When Your Mother Needs Mothering

I have a story this month that’s a little bit harder to get off my chest than my usual “What the actual frick am I doing in my relationship, ugh God I am a mess,” meltdowns. Those are surprisingly easy because I am very much at peace with the reality that I am, in fact, a mess.

This doozy of a story is about my (wonderful) mother and my (always-in-progress) relationship with her, and truthfully, I sat staring at a blank page for a very long time because I wanted to get this just right. It probably isn’t but, you know, deadlines.

So, because we’re friends, promise to bear with me. My biggest fear in writing this is that anyone with a mom or parent who’s died will be like, “this bitch,” or that (even though I’ve cleared writing this article with her) something in this article will hurt a woman I love very much. So let me just acknowledge those things right now and then we can move past them, deal?

  1. Please know that I do not take for granted the fact that I have a mother to have a relationship with.
  2. Mom! I love you and I’m proud of us! I’m so glad you birthed me, and I wouldn’t be me if you weren’t you.

I want to write this as candidly as possible, because I think this story is important, and it speaks to the complicated relationships a lot of us have with our mothers but rarely shed light on outside of an eye roll and an “Ugh, moms, amiright?”

My mom is not my best friend. I mean that in the most loving, appreciative, respectable, most “please don’t write me off as the Devil” way possible. My mom is My Mom.

There’s this perpetuated stigma out there (Thanks, social media? Thanks Hallmark? Thanks, Gilmore Girls?), that you and your mom should be joined at the hip from the minute you’re out of her vagina, and look, that’s *so so* great if you are, but I don’t want my mom to feel like something’s wrong with us, or her, or that she should’ve taken a left when she decided to take a right and it prevented us from being BFF4EA. My mom and I have the relationship we are supposed to have. Period.

I’m not emotionally dependent on my mother because there was a time when I just wasn’t allowed to be. My decision to remove some of my emotional dependency from her wasn’t intentional, nor was it a conscious effort. Your brain just kind of processes things and adapts accordingly.

My mom and I had a difficult period. It wasn’t day-to-day awful but when it was bad – It Was Bad. I was a hormonal know-it-all teen, and my mom was dealing with, unbeknownst to me, some mental health issues. Spoiler alert: not an ideal combo.

We’d get in fights the way moms and teenagers do. I’d explode, she’d explode. When she got mad or felt hurt by me, she did something different than yell at me or send me to my room until she was ready to come hash it out: she’d just stop talking to me.

That was how she learned to show she was upset, so she did. With a daughter who was too young to understand mental health and too naive to realize our parents aren’t right all the time. I learned how to read her mood instantaneously “to survive,” as my therapist once called it. I could interpret the tiny muscles in her facial expressions like they made up a mood language only her and I knew.

I grew up and I watched those same habits form inside of me and assist in disintegrating relationships with people who weren’t bound to me by blood. Who didn’t need to forgive me or stick around. Shockingly, it sucked.

It wasn’t until I entered a relationship with someone I wanted to be better for that I promised myself “NO MORE.” A win, but I could still feel resentment simmering deep down towards my mom for her communication skills or lack thereof.

Years later, during a triggering repeat offense, I became unhinged. I said things I’d wanted to say for years. “You don’t DO. THAT. You don’t ignore and shut out people you love when your feelings get hurt. That’s not how you show people your upset. You talk. You communicate. You work things out. And then you move on. You get better.”

I’ll spare you the details but what followed was a brutally honest and uncomfortable conversation with lots of tears.

She didn’t want to hear it, and I don’t blame her. I can’t imagine hearing critical feedback from someone you raised who is 25 years your junior is easy. You’re “supposed” to show them everything: how to brush their teeth, and manage their anger; be the perfect and stable role model 24/7 if you can manage. You know, easy stuff.

I don’t know what it’s like to parent. I can’t imagine what a fucking battle that is. And I see the struggle my moms and other moms clearly go through over being so unforgiving of themselves for not knowing how to act in certain situations. I remember my mom crying to me after an episode between us when I was super young, maybe like seven, and saying “I’m sorry I’m such a bad mom.” That kills me.

