It’s one of the things that we don’t talk about, but there are many of us adult children who habitually avoid visiting our aging mothers. The operative word is children here because until this problem is resolved, we children, regardless of our ages, will never grow up.
Does this conversation from The Prince of Tides ring your bell?
” ‘It’s your mother, ‘ Sallie said, returning from the phone.
‘Please tell her I’m dead,’ I pleaded. ‘Please tell her I died last week and you’ve been too busy to call.’
‘Please speak to her. She says it’s urgent.”
‘She always says it’s urgent. It’s never urgent when she says it’s urgent
. . .
‘I hate my mother, Sallie…. p, 10
. . .
” ‘Jennifer said, ‘Why don’t you like Grandma, Dad?’
‘Who says I don’t like Grandma?’
“Lucy added, ‘Yeah, Dad, why do you always scream out, ‘I’m not here’ when she calls on the phone?’
‘It’s a protective device, sweetheart. Do you know how a blowfish puffs up when there’s danger? Well, it’s the same thing when Grandma calls. I puff up and shout that I’m not here. It would work great except that your mother always betrays me.’
‘Why don’t you want her to know you’re here, Daddy? Chandler asked.
‘Because then I have to talk to her. And when I talk to her it reminds me of being a child and I hated my childhood.’ p. 13
. . .
‘At this very moment my mother is crossing the Shem Creek bridge. No birds sing on the planet when my mother is on her way.
. . .
‘My God, I wonder what she wants, She only comes here when she can ruin my life in some small way. She’s a tactician of the ruined life. She could give seminars on the subject. … When my family has bad news, It’s always something grisly, Biblical, lifted straight out of the Book of Job.’ p. 14
. . .
‘Friendship and motherhood are not compatible.
‘…here’s Mom. Could you tie some garlic around my throat and bring me a crucifix?
. . .
“My mother appeared in the doorway, immaculately dressed and groomed, and her perfume walked out on the porch several moments before she did. My mother always carried herself as if she were approaching the inner chamber of the queen. She was as finely made as a yacht–clean lines, efficient, expensive.” Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, p. 16
[As Pat Conroy continues to develop the character of Tom Wingo’s mother, motherhood, shame, and anger become intermeshed.]
“I was not comfortable with anyone who was not disapproving of me. No matter how ardently I strove to attain their impossibly high standards for me, I could never do anything entirely right and so I grew accustomed to that climate of inevitable failure. I hated my other, so I got back at her by giving my wife her role. In Sallie, I had formed the woman who would be a subtle, more cunning version of my own mother. Like my mother, my wife had come to feel slightly ashamed of and disappointed in me.” Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, p. 86.
[In reading more of the book The Prince of Tides, we discover that the Wingo family’s dysfunction did not begin with Tom’s generation of kids. Tom and his siblings were born into a dysfunctional family that extended several generations back–possibly back to the beginning of time.]
Because of her own insecurity, Tom’s mother had shamed her children into silence about things that did not cast the family in a favorable light. The Wingo father was a wife and child beater, and the children were forced into silence about the physical abuse in their homes.
Most of us were not physically abused, but through the rough and tumble process of growing up, most of us were hurt by something that our parents did or said or about what we came to believe that they did or said. Because of our own fragile egos, we may have exaggerated some of our slights. Our parent may have said one thing, and because of our own frailties, we may have heard another, and because we didn’t want to continue to hear what we didn’t want to hear, we may have erected a wall, and that launched a multitude of problems.
Mothers seem to bear the brunt of the blame for saying or doing things that kids perceive as having damaged them. Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that mothers do not make mistakes. I am not saying that mothers do not say the wrong things and do the wrong things. As a mother, I have made mistakes and my own mother has also made mistakes, but I am acknowleding the reality that mothers are human.
“To err is human, to forgive divine.”
While adult children are willing to forgive almost anyone in the world for almost anything that they have done, we find it difficult to forgive our mothers–the people who, in most cases, did everything that they possibly could do to be good moms. If we consider the irrationality of the degree of our anger and our acting out against our mothers, we may begin to understand that our inabilities to forgive our mothers may have more to do with our own weaknesses than it has to do with the misdeeds of our moms.
“There is no hospitality like understanding.”
― Vanna Bonta, Flight: A Quantum Fiction Novel
We consider ourselves to be a hospitable bunch of people. We are good at being hospitable with perfect strangers, but we hesitate when it is time to be hospitable with those who have loved us as much as they humanly could have loved.
Hospitality is the act of opening our homes and our hearts and allowing others to enter. I believe that hospitality stems from understanding and from empathy. Until we are able to view our mothers as humans who had problems of their own and who did the best that they could with what life dealt them, we will never become hospitable toward them.
“You’re busy. You don’t have the skill set. Their problems are too much. Their life is a mess.
Your life is a mess. You’re too impatient. You’re not kind enough. You don’t even like them.
You have nothing to offer. What does it really matter?
Turns out, in the end, it’s all that really matters.”
