“God could not be everywhere and therefore he made mothers.”
– Jewish proverb–
It has been said that mothers are the bane of our existence. Probably most of us would more or less agree with that.
It has likewise been said that no one knows you as well as you know yourself. This is very true and this knowledge dictates your day-to-day activities and life in general. We do things intuitively – our likes, dislikes, and preferences flow easily within us, and are constantly available to us. We call this SELF.
So why is it that are our own mothers are so allusive to us? Why do they reveal so little about themselves to us?
It’s a puzzle. I think that most of us don’t really know our mothers because we grow up knowing our mother as a role-model without knowing the real person behind it. This is an important distinction.
Think about it the next time you study your mother’s face. What do you really know about this complex woman?
Maya Angelou says: “To describe my mother would be to write about a hurricane in it’s perfect power.”
And Aristotle says that ‘Mothers are fonder than fathers of their children because they are more certain that they are their own.”
Each speaks quietly to the realization of mother’s as an institution. Even the matriarch Rose Kennedy alludes to this when she says: “I looked on child-rearing not only as a work of love and duty but as a profession that was fully as interesting and challenging as any honorable profession in the world and one that demanded the best that I could bring it.”
And George Washington, look at what he says about his mother: “My mother was the most beautiful woman I ever saw. All I am I owe to my mother. I attribute all my success in life to the moral, intellectual and physical education I received from her.”
These are descriptions of mothers who, like ours, have molded us into who we are today without sharing anything very self-revelatory in the process. It’s as if it cannot or does not go with the job. Mothers, on a personal level, are virtually unknown to us.
On Moving Forward
But parents, especially mothers, have more potential to influence us than anyone else. Yet in their traditionally assigned role they come across as having eyes behind their back, as a sort of ‘grand inquisitor’ in some cases. If nothing else we think of them as our most important teachers. Sadly, we know nothing about how our mothers feel about love or about life, or about their own sexuality, certainly not about any of their deep-seated fears or anxieties. We certainly have no clue about how they feel about their marriage.
However, grown children can benefit immeasureably from such an exchange. We need teachers, we even need grand inquisitors at times, but only during our formative years. Once we reach adulthood we need to know how our mothers managed their lives emotionally so that we, too, might be able to do so successfully.
‘Parenting’ in this country has been elevated to a FOREVER thing. Yes, once a parent always a parent, we say – not unlike the dictum ‘Till death do us part” that is embedded in most marriage vows.
Hodding Carter says: “There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots; the other, wings.”
But I am suggesting that there is something vital in-between; something that evolves only as the parent-child relationship matures beyond what was there when we were a child.
In other words, parenting is a role, one that must necessarily be finite in nature. If a parent is a parent forever, then the child must necessarily be a child forever. None of us really expects that to be the case although many of us certainly struggle with those issues well into middle age, mostly because we haven’t figured out how to form another kind of relationship with our mother.
Do you still call your mother ‘Mama’ even though you now are married or have a family of your own? Your mother is a forever parent.
Do you go to church and also hide the booze when your mother visits, but you never do those things otherwise? Your mother is a forever parent.
Do you and your grown siblings still gather at the family table at Thanksgiving, only to feel like you felt when you were sixteen – tensions and rivalries and all? Your mother is a forever parent.
A New Mandate
These typical, ‘forever’ parenting kinds of things interfere with our ability to come to know our mother as a person. Worse, they throw up barriers to our maturation. It is when we can come to know our mothers in this more personal, adult kind of way that we learn so much more about ourselves in the process.
Mothers who talk heart-to-heart with us about their emotional experiences as an adult communicate volumes to us; and we tend to walk away from that experience feeling far more secure in our own perceptions. We need to know what they felt about marriage, so that we might not fall victim to the same displacements; or at least so that we can know better how to secure a marriage for ourselves that will work like hers worked.
It is quite a lovely thing, after all, to be able to compare notes of substance between the generations. It just doesn’t happen in many families because it requires that we renegotiate our relationship with our mother from that of a parent-child type to one that is characterized as adult-adult.
As adults together, we can talk between the generations. Otherwise we are stuck with that old vision of mother as having eyes behind her (now aging) back and nothing more.
Such renegotiated relationships also necessarily include the use of our mother’s given name as the preferred term of endearment. ‘Mommy’ or ‘Mom’ or ‘Mother’ no longer work at this stage of evolution in the parent-child relationship. This is when old roles should be put away and new ones, with new names, should adorn our multigenerational living spaces.
NOTE: If you abhor that thought then perhaps you feel more secure in your role as a child. And if your mother hits the ceiling when you call her by her given name for the first time then you know for sure that’s the case.
But that’s also the wonderful, amazing, scary, completely incomprehensible thing about families: we are as whole and differentiated in our adult lives as our families and especially our mothers allow us to be.