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Appendix 6

WHAT WE DON'T KNOW ABOUT OUR MOTHERS

 

“God could not be everywhere and therefore he made mothers.” 
~ Jewish proverb ~

 

It has been said that mothers are the bane of our existence and probably most of us would more or less agree with that.

It has also been said that no one knows you as well as you know yourself. This, too, is true and this knowledge dictates your day-to-day activities 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?

The fact is, most of us don’t really know our mothers because we grow up knowing them 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. Ask yourself: what do you really know about this complex woman?

Maya Angelou has written: “To describe my mother would be to write about a hurricane in it’s perfect power.”

 

Aristotle, too, has written: “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 mothers 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.”

Look at what George Washington 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 that, 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.

Parents, and particularly 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. But 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.

In most cases we have no clue how they even feel about their marriage.

That said, grown children can benefit immeasureably from having such self-revelatory exchanges with their mothers. 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 emotional lives so that we can follow in their footsteps, assuming they trek was a successful one.

‘Parenting’ is very often elevated to a FOREVER thing. Once a parent always a parent, we say – not unlike the dictum ‘Till death do us part” that is embedded in most marriage vows.

 

SOMETHING IN BETWEEN

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 pretty vital in-between, something that evolves only as the parent-child relationship matures beyond what was there when we were a child.

Parenting is a role that must necessarily be finite in nature. Why?

 

A forever parent requires a child to be a child forever. None of us really expects that to be the case although many certainly struggle with those issues well into middle age, mostly because they haven’t figured out how to form another kind of relationship with their mother.

QUESTION: Do you still call your mother ‘Mama’ even though you now are married with a family of your own? Your mother is a forever parent.

QUESTION: 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.

QUESTION: 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 to boot? Your mother is a forever parent.

 

A NEW MANDATE

Typical [forever] parenting behaviors interfere with our ability to come to know our mother as a person. Worse still, they throw up barriers to our own maturation.

It is only when we can come to know our mothers in this more personal, adult-to-adult kind of way that we learn so much more about ourselves in the process.

 

Mothers that talk heart-to-heart with us about their emotional experiences 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 how they felt about marriage so as not to fall victim to the same disappointments; or so that we can know a little bit better how to secure a marriage for ourselves that will work.

It is quite a lovely thing to be able to compare notes of substance between the generations. It doesn’t happen in many families because it requires that we re-negotiate our relationship with our mother from that of a parent-child relationship to one characterized as adult-adult.

As adults 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 little more.

 

Such renegotiated relationships also include the use of a mother’s given name as the preferred term of endearment. Terms of endearment like ‘Mommy’ or ‘Mom’ or ‘Mother’ no longer work at this stage of evolution in the parent-child relationship when old roