I’ve never been a big holiday person. At my core, I am lazy as hell and a holiday requires effort. Don’t get me wrong; I am very willing to put effort into things that matter to me: parenting, writing, drinking whiskey, etc. But when it comes to a nationally enforced mandate to celebrate, the dissident in me comes out. A few years ago, I accidentally told my kids the Easter Bunny didn’t exist and subsequently ruined the holiday for several of their friends. I put up a Christmas tree every year and buy some presents but that’s it. Mother’s Day, however, is its own special kind of hell.
It was easy when I was little. Teachers told me what to create and the resulting crudely drawn cards and haphazard art projects were greeted warmly by her. But as I got older and realized what a lousy mother I had, my motivation waned. The sentiments became ever more forced and she knew it and I knew it and raging battles ensued. Nothing I did satisfied her and she went on the attack, calling me selfish and inconsiderate and bemoaning what she ever did to raise such cruel children (a question I wish I’d had the balls to answer at the time.) This occasionally happened on her birthday too, but the real hurt was saved for Mother’s Day. Looking back on it now, it makes sense. Deep down, she knew she’d failed me as a mother but didn’t want to believe it. A grand gesture on that particular day, no matter how empty, would have absolved her of some of her guilt. But I wouldn’t play. It was my form of rebellion I guess, at a time when I wasn’t completely ready to stand up for myself and call her on her shit.
Last year, I finally found the strength and pulled the plug on our relationship. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done and still is. It won’t ever be truly over. When all is said and done, she gave me life. And there are good parts of me that I know come from her, from the person she could have been had she grown up differently. She raised me as she was raised – it was all she knew.
I continue to work on forgiving her because everyone deserves forgiveness. But I’m not there yet.
Mother’s Day was extremely hard last year. A close friend of mine in a similar situation told me recently that her parents’ birthdays were hard because of the absence of action. The part of you that wants to love and be loved, that wants a family to celebrate, that wants to send a card and talk to them on the phone – ignoring that basic instinct requires a resolve that only makes your heart harden just a little bit more.
What was doubly difficult last year, of course, was Facebook. The heartfelt sentiments, the best-friend declarations, the pictures of two people who’ve struggled as we all have but at the end of it all knew there was a safe haven to return to. I truly, honestly don’t begrudge anyone that. I’m insanely jealous of it, while also looking on it as an anthropologist. So *that’s* what I was supposed to have? That’s what a mother is? It is fascinating and alien and painful to observe.
In the midst of all those posts, one in particular jumped out at me, to the point that I still have it saved a year later. [The original post was removed so excuse the ad-soaked version here.] It broached an issue that few of us want to talk about because, at its very base, the lack of a loving mother creates a human that will spend the rest of their life convinced they can’t be loved.
“The daughter of an unloving mother—one who is emotionally distant, withholding or inconsistent, or even hypercritical or cruel—learns different lessons about the world and herself. What results is an insecure attachment, characterized as either ambivalent or avoidant. Ambivalent attachment teaches a child that the world of relationship is unreliable; avoidant attachment sets up a terrible conflict between the child’s needs both for her mother’s love and for protection against her mother’s emotional or physical abuse.”
During my training to be a CASA volunteer, I learned that children of abusive parents live in a state of almost constant heightened anxiety – no surprise there. But the need to focus on maintaining that red-alert level means other stages of emotional development don’t happen. They don’t experience a comfort level that allows them to explore the more sophisticated stages of self-esteem. They’re so consumed by pleasing an un-pleaseable person that “I deserve to be treated respectfully and considerately by others” is replaced by “I’ll do anything to be treated kindly.”
The results of this type of upbringing vary widely. Had I ventured too far down a couple of paths in life, I’d be a much different person. But I chose to fight. I’ve worked my ass off to build a life of love, of security and comfort. I had two daughters of my own and have no hesitation in saying that I am a fantastic mother. I have to be. I have to correct the mistakes of the past.
So this Mother’s Day, my girls and I will be headed back from seeing Beyonce, their first concert. We are insanely excited. I briefly hesitated over spending the money – Christ-in-a-sidecar, Queen Bey ain’t cheap – but it’s precisely what I want to be doing this weekend. Because no matter how lousy the hand you’re dealt, it’s never too late to change course. It’s never too late to set a new precedent and prove that good can come of anything.