So Tell Me ... What's The Weather Like on YOUR Planet?

10 August, 2007

Facing the Devouring Mother

A few years ago, my husband and I were having lunch with my aunt. The conversation was sort of light and scattered, and then she said, without preamble, "So I hear your mother told you you were an unwanted child. You were quite wanted. Up until she figured out that it was work."

This is the sort of thing that's kicking around in my head in response to some of the latest kerfluffle some places I read. I commented in one of them about the Savage Garden song, "Affirmation", which has a line that goes, "I believe your parents did the best job they knew how to do." And it makes me want to cry, sometimes, because they did. They did, and ...

I don't know much about my mother's childhood, just scattered stories, enough to actually have a great deal of empathy for her in a sort of abstract sense. I remember, when I was eight or so, her drawing up little Bradshaw and ACOA charts of family relationships, with an orange jagged line looping around the little circles that were her and my grandmother, indicating a broken, tense, hostile relationship, and her comments that that tended to perpetuate through generations. Her comments without, apparently, any sort of self-awareness. I know whole bunches of things, bits of anecdotes, things she clearly didn't recognise were inappropriate to share, and can piece together enough to know that she did the best job she knew how to do.

On a good day, I can rail at a universe which can do that sort of thing to a person. On a good day I can point out all of the things that need to be damn well fixed so that never happens again.

On a bad day I sit back and go, "Where does someone like me get off considering having children?"

And go, "With a model like that, how good can the best job you know how to do be?"

And go, "Is someone like you capable of raising a child who isn't grievously wounded by your own carried damage?"

And about then I realise that I'm going into one of those self-abusive loops about how I can never be good enough for anything, certainly not good enough for my mother, and I back away for a while. And one of these days I'm going to have to find a way through that, learn how much of it is illusion that needs to be stripped away (with a nod to The Devouring Mother, there) and come out the other side.

One of these days.

(In the end you will submit; it's got to hurt a little bit.)


Unknown said...

Oh. God.

I could write reams on this. I have dysfunctional family books ala Pat Conroy and Anne Tyler always "this" far from my fingertips. If I was a better writer, they would have been written long ago.

I'll spare you why I understand what you're saying and just say, I understand, and hope you believe me.

Now here's the good news. The past does not have to control the future.

I am a good mother, with a close family. I don't manipulate or use emotional blackmail or the host of other legacies I could have taken from my childhood. *Of course*, I have overcorrected in some areas, but on the whole, it's worked out well.

Talk about personal redemption. I can't express how personally healing it is to give to your own children what you didn't get yourself. The wounds close. :)

Sat the 13 year old down the other day. (He's deep, so this was appropriate.) Explained my history growing up in dysfunction. Pointed out where I thought I might have made mistakes with my family. Told him that what he needs to do to make even better for the next generation is to examine the way he was raised - pick out the good and keep it, improve on the not-so-good or bad.

I can't wait for grandchildren. :) This whole thing has been such a joy.

hugs to you!, E

Daisy Deadhead said...

There is this old Twilight Zone episode, with Diana Hyland in a dual role (and she was hot!), about some young woman horseback rider being chased on a horse by some older witch-like woman, dressed in black. It's harrowing!

What's more harrowing is, we find out that the person chasing her is herself, her older self, trying to warn her younger self not to do what she is about to do (marry a certain loser-drunk). And then we see the life of the older self, miserable and unhappy, once again going off to try to chase the younger self, to possibly change her present life (which will be the young woman's future).

I can't think of any better metaphor for motherhood than that. You can see the mistakes someone is going to make, and THEY CAN'T. You can preach, scream, cry, yell, etc. and still THEY CAN'T. My mother did the same to me. Unfortunately, we all have to learn some things for ourselves, and no one can tell us. That's the law of karma, etc.

But this will always look like terrorism to the young, and desperation to the old.

I am riveted by the image of the woman in black (last shot of the Twilight Zone episode!) shrieking, on a horse, chasing the young woman (in a white blouse, for purity and innocence, of course) and trying to get her to stop. The young woman is simply terrified of the older woman's anger and sense of impending doom, too afraid to consider stopping and seriously asking "what does she want?"

As a young woman, I watched the show afraid for the young woman. As an older woman, I watch the show hoping the older woman will catch her.

Ah, such is life.

Daisy Deadhead said...

Do you believe Wikipedia has all of the TZ episodes listed? I had no idea!

Dw3t-Hthr said...

Thanks, folks.

I just ... sit there with this sort of horrified "What if I burn out when I learn that it's work?" feeling.

And people tell me that the fact that I'm worried about that, that that is something that I'm afraid of doing, makes it much less likely that I'll reperpetrate that particular sort of crazy.

And it's one of those ... gotta run reality experimentally to know. And I occasionally get hit between the eyes with the scope of gambling with someone else's life and sanity to the extent that's there.

And then I come across stuff that makes it worse, stuff that comes across to me as suggesting that mommy-issues is a fad that needs to be gotten over, not something genuine, and I go through this round of feminist-influenced introspection about whether or not it's really fair of me to be upset by the damage inflicted on me, or whether that damage is just my own internalised patriarchy and my mother is just a victim along with me, and ... mostly I should probably avoid blogs discussing the mommy-issues these days.

Unknown said...

Patriarchy, smatriarchy. Really. Damage is damage and political/social philosophies have nothing to do with it. You don't think, in the midst of *real oppression* like slavery, there were mothers who were able to nurture and care for their children with patient, giving, non head tripping love? Of course there were.

I don't hate my mother, I love her, may she rest in peace, but that was one f'd up lady. Hurt is hurt. Little kids need parents to protect them. That's the way this whole thing is set up.

I just ... sit there with this sort of horrified "What if I burn out when I learn that it's work?" feeling.

Here's my prediction. (Run off and have babies and we'll see if I'm right.) My prediction is that *this* is the thing you will over correct.

I believe that we do mostly as we were raised, or the exact opposite. It's very hard to do something that's neither.

My one great fear was that I would be an emotional vampire, like my mother, who smothered me and lived through me 24/7. Terrified of that.

So, I over corrected, which wasn't the worst thing in the world. Spent a lot of years finding a balanced point, where saying yeah, *I* am your *mother*, was as comfortable as saying *you* are an *independent human being*.

I doubt seriously that you'll "learn" raising kids is work. I think that thought might already be implanted in your brain. ;) I bet what you find is that the joy can so far outweigh the work, you'll wonder what the frick everybody else is making such a fuss over.

Just don't plan on sleeping a lot the first couple of years, but that changes, too. (Now that they are teenagers, the sleep issues have flipped. I can't get them up! :) )

hugs, E

Hope said...

Sorry to open an old thread, but I guess you did link to it.

"On a bad day I sit back and go, "Where does someone like me get off considering having children?"

And go, "With a model like that, how good can the best job you know how to do be?"

And go, "Is someone like you capable of raising a child who isn't grievously wounded by your own carried damage?""

Damn, I remember that feeling. It's horrible. This reminds me of something I need to say, but I don't know how. That wound is still too raw and I just started a bit of a downswing, so my brain is feeling rather sluggish.

Sorry, I'm kind of rambly at the moment. I get it though, and you've certainly given me something to think about.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

It's good to know people understand, and really sad to know people understand....