let my grandparents into my life, and I learned a lot from my grandfather. My grandfather was a difficult man, but a strong man, and from him, I learned important lessons about how I want to be, and how I *don't* want to be. And all four of my grandparents related very differently to their grandchildren than they did to their children, mostly for the better. I think that it's generally a less fraught relationship, and if there's any way you can (slowly, and with limits) let your mother back into your life, without compromising your own values, sense of self, or sanity--I think you should do it.

But you aren't a bad mother or a bad daughter if you don't.

 
At 11:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My mother also never told me she loved me. Nor did my father. My mother actually once told me that the reason she never hugged me growing up is because she would have felt "fake," like she was pretending! So, know that you are not alone.
As far as future relationships go... My mother did not have great parents, but she let my grandparents into my life, and I learned a lot from my grandfather. My grandfather was a difficult man, but a strong man, and from him, I learned important lessons about how I want to be, and how I *don't* want to be. And all four of my grandparents related very differently to their grandchildren than they did to their children, mostly for the better. I think that it's generally a less fraught relationship, and if there's any way you can (slowly, and with limits) let your mother back into your life, without compromising your own values, sense of self, or sanity--I think you should do it.
But you aren't a bad mother or a bad daughter if you don't.

 
At 1:34 AM, Blogger Pazel said...

My mother has also rewritten my childhood to make herself look good. Unfortunately for her I remember well.

She is a much better grandmother than a mother. She gets to be fun and spoils her rotten. Yet I am always there to provide the security and safety and reliability. My mother can never break my daughter's heart like she did mine. And I would never choose some man over kids like she did with us.

All visits can be supervised and brief, and end if she makes one false move. It's up to you to decide and choose; you are the protector of this child and you will be a wonderful mother.

p.s. I skipped my undergrad graduation ceremonies altogether, not even attending to accept my special awards. Frankly, I was more interested in starting my new job and couldn't imagine anyone outside my husband would attend anyways.

 
At 10:45 AM, Anonymous Day said...

Oh how your post hit home. The prospect of impending motherhood has made me very reflective of my own experiences with my mother as of late. Pazel echoes my own feelings: my mother has rewritten my childhood to her liking... omitting the neglect, the narcissism, the drama-queen antics and the worship and neediness of a man over her own children. She does her best now to "love" and maintain a proper semblance of responsibility and caring, which I appreciate for what it is. But because I am the oldest and I remember and, like you, don't forget, she is and will always keep her distance from me. I am a living reminder of her breakdown days, of her mistakes -the days where we should have been scooped up by family services. If she'd only say she's sorry it would make things so much better, but evidently denial is a far more comfortable place for her. I find myself always trying to reach out, to find the common ground, but am always left flat by her neediness and low self-esteem and self-possession. She'll never get it.
I think you should do what feels right for you, in your own time. Yes, we only go around once and to forgive is divine, but it's Princepesa's time for your attention, not your mom's...and your decision to keep your distance does not make you a bad daughter but in my eyes, a better mom. You are strong for seeing that, and I'm proud of you.

 
At 9:41 PM, Anonymous Menita said...

Oh Dee. You've hit home for a bunch of us. Having my mother be part of my life is out of the questions because a) she doesn't want to and b) even if she did, she crossed a line by her abuse.
As you said, forgiven but nor forgotten. I think that being pregnant forces us to reexamine and rethnk our relationship to our parents, while putting our own futures as parents under a magnifying glass.
We will do better, because we already HAVE done better. We will do better because we are on our guard. We will do better because we have worked hard to get past what could have been, what we would have become had we been left to our mothers' devices.
And I think a lot of what my mother is missing, and I pity her. And will do everything I can so the Kid and I are never in the position my mother and I are in today.
You will be all right: you are consistently thoughtful and caring and strong. You will be all right.

 
At 9:29 AM, Blogger ankaisa said...

I can't even begin to imagine how it was. I know I still remember the one time I saw my parents having sex, so it must have been really horrible to see your mom bring home men you don't know.

Come to think of it I can't remember ever being told by my mom or dad that they love me. Or even hug me other than in special occations. I still hate hugging people.

And I'm sure you will be a much better mom. There is no doubt in my mind about that. You will love your baby and tell her that every day!

 
At 1:17 PM, Blogger April said...

Dee, you already are a wonderful mother.

Don't lose sight of that.

My heart aches to know what you've witnessed - but I've learned that these unbelievable horrors from our childhood make us who we are. Stronger, more insightful, more appreciative of the little things.

 
At 1:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know, however, that I don't want to be like her--that I don't want to raise my daughter like she raised me.

--->> Me, too. It was a promose I made to myself as a KID.

Marla
Middle Way

 
At 3:21 PM, Blogger ThreeBees said...

Indeed. Being aware of our past can keep us from repeating mistakes.

Beautiful post reflecting this subject. :)

 
At 11:46 AM, Blogger Kristin said...

Dee...you are such a strong woman...and like others said, you are already a wonderful mom.

And, I don't think you are a bad daughter. I just think you are protecting yourself.

 

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