Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mothers


My Mum and me, c. 1967

I have to say, I find Mother's Day very difficult. And to top it off, it often coincides with my mother's birthday, which is today. She would be 80 if she were still alive, but she has been gone since 1997.

Today I'm making a nice supper for my mother-in-law, and that part of the day is fine. She will be glad to spend some time over here visiting with us and her grand-pets! But it's really hard to get warm and fuzzy about the day itself when you grew up with a very flawed mother who was neglectful, emotionally abusive, and utterly unable to protect her daughter, her only child, from harm. 

That was my mother. For the first years of my life, my father was a stabilizing influence on her and things weren't too bad, but when Dad left Mum the year I was 8, she completely fell apart, and I got lost in the debris. I became the adult in the house at a very young age. My mother was beautiful and funny and talented and drew people to her like moths to the proverbial flame, especially men. But she was also clinically narcissistic and damaged and unable or unwilling to deal with the traumas of her past. And she could not stand to see me happy! I can hear the gasps of "Oh that can't be true!" as I type. But it was! I can barely look at pictures of her from my wedding day, because she was so obviously miserable, barely able to bring a half-smile to her face. I think she just hated the fact that the focus was on me for a change. She didn't cheer up until she got hammered at our reception.

The times we drew closest were the times when my life was in the crapper, because only then was she able to provide me with some support. It was like my happiness was some kind of threat to her, and she would withdraw in jealousy. But when I was miserable, she was all over me. It was very confusing.

While Mum managed to keep me fed and clothed and housed, got me music lessons, and taught me to love animals and art, and to knit and many other things for which I am truly grateful, she also frequently left me alone when I was too young to be left alone. Bad things often happened as a result. Some were really bad things. And when I asked for help, she couldn't or wouldn't give it to me. Even when I was a young adult in a bad relationship, she knew what was going on but said nothing until the year she died. I had always thought she didn't know, but the truth was, she had turned a blind eye to me. She was incapable of helping me.

Mum had lifelong problems with addictions as well. The only saving grace was that my father lived 15 minutes away, talked to me on the phone every day, and saw me every weekend, right through my high school years. He always acted like a parent and an adult. But he also knew what my mother was really like, and he could have rescued me from the situation I was in. That said, I was very protective of my mother and never told anyone the truth about what was happening, including my father, until I was long past childhood. 

It all makes it pretty tough to deal with Mother's Day, when so many people are celebrating the women who gave birth to them, and the best elements of motherhood. While I am happy for people who are or were close their mothers and cherish them, I am also envious. I loved my mother and I still do, but I haven't reached a point yet where I can get through Mother's Day without feeling a little angry, despite lots of professional help on that front. I like to think I'm still evolving and I will reach a point where this day doesn't bother me, and I can truly let go of all the hurt from my relationship with Mum. Time will tell. I ain't there yet.

I'm not writing this to bash my mother. I tell myself she did the best she could with what she had, and I do try to focus on the positive memories, like her sense of humour and physical affection for me. But amidst all the celebrating on this day, I wonder about the people like me who just don't feel like raising a toast to their mothers. Usually I just keep quiet, because who wants to be a downer on a special day? But maybe because it's also Mum's birthday today, I feel compelled to write about it. This is the dark side of the day that no one ever seems to talk about, but I needed to and I hope that's okay. The one positive thing I do manage is to make some kind of Mother's Day donation in her memory to a charity I care about, usually an animal one since she loved animals as much as I did.

And to all you mothers out there who really do put your children first, my hat is off to you. You deserve to be celebrated! I don't have kids but I do know that it takes a lot of love, commitment, tears and laughter to be a good Mum. To those who manage it, I salute you. Now I'm off to feed my mom-in-law. :)

32 comments:

  1. The sad thing is, not every mother is perfect, or should be a mother. I think you have to remember the good things - and focus on your life today - how far you've come and what a fantastic person you are. Your experiences, good and bad, have made you stronger.
    I think it's perfectly healthy to recognize the flaws in people.
    I know I've very lucky to have the relationship I have with my mother - and I think it's because she has such a flawed one with her own mother - she's tried very hard to ensure that doesn't happen to us.

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    1. Oh thank you, that is a really kind and thoughtful response. I have always admired the relationship between you and your mother. I think it's so great you have the yarn business together! Your mother is wise. :)

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  2. Not all mothers are good mothers and that should not be just hidden under a rug. You have every right to be angry with her as she failed you more than she should have. She still gave you good memories and the love for the animals. I am lucky to have a great Mum and a good relationship with my parents and I don't think I always appreciate is as I should.

    The physical resemblance with your mother is remarkable.

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    1. Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Sandra. I think they just need to be "good enough", not perfect; you know, the good outweighing the bad. I wish that had been the case for mine. But I will always be glad she taught me such love for animals and nature!

      When my relatives see me know after not seeing more for awhile, they always tell me I am the spitting image of my mother. :)

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  3. It breaks my heart to read about your childhood with a very flawed mother. However, I'm also delighted to see that a painful childhood did not prevent you from becoming a warm, intelligent, life-loving woman. You have thrived through the pain, which is no small feat.

    And, since you're like a mother to your many animals, Happy Mother's Day!

