On Being a Daughter and a Mother.

My relationship with my mother was atypical.

Long before she was sick with multiple sclerosis, she was sick emotionally.  She spent 15 years in an abusive marriage, 10 of which I witnessed.  The years following were difficult.  She was depressed and not without just cause.

She struggled with her role as a mother.

I struggled with my role as her daughter.  I struggled with acceptance of who she was.  I blamed her for not being the mother I wanted.  I couldn’t put words to it back then, so I was just angry.  My anger fueled her depression, her guilt rising at every perceived and actual failure. Her expressions of guilt felt like judgement to me, perpetuating a cycle of blame between us.

Mother’s Day was always hard.  There were no cards that summed up how I felt about her.

Thank you for giving birth to me.

Thank you for letting me take care of you.

Thank you for not losing the house and managing to feed me again this year.

Perhaps those sentiments weren’t fair.  But teenagers, of all people, aren’t always fair.  And as the teen years gave way to adulthood, more responsibility was pushed to me.

Thank you for letting me contribute my meager part-time paycheck to the mortgage.

Thank you for always reminding me how miserable you are.

Thank you for “understanding” my need to move out, get married, start a family of my own.

There was no card that said, “I resent you, but you are my mother, so Happy Mother’s Day.”  Believe me, I know.  I scoured Hallmark annually for some card that suited our situation.  I never found one.

After my son was born, I learned what it is to be a mother.  I learned how children can rip your heart to shreds in so many different ways, both happy and sad.  Children test the boundaries and they test them hard.

My son shows me he’s angry at me so I may show him more that I love him.  He pulls me into him so much that he smothers me so that I may show him that I will never abandon him.  He loves me with all of his heart so that I may learn to accept that love from him, whether I feel like I deserve it or not.  He pulls away and demands his independence so that I may learn that he will always come back to me because I am his mother.

He showed me how to open my heart up in ways I never knew that I could.  He taught me that mothers are human, they are fallible.  He forced me to learn to forgive myself and others, and to love unconditionally, even when others are not how we would choose for them to be.

Slowly, I am forgiving my mother.  I am learning that she did the best she could, even if it’s not what I wanted or needed.  I am learning to accept that doing the best she could was all I could ever really ask of her.  She loved me, I understand that now, even when I remember times where her actions felt contrary to that notion.

She loved me.  And I love her.

Mother’s Day will always be hard for me.  I will never get a chance to tell my mother all that I’ve learned from my son.  I can’t tell her that I understand her now better than I ever did before.

I can tell my son how much I love him, though.  I can thank him for teaching me things I never even knew I needed to learn.  It is because of him that I can be the mother I am.  I am not perfect.  I may not always be the person he wants me to be or even the person he needs at any given time.  We will have our struggles as he grows from a boy to a teenager to a man.

Because of him, I will keep learning.  I will keep loving.

Thank you, Nathan, for being the boy I needed to become the mother I am.

Mom, I love you.  Happy Mother’s Day.


32 Responses to “On Being a Daughter and a Mother.”

  1. psychochef says:

    Beautiful Michelle, just beautiful.

    And, it looks like that writer’s block is o.v.e.r!

  2. Daniel Nest says:

    Beautiful tribute and a moving post in its own right. Enjoy Mother’s day!

  3. Zoe Byrd says:

    Happy mother’s day, Michelle. This was a beautiful piece.

  4. Meg says:

    What a beautiful story. Happy Mothers’ Day.

  5. Vanessa D says:

    Happy Mother’s Day!

  6. tuhina tomar says:

    Very profound, very thoughtful and very touching piece about how love that was once not understood takes a turn for the better as life gives you lessons; in your life your son came by. Happy Mother’s day because I think it is really happy for you now. :)

  7. Joe says:

    That is some difficult history. I’m glad that you are coming to terms with it. Happy Mother’s Day.

  8. Stacie says:

    Wow Michelle, this is so well done. I was crying at the end! Happy Mother’s Day!

  9. She knows. And she knew, even though with all that she was trying to deal with, she couldn’t let you know in a way you could see, feel, or understand.

    Being a teacher helped me know so much about being a parent. And then becoming a parent really changed me in how I am as a teacher. I think it’s similar with your life. You had to be the adult sometimes when it wasn’t really your turn. But now that you’re the Mom, it is so much easier to see how much we ALL struggle with parenting. It’s not easy when we have all the tools and resources we need, and support from our partners. Your Mom did the best she knew how, and it’s not even a little bit fair the circumstances you guys had dealt to you.

    I don’t know if this is helpful or comforting at all, but I had a very stable home, and parents who really did their jobs and didn’t force us into that role when we were kids, and I still don’t always think I’m doing such a great job. I know my sister and brother, who are also parents and now grandparents, feel the same way at times.

    You’re doing great. Happy Mother’s Day. I’m proud to count you among my Mommy friends. We’ll all get through this, I promise.

    • Thanks, Diane, it is helpful and comforting. I think I’m realizing that more and more, that no one has this parenting thing down. It isn’t easy for any of us.

      Happy Mother’s Day to you as well. For what it’s worth, I think you’re doing great too. Cam seems like a bright and happy boy. We *will* all get through it.

    • By the way, I really love reading your blog. The ones about your childhood and family are my favorites, not because I have a morbid curiosity (which may also be true), but because I know the people and events, and I know the places, and I am sad that I never understood at the time what you were going through and that you needed a break sometimes.

    • Don’t be sad. I don’t blame kids for not seeing what was going on. I don’t understand how adults didn’t realize, but I think it comes down to not knowing what to do. I don’t know what the answer would have been, even all these years later.

  10. You are so wise and you write so well. I, too, had a complicated relationship with my mother – who suffered from depression and spent many years being very angry – so I can relate to some of the feelings you experienced. I love how you describe the relationship with your son.

    Happy Mother’s Day!

  11. This post–where you lay this out in heartwrenching detail without self pity is what I love. Your son and husband are so lucky.

  12. cynk says:

    Well done, Michelle.
    Happy Mother’s Day.

  13. This is really beautiful. Hope you had a great Mother’s Day.

  14. Robbie K says:

    Motherhood is one of those things you cannot truly understand until you become a mother. This was wonderful and honest.

  15. Peach says:

    Gorgeous post, Michelle. Gorgeous.

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