Dear New Shrink,
I feel jealous of so many of my friends and after watching the royal wedding, I am even more jealous. Both of them had, as many of my friends do, mothers that doted on them (even though poor William lost his mother so tragically.
I really wonder if I had a good mother and sometimes I find myself resenting her. With Mother’s Day approaching, I once again find myself in a quandary over what I really want to do for her.
I love her, I think, but she was never around much growing up. I can barely remember having dinners together or her taking us to school. I have few memories from my childhood. I remember my teenage years because we began to fight. She wanted me to do more to her help at home and she wanted me to stay with her, but yet we really had no relationship. My younger brother got involved with drugs and ran away a few times.
To give her the benefit of the doubt, my dad had an affair and my parents divorced when I was 11. We saw little of him after he moved out and my mother went to work full time and seemed even more aloof. We always had a roof over our heads, food to eat, nice clothes to wear and no one beat or abused us. It was just a terrible sense of emptiness at home.
She says “I love you” to my brother and I now, but I honestly do not have one memory of her saying it when we were growing up.
I seemed to have turned out OK, but I do struggle with some insecurity and have these mixed feelings about my mother. I would rather not have them. Maybe you can shed some light on what a good mother is or what was wrong with mine?
Feeling like a motherless daughter
Your childhood seemed lonely and sad. I am sorry to hear that.
Let’s start with what makes a good mother. First off, there is no such thing as the perfect mother, but we in psychology hope for what we call the “good enough” mother. She is empathic, attuned to you, interested in you and someone that you feel you can count on and turn to. Ideally, as you mature, you can talk with each other honestly. This is not to say that we can expect this 100 percent of the time. Our mothers are people too and they have their good days and bad days and some days may have more on their plate than they can handle. No mother is going to be 100 percent.
Some are single, some have unhappy marriages, some go through post-partum depressions and some get depressed over the circumstances of their lives. It’s very difficult to be attuned to others when you are holding yourself together. This well may have been the case with your mother.
Who knows what was going on in her marriage or how she may have been feeling. Perhaps she needed psychological help.
Then there is the reality that we are people first, parents second. We like to believe that women will change their personalities when they have children, but even though a maternal instinct may kick in, they remain the women they were before having children. If your mother came from a disengaged or unaffectionate family, she may not have been aware that she was not especially warm and attentive with you.
It is also true that the rules of parenting have changed over time. In the agricultural age, children were put to work on the farm. There was a period when parents were taught, “spare the rod, and spoil the child.” Some folks still adhere to this doctrine. There are cultural influences in child rearing as well.
So what makes a good mother? Who is really to say? I am not the final authority.
The sad thing is the way that you are feeling and it would probably behoove you to have a conversation with your mother. Not one where you attack her but one where you say that you haven’t felt as close as you would like and you are curious about her life back when you were growing up. Hopefully this will help you understand and empathize so that you are no longer resentful and can at least have a better relationship going forward.
I think most mothers do the best that they can and most of them love their children. Hopefully this was and is the case with yours. Perhaps this Mother’s Day we should say hats off to all the mothers who have tried their best. Remember, all mothers can’t be like June Cleaver.
Dr. JoAnne Barge is a licensed psychologist and licensed marriage/family therapist with offices in Brentwood. Visit her at www.drbarge.com. Please send your anonymous questions and responses to firstname.lastname@example.org. Got something on your mind? Let us help you with your life matters.