Out of all of the relationships in my life, I find myself returning time and time again to that complicated relationship I had with my mother. On one hand, it was fine. I admired her greatly and rightfully so. She was a shining example of positivity and compassion and child-like joy.
On the other hand, I catch myself being highly critical of her. There’s this weird, unrealistic stereotype of mothers complete with bizarre expectations, and I fell for it. I don’t think I’m alone in sometimes whipping out a sick score card and adding up how many times my mom let me down.
I expected her to love me unconditionally, to meet my every need, and to prepare me for the future, even though it was completely different from the world in which she grew up. And while she had her finger on the pulse of the future, she should have also shared how to have a healthy relationship with a spouse, how to manage my period, how to sew on a button, how to cook rice, how to speak Norwegian, how to find a fulfilling career, and also hug me at every opportunity. And why in the hell didn’t she know I’d love Irish fiddling so much and get me into lessons?
But as I watch my children grow into adults, I realize how difficult it all is. I tried to fulfill all of the unmet needs I felt as I raised my own children, but then realized I forgot a bunch of stuff. Yes, my children are focused and responsible and they answer my texts, but I always have this nagging sense that I neglected some areas in their upbringing. I should have emphasized more music, a wider spiritual experience, more ties to their ethnic heritage, more card games, on and on and on.
One of the last things my mom said was, “I just want you all to know I did the best I could with where I was.” Powerful stuff there. I carry that with me as I try to forgive myself for my past mistakes and omissions. I need to remember that 10 years ago I didn’t have the perspective I have now. Every day I am doing the best I can given the amount of sleep I’ve gotten, how much I have on my mind, and how much crappy food I’ve eaten that day. If my future self looks at me with a judgmental and critical eye, I need to say, “Shut your pie hole, future self. You’re not wearing the same moccasins.”
Life was hard on Mom, as it was for a lot of women raising families post-World War II. Yes, she enjoyed affluence that she was unaccustomed to, but she raised a large family and tried to not disappear into the hot pit of everyone else’s needs and drama. She cared for a distracted husband, struggled with depression, and must have felt a sense of exasperation as women found their boldness and started marching for their rights. She wanted to join the parade, but her life was firmly entrenched in the spectator seats. Her youth on the farm where she enjoyed endless days of solitude with her dog and other beloved animals were a far cry from the bra-burning, Beatles blaring, beer-swilling experiences of her children.
So why wasn’t she affectionate? Because she wasn’t. Why didn’t she send me out into the world pumped full of self-confidence and the ability to find my place and my people? Because she figured sending me out into the world with a good work ethic and a love of all people would suffice. Why didn’t she sit me on her knee and tell me about life? Because she was trying to figure it out herself.
It’s so utterly unfair to look back at our childhoods and list all the things our moms sucked at. I think raising a child to adulthood and still being on speaking terms is the ultimate accomplishment. Anything beyond that can be considered a bonus.