As a kid growing up, when I was the not -too-nice daughter myself to my mother, I remember her saying to me “I only hope you will suffer with your daughters the way you made me suffer. Only then will you know how I feel.”
It’s been 60 years since I remember her saying that. Ironically it has all come to fruition. Like two bookends that perfectly match. Let me explain. When I was raising my 2 girls as a single mom, the dance of life around our house was disappointment in my “mommism”. Mom somehow always managed to be not enough; to be too “out there” with her leftish political views, her eccentric friends, the single freewheeling life she led, the lumpy food she cooked.
These days I am often blamed for their problems: a too big nose, a shy nature, being an old maid, marrying a workaholic. There is always that distance between me and the confident, enviable, all-American apple pie mother they both longed for. Leave It To Beaver type.
The Effect On Me
All their complaints, distancing, degrading remarks left me with a forlorn, grim view of motherhood. An empty spirit, low self esteem, forever self critical and forever trying to make up for the gap between their demands and what I could realistically give bogged me down.
How Did This Happen, I ask Myself?
I attribute it to three ( and possibly more) overlapping causes:
Giving Them Too Much Freedom
Spending two thirds of my life in an avant-garde community where Summerhill, the free life and open speech were the zeitgist of the time, I openly invited my girls to speak out loud about how they felt. Everything they felt, including their feelings about me. I gave them the free rein that my own immigrant parents didn’t give to me as a kid. Traditional, and hard working, sincere people that they were.
By the time I was 35, my commitment to my kid’s self expression made me one of the most sullied and demeaned mothers on my block. I had created two unrelenting swans who were non stop in their criticisms of me despite my best efforts.
Guilt About Leaving Their Respective Fathers
A combo of being a serial monogamist, wanting a liberated and untrapped life , plus rejecting the constricted life of the fifties wife and mother were forces that finally moved me to leave my two marriage
Freedom from constriction was the counterpoint to my mother’s slave life where she toiled for hours in a sweat shop to come home to a demanding, domineering husband who wanted his home cooked meals on time and steaming hot. Just like his mother made for him in the Old World.
In my mother’s time there wasn’t even the language to describe how compressed and oppressed her life was. Her daily devotion to work, us kids and my dad created a design for living in a box. In the female department, mom called her period being “unwell.” She hand scrubbed her ripped sheets ersatz modess pads once a month without complaint and washed out her underclothes secretly in shame.
Compensation For A Hard Scrabble Life
Since I grew up polishing shoes in my dad’s shoe repair to make my way through school a nd struggled through with little funds, I was a sucker for any privilege I could afford to give my children. Unlike my life, I wanted to give them more than I had. Above all, I didn’t want them to suffer. In a way, working hard defeated my purpose . My working to put extras on the table kept me working long hours away from them. Perhaps I was too fixated on this goal and lost sight of their attachment needs. I know now, as a psychotherapist myself, too much indulgence can invite ingrates. And too much time away can create separation disorders and mother rage.
I am often caught in a catch 22 dilemma. My maternal nature wants to be close to them, take care of them and love them. On the other hand, being treated badly is unacceptable. I cant’ allow their accumulated store of rage to be repeated over and over again.
In closing, I sometime cry out for my lost dreams of having closeness and intimacy with my children. At this point in the game, it may be too much to expect. Yet in my clinic I treat many damaged children desperately attached to parents who have abused and harmed them.