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    1. I'm a tough little survivor! ;) And my Dad really loved me. Thank you for the kind works, Ahab.

      My dog Sophie gave me the gift of rolling in a dead thing. I just finished giving her a Mother's Day bath! :)

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  4. I haven't posted about my Mum today..I see all the glowing tributes and think how fortunate others are.
    Jane x

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    1. While i'm not happy you had issues with you Mum too, I am glad to know I have a kindred spirit out there. ;) Hope your kitties gave you lots of Mother's Day loving!

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  5. Chin up dear heart

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    1. Thanks John! Made my Mum-in-law supper and she was very happy! That helps a lot.

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  6. Hubby came from much the same environment, and the stories he tells are incredible.
    Hats off to you for persevering and making your life a success.
    And YOU are one fabulous pet Mama!

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    1. I spent my whole childhood in a state of dissociation, and I read a LOT of books. But it's all worked out very well in the end. It has been a long tough road, though, and I feel for your hubby. So not easy. We are lucky to have loving, supportive spouses!!

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  7. I had a hard relationship with my dad,and knew when I became a mom, that how I lived my life would be a huge influence on my children. If there is one thing I thank him for it is that lesson. My mother made up for his lack of responsibility so I never feel like I really suffered. Like you with your mom, I always figured he did the best he could with all his flaws but unfortunately it cemented my lack of respect for him. I do appreciate his sense of humour though that he passed on to me. That way, we were alike. Loved a good joke, he did. We really are only responsible for ourselves and have such little control over others. That being said, enjoy your MIL and carry on. As far as I can see, you've done great. hugs, Deb

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    1. You've done great too and it's nice to see how close and loving your family is! :)

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  8. I am truly sorry that you had such a bad time of it - and I respect and admire your honesty. You survived and life is good, with your gorgeous Gordon and all your furry and feathery babies. That's what matters.

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    1. Yes, i'm where I belong now! :)

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  9. There are dark things behind many a smile, that's for sure.

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    1. No one gets through life unscathed, do they? ;)

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  10. Your story, unfortunately , is more common than you think. It helps to write about it...good therapy. Since I was a teacher I encountered cases like this. You seem to have been able to find yourself and come to terms with yourself. The struggle is never over. The challenge is always there. Thanks for a very good post.

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    1. Oh, the stories Gordon tells me on days he's duty counsel in youth bail court. Just the saddest, saddest examples of parenting. :(

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  11. There's no exam for parenthood, nor much advice. I seem to be reading more and more experiences like yours, it makes me even more grateful that mine was so very different. Still; I've never seen a photo of you without a huge smile, and that says a lot.

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    1. THanks Cro! Someone wise once told me that parents don't need to be perfect; they just need to be good enough. I really appreciate the peaceful life I have now!

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  12. For what you have bin through, I admire you, Nat. And I am sure the day will come, where you will be able to forgive your mom and think of her as the nicest mom you ever had.

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    1. I can forgive her but the other part definitely won't happen! :)

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  13. Hey Natalie, if I wasn't just about to head off to work, I would've let the flood gates open after reading your story, but had to hold it together.......
    We can't chose our parents unfortunately, but we can choose to a certain extent, the sort of person we grow up to be and you have turned out to be a wonderfully, caring person.
    From what I read your life is full of love and enjoyment in your surroundings, your farm , your animals, your hubby. and friends.... Not necessarily in that order, lol.
    Anger is such a horrible thing to be caught up in, I hope that very soon you will feel ready to let it go and move on.

    Claire x

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    1. Thanks Claire!! Not to worry, I'm definitely over the worst of being angry, but I get ticked at her on Mother's Day. :) ANd the second half of my life has been so much better. I don't have much to complain about these days. I feel pretty lucky!

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  14. I'm glad you wrote this post. We often hear about less than ideal dads, but usually moms are presented as the person who will love and protect you when nobody else will. Sadly, that isn't always true. I think it must be much harder to have a difficult mother than a difficult father. In terms of your mother being unhappy to see you happy, I have met people like that and it is very disturbing to be around. I'm glad you met Gordon and found someone to love you.

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    1. Moms are so idealized! I think that makes it hard on mothers, too. It's impossible to live up to societal standards of perfection. :)

      Thansk Jenny!

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  15. Wow, I'm so sorry for what your mother put you through. I can't imagine how hard it must have been growing up and living with the effects of that relationship. Thank you for sharing your story, especially on Mother's Day. I'm sure there are many other people out there who can relate.

    Mother's Day has always been a little hard for me as well, but not for the same reason. My mother passed away when I was five years old and I always think about how things would be today if she were still here. My dad remarried shortly after my mom passed away and my stepmother is wonderful and I'm so thankful for her. But I do always feel a bit conflicted on Mother's Day.

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    1. I'm sorry you lost your Mom so young. :( Mother's Day can be hard on so many people, for different reasons. I'm glad you had a great stepmother!!

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  16. I was graced with what I call a "minimum mom". She did as little as possible to fulfill her role as a parent, but she was far better than the mother you were raised by. My sympathies for the little girl you used to be. But then, that little girl grew up to be a wonderfully nurturing and loving woman and I call that being a Success!

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    1. Thank you! Everything worked out pretty well in the end. :)

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Thank you for all your comments, which I love to read!