I hate to be the one to break this to you since we’ve probably never met and this advice is unsolicited but, you’re not perfect. It’s okay that you don’t know everything. It’s more than okay! As we’ve discussed previously in this class, life can be bad and hard! Be open. Be receptive to learning at any age, regardless of who it’s from and many trips around the sun they’ve had. I absolutely think five-year-olds are the smartest people on the planet! Sometimes it will hurt to hear; usually, the most important things do. But trust that people who love you want to make you better.

My mom, bless her heart, has been working so hard on getting better at something that is very much ingrained in her. It’s hard to break decades of long habits, and I’m sympathetic of that. Seeing her clearly reflective effort means everything to me.

I’m working through things, too. Like, for example, I have a subtle aversion to my mom showing emotion which technically should absolutely get me fired as a daughter? I’m guessing, though I don’t totally understand it, that her tears trigger memories deep in my brain of The Fun Days and the guys running the switches upstairs are like “ABORT MISSION! ABORT! RUN! SHUT DOWN! NOPE!”

What I *do* understand is that our days on this planet are numbered and fleeting; I believe in trying consistently to improve as humans, together, because what else is the point?

Image via: oldbrandnew


Liz Welle  is a professional feelings feeler but gets paid to do social and digital stuff for brands in Minneapolis while occasionally food styling on the side. She lives in Uptown with her boyfriend and their thirteen plants. She is doing her best.

 

 

 

 

 

  • I can relate so well to this. I was (am) a very hormonal, know-it-all person, and my Mum is well… dealing with some mental issues too. We fight a LOT. It’s either great for us or horrible, there are no in betweens. Reading this made me feel so much better, like I’m not the only one out there who’s not SUPER close to her mother.

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog
    http://charmainenyw.com

  • I think (and I know about myself that this is my go-to theoretical frame) but I do think that the pressure our society puts on women is part of the mix here. Put two of them together, mix that with gerontocracy and voila: a recipe for strained relationships.

    My relationship with my mum is similar. She seems like such a child to me in some ways and I can see much more clearer now that she has not processed a lot of things that were done to HER as a child. I want to be… better? I still feel guilty when I say that. But I guess I just do not want to continue the cycle.

    • This resonated with me as well!

      My husband once told me that each generation can only go so far from the last… And though I can choose to think of it as depressing, there is something reassuring in knowing that we are not only all connected through blood but our experiences making it easier to not only forgive my mother’s shortcomings but my own as I try to improve.

  • Thank you so much for sharing this. As someone who also struggles in my relationship with my mother/parents I appreciate how hard this was to write and to share. Thank you for your honesty and your bravery!

  • I really needed to hear this from someone else – thank you so much for sharing. I was a teenager when my mom turned to alcohol to deal with her issues and I’ve felt like the mother and therapist ever since. From getting her into rehab to making sure she’s going to therapy and diffusing meltdowns – I hope one day I get to be the kid again.

  • Oh man do I feeeeeeel this. I lurve my momma like no other, but our relationship is far far from perfect. And to up the ante, I’m pregnant with a little boss babe and terrified of repeating this situation.

  • Thank you for writing this. There are more people out there than you know who can relate. I understand the strange mix of guilt, shocking revelations, forgiveness, pain, and self-preservation that happens in relationships like this. It’s like you said, no one’s perfect and it’s difficult to live in that truth at all times. So again, thank you for writing this and letting us know we’re not alone.

  • This post spoke to me so much, with its honesty and its grace. There is definitely shame surrounding mother-daughter relationships that aren’t perfect; it feels like a failure not only of personhood but of womanhood when you can’t connect to your mother in the sunshine-and-daisies way of Gilmore Girls, et. al. My own mother struggled with mental health issues. We still have never spoken about it, but I have a much deeper understanding, having now waded through my own seas of sadness. I don’t much to contribute, except to say that you are not alone, and that it’s so good to see other women who have muddled through the “shoulds” and “musts” of familial relationships. The more we recognize that not all family structures look / feel the same (utopic), the more likely we are to get to a place of truth – and real love.

