Today is my Mom’s birthday.* She’s been on my mind a lot lately and so I’ve been thinking about mothering.
Parenting is a bit of a continuum although it may be a winding path. After all, we want to change things that our parents did. We want to do better. We want to do things differently. And as we look back, we can’t help but see things that we carried on through the generations.
I have some regrets as a mother. Mostly they have to do with who I was at the time. In the early days I was a child raising children. My self-absorption and emotional instability can’t have helped you.
And I regret some of the traits within myself that I passed on through example, but not all. I think my high self-esteem was a great thing to pass on. I’m sorry about my struggles with self-worth. I’m happy that I am a problem solver. I’m sorry that I still occasionally want to jump into your lives and solve your problems for you.
Well, I’m sure you don’t need the list.
In the continuum of parenting, my biggest regret is the attitude that I had about my own mother and passed on to you. Before she died I could look at her through adult eyes and see why she was the way she was and be sorry that I couldn’t have understood more. She, too, was a child raising children; married at 15 and a mother at 17. And I could clearly see the mental and emotional issues that created a personal hell which she could not escape. I wish I had been able to give her more pleasure in her life.
I have a friend who is in great pain over her relationship with her daughter. Her greatest agony is in the lack of communication. Her daughter is just distant. She won’t or can’t say why.
And I remember a specific time in my life when I had such rage against my mother that I couldn’t be with her. I was polite. I was not unkind. But she could not reach me. And I would not reach out to her.
This was not the preoccupation with families and jobs that places our parents lower in priority for years of our lives; that is the normal cycle of living and parenting. This was an expectation that my mother did not meet. This was a hurt within myself that I felt she created. And I believed that her insistence that she had always done her best and that she loved me closed off all possibility of coming to agreement with her. I needed her to admit her failings as a mother and she was incapable of any thought that she wasn’t a perfect mother.
In those days I hadn’t read Byron Katie. I didn’t understand self-referral and I certainly didn’t have a great amount of compassion.
That is the trait that I hope you can develop more quickly than I. Compassion. The understanding of imperfections in ourselves and others. The comprehension that love and caring is not based on agreement or even shared ideas and idealogy. That it comes from a heart that is open. That it is an awareness of the humanity in all of us…including our greatest attributes and our failings.
Today, again, my thoughts are on my mother and on the lineage of our parenting. I hope you think of your grandmother with some love and affection. Pull out some good memories. Have compassion for her, for me and for yourselves on this journey.
Can we all join in a cheer? Happy Birthday, dear Oletha.
* I know I’ve told you that she truly considered herself Irish for having been born on St. Patrick’s Day.
March 17, 2013