On Sunday we will be paying tribute to the mothers in our lives – and perhaps remembering those who are no longer with us. The mother-daughter relationship often is fraught with conflict. The teen or adult daughters tend to blame the mothers for being unsupportive or not understanding them, an attitude that often is in direct conflict with the daughter’s love and desire to be close to her mother. The mother may be frustrated by the daughter’s distance or what seems to be an unwillingness to see her as a whole person, not just a mom. It’s much more complicated than that, of course – entire books have been written about it. But with rare exceptions, mothers aspire to be a good mom, to raise her children to be solid citizens with the skills they need to make their way in the world. Daughters, having come along only after the mother has experienced many years of life that molded her and her concept of parenthood, have a disconnect with the whole person behind the mother role.
In AUTUMN COLORS, the relationship between Kerry and her mom was strained at best, particularly in her younger years. It was only with a lifetime of experience that Kerry began to understand her mother’s needs, and by then it was too late to change the difficult connection. Here is a scene from AUTUMN COLORS that reflected Kerry’s mom’s fragile emotional state and Kerry’s difficulty understanding it at the time:
Kerry sighed. Her mother was long gone, but how often had she wished she could do their relationship over? Why did daughters so rarely appreciate their mothers’ strengths until it was too late? And why did some daughters never get past the adolescent rebel-against-your-mother-and everything-she-stands-for stage?
Kerry and her mother weren’t the best of friends. She saw the woman as unreasonable and old fashioned and neurotic. Her mother said she was slothful and mouthy, dressed in unflattering clothes, wore too much makeup, and spent too much time watching garbage on TV. And that was on a good day. She fueled the fire by sleeping late, wearing jeans that looked painted on her, surrounding her eyes with thick shadow and black eyeliner, and watching anything her mother disliked. They only had one TV, so if she was watching All in the Family and her mother wanted to watch an Englebert Humperdink special, a battle was inevitable. She secretly liked Englebert, but she couldn’t afford to admit that to anyone, especially her mother.
Her mother was almost always in a bad mood, or sleeping to escape one. And she could be counted on to ruin every special occasion. Like holidays. Kerry cringed as one Thanksgiving came to mind. The day started out fine. Mom decorated and pulled out the good china, and made Kerry polish the silver. Karl and Keith never had to do anything, because they were boys. She hated being the only girl in the family.
“Times are changing,” Kerry remembered saying to her mother. “Boys should learn to help around the house. Girls don’t have to be their slaves anymore.”
Her mother had given Kerry her famous glare.
“Better get over your high ideas, Miss Big Shot. This—,” she had waved her arms across the stacked china and the preparations for the dinner, “-is your future.”
Now, that was an inviting aspiration.
“It’s not my future,” she had declared. “I’m not going to be tied to a kitchen and screaming babies.” And mouthy teenagers, she had also thought, a little sheepishly. “You’ve certainly made that seem unappealing.”
For a moment, as her mother’s face slackened and her shoulders dropped, Kerry thought tears would follow. She felt guilty until her mother had glared at her again.
“You think you’re so smart,” she had said, her voice icy and tight, the paring knife she was using on the potatoes punching the air, adding exclamation points to each word. Then she had thrown the knife into the sink, tore off her apron and went upstairs to her room. Again. That wasn’t the first holiday she had abandoned them, and it wouldn’t be the last.
Kerry had churned the conversation over and over in her head as she continued preparing that holiday meal. What could she have done differently? They had all sat down to a holiday feast, sans mother, and no one discussed what happened.
Kerry sighed. Like the proverbial elephant in the living room, no one ever addressed the holiday flare-ups. She wasn’t always the trigger. Anyone or anything could set her mother off unpredictably, and she’d disappear for the rest of the day. No one would try to talk to her. No one would acknowledge that she wasn’t at the table. Kerry would get stuck with the clean-up, too. Part of her always wondered if it was all by design. After all, her mother didn’t have to prepare the meal or clean up afterward.
But the unhappy woman didn’t enjoy the holiday, either.
It’s the time of the year when we celebrate mothers and motherhood. No matter what your relationship with your mother, it’s important to remember that her life didn’t begin the day you were born. She brought her own life history, joys and heartaches, and parental/family influences into her role as your mother, with all the associated positives and negatives. Next time you want to lash out at your mom, first take a step back and try to understand where she might be coming from. Likewise, as you interact with your own children (present or future), let your wisdom and understanding of how your own past is coming into play temper your reactions and expectations.
And above all, let your mother (and your children) know the love you feel for them. A time will come when you will never have the opportunity again.