  • I totally get this. While my mom and I never had a full blown fight, we still don’t always click. while I know my mom has always done her best, sometimes her best doesn’t make sense or doesn’t feel enough. But yeah, Gilmore girls and Hallmark cards are not always be easy to relate to.

  • I relate so much to that. My mom has been dealing with depression for so many years. Around 4 years ago my parents decided to break up, and it was a terrible thing going on and off for 3-4 years, me and my sister in the middle of it, playing counselors to both of them. We were fine with them breaking up because we knew it’d be better for both of them. But my mom’s depression got worse and she had zero support from her family and very few friends, so we were like the only people she got. (Our grandmother had also passed earlier that year so another big part of the family was missing as well.) Let’s just say that after 4 years of emotionally supporting them, both me and my sister’s mental defenses got “drained”, we both got close to depression and realized that the best thing we could do is detach ourselves a little. To be there for them but to not play the “parents” in the family.

    I don’t get the being-friends-with-your-parents thing but I’m grateful that we’ve always been having open discussions, even of things that hurt. Honesty is the key to any relationship.

  • I’m in the same boat. My mom is bi-polar and my dad was a quiet alcoholic that stowed away in his own room the entire time I was growing up. At a young age I had to learn about horrific things happened to my mother to trigger this diagnosis and deal with the emotional and scary outcomes of that come with bipolar. I was recently diagnosed with PTSD and have similar habits of tracking others emotions in order to avoid conflict. I spent so many years just trying to survive and make everyone laugh to keep the mood stable that I didn’t take time to handle how I felt. For the past two years I’ve been in therapy learning how to avoid going into PTSD spells and find a path back to my mom and dad. I’m still angry and resentful but I do want to have some relationship. Forgiveness has been tough because I don’t feel like she really hears me. So much of our previous communication on the topic didn’t lead anywhere and often resulted in me feeling bad for bringing it up. I either got the “I’m sorry i’m a bad mom” response or the silent treatment or it must be something else going on in my life to bring this up. I don’t need her to apologize for being a bad mom because the sympathy for what she endured is already there. And to have someone ‘gaslight’ your feelings makes it really difficult to speak up. I wish she would acknowledge and understand how I feel and have empathy for me instead of assuming it must be other areas of my life that are the problem. I don’t know how you were able to have this conversation with your mother because for me it feels like climbing mt. Everest. If your mother also deflected or downplayed your feelings I’d love to hear how you were able to get through to her.

    Thank you for this post – it makes us feel less alone

  • Wow, thank you for writing this. I know this struggle, this constant never ending 20 year battle with the woman who birthed me and who’s supposed to be my BFF but who, again and again and again, we just can’t figure each other out. Her insecurities and depression and me growing up watching that and living in that and under that and resenting it and feeling so different and wanted to be so separate from such a young age and now being older and not wiser and realizing I have the same insecurities and depression. Thank you for validating this struggle. I want, I crave healing in my relationship with my mom. I have hope we can get there one day. Thank you for your honesty.

  • I’m a little late, but thank you for writing this. Living in the US, my mother is from another country and never bothered learning English, and instead would depend on me to translate for her since I became fluent in English at 5. It became a huge burden that I still carry with me today. In combination with many other problems, our relationship has struggled from co-dependence to resentment toward each other. Both of us had mental illnesses we were unaware of, and she was the biggest challenge in my life growing up.

    Our relationship is far from what I saw many girls have with their mother; it is something I have always been envious of. I couldn’t imagine living a life where I am best friends with my mother. It has gotten better thanks to dreadfully talking it out, and it is still a struggle. Thank you for speaking up and being real about something that is so sensitive. Not all of us have perfect mothers. These topics need to be brought to light.