Oil and water. Of all the relationships out there, there may be no other as complex as the one between mothers and their daughters. Those far more renowned and expert in the subject than I am have researched and written about this dynamic; my own experience is just that — my own. But it is within the relationship I had with my own mother that I’ve come to find myself. After much heartache, many tears, and finally, some peace.
My mother and I were very close in many ways (we lived in the same house for the first two-thirds of my life, so the literal closeness is obvious). My father died when I was 19 — and because I felt compelled (okay, I’ll say it, guilted) into staying with (and supporting) my mother until I “ran away” from home at 38 — the relationship was, unfortunately, not as emotionally healthy as I would have liked. I was complicit in keeping myself in that situation; I just didn’t think I had the strength to leave it.
Did I love my mother? I did, very much. But did I love the situation I felt myself trapped in? I did not. And here’s where the dynamic comes in.
Were I a stronger, more confident person back then, clearly I would have said to my mother, “It’s time for me to fly the nest. I’ll help you however I can, but I cannot live my life for you.” And were she a more confident, less afraid person herself, she would have said, “You’re right. You need to live your life on your terms, not mine. Go and fly, little bird.”
But. The funny thing about mama birds and baby birds is that unless the mama bird is willing and the baby bird is brave, the tie that binds can cause much damage.
Soon after I left, my mother did sell the house and move somewhere smaller, and my (and our) support of her became more reasonable, although her expectations of me did not. And, ironically, I suppose, I never truly confronted her about our issues because, once I was finally ready, she had become an old woman. I always knew that she loved me; she was just unable to give me the one thing I needed — my freedom.
What did I inherit from my mother? Mostly, and sadly, I think, her anxiety. The good news is that I have worked long and hard to fight mine, and I continue to do so every day. Some days are good. Other days, not so much, But I keep on fighting. My mom, unfortunately, let hers get the better of her.
On the lighter side, I also inherited her love of sweets, her sometimes wicked sense of humor, her great hair. And her faith in true love.
I’m a big believer that, aside from any kind of abuse, of course, blaming our parents for who we’ve become and who we are to this day is not productive. At some point, and after a lot of hard work in therapy, I learned that, going forward, my life was my own and my actions could not just be reactions to my mother’s cues.
So to answer the question now, after many years of my mom being gone, how I feel about her — the response, to me, is simple. I love her and I miss her. I do not miss the push-pull dynamic or the emotional heartbreak. I miss her laugh, her nagging me to push my hair out of my face, her unflagging willingness to talk to me about recipes.
Yes, I am my mother’s daughter. But more importantly, I am myself.
© 2020 Claudia Grossman