― Edie Wadsworth
If we could simply shut out our mothers and close the doors of our pasts and walk away, it might be okay. It wouldn’t be kind and it would be dreadfully unappreciative, but it might be okay if we could completely remove ourselves from our families. but none of us can do that. We might convince ourselves that we are fine about divorcing ourselves. We might sufficiently harden our hearts enough that we feel nothing at all about it, but does anyone really want a hardened heart? We might become completely narcissistic and only care about ourselves. Whoa! Is that a good thing?
The truth is that there is no healthy way to eliminate our mothers, and until we quit trying to do that, we will be trapped in hamster cages, spinning the go-nowhere wheels of our own making.
“If you’re busy blaming your mother or wishing you could “divorce” her, you are caught in a psychological prison. You can’t get free, and you can’t really grow up. There are practical problems. For example, you dread family parties: Your mother might not like what you’re wearing. Or she might love what you’re wearing and say to everyone, “Doesn’t my daughter look gorgeous?!”—and you’d be mortified.
“That kind of practical problem is a symptom of the fact that mother-blame limits your freedom: you can’t be an adult who freely considers all of life’s possibilities. You restrict yourself to certain activities, interests, and friends to prove how different from Mother you are. You can’t look honestly at who you are, because you might discover ways that you are like her! Frantic to avoid what you consider her failures, you overreact, throwing out the good with the bad: you grow tough because you think she’s sentimental, or you become a doormat because she wasn’t warm enough. All that reaction against her, that desperate drive to prove your difference, restricts and damages your relationships with the other people you love—your mate, your children, your other relatives, and your friends. You offer them only a part of your true self, a caricature.” Caplan, Paula. The New Don’t Blame Mother
My children are mad at me, and I suffer from their anger every day. I grew up longing for the day that I would be a mother. When I was a child, I never wanted fashion dolls or any kind of pretty dolls. I only wanted baby dolls, and I wanted diapers and Johnson’s Baby Powder to sprinkle on their bottoms. When I was a little girl, I had play baby bottles and warm blankets to draw my babies near to me to protect them from the cold. I couldn’t wait to be a real mother, and I never dreamed that my real children would ever be mad at me.
One of my children called me to wish me Happy Mother’s Day. I had not seen that son for five years and I had only talked to him once in that time. I could have elected to pout and not to receive his call, or I could have elected to welcome any amount of attention that he felt he could spare me. I chose the latter. I cherish the fact that he called. Because he had moved to a different state and had a new cell phone, I didn’t know how to reach him. My son’s call was the first step toward tearing down a wall. My sons live over 1,000 miles away from me. They live 8 hours away from each other, but they are both living in the South, and I told both of my sons to expect me this summer. I am returning to my own roots in the South, and I want us to have an old-fashioned family reunion. There is something about breaking bread and drinking that is ceremonial and healing. Fried chicken, deviled eggs, and potato salad. There could be no better way to commune.
I hurt for my wounded family, and one of my greatest wishes is that we will be healed. I never saw it coming, but I have learned that there is more to motherhood than holding babies and powdering them and caressing them. There is also a time for giving them a healthy amount of space, and there is pain. Years ago, Erma Bombeck wrote a touching piece that tells the story of God’s creation of Mothers. It is titled When God Created Mothers. For me, the title should be Motherhood – The Tear
©Jacki Kellum May 14, 2017 Happy Mother’s Day
“When God Created Mothers”
by Erma Bombeck
When the Good Lord was creating mothers, He was into His sixth day of “overtime” when the angel appeared and said. “You’re doing a lot of fiddling around on this one.”
And God said, “Have you read the specs on this order?” She has to be completely washable, but not plastic. Have 180 moveable parts…all replaceable. Run on black coffee and leftovers. Have a lap that disappears when she stands up. A kiss that can cure anything from a broken leg to a disappointed love affair. And six pairs of hands.”
The angel shook her head slowly and said. “Six pairs of hands…. no way.”
It’s not the hands that are causing me problems,” God remarked, “it’s the three pairs of eyes that mothers have to have.”
That’s on the standard model?” asked the angel. God nodded.
One pair that sees through closed doors when she asks, ‘What are you kids doing in there?’ when she already knows. Another here in the back of her head that sees what she shouldn’t but what she has to know, and of course the ones here in front that can look at a child when he goofs up and say. ‘I understand and I love you’ without so much as uttering a word.”
God,” said the angel touching his sleeve gently, “Get some rest tomorrow….”
I can’t,” said God, “I’m so close to creating something so close to myself. Already I have one who heals herself when she is sick…can feed a family of six on one pound of hamburger…and can get a nine year old to stand under a shower.”
The angel circled the model of a mother very slowly. “It’s too soft,” she sighed.
But tough!” said God excitedly. “You can imagine what this mother can do or endure.”
Can it think?”
Not only can it think, but it can reason and compromise,” said the Creator.
Finally, the angel bent over and ran her finger across the cheek.
There’s a leak,” she pronounced. “I told You that You were trying to put too much into this model.”
It’s not a leak,” said the Lord, “It’s a tear.”
What’s it for?”
It’s for joy, sadness, disappointment, pain, loneliness, and pride.”
You are a genius, ” said the angel.
Somberly, God said, “I didn’t put it there.”
― Erma Bombeck, When God Created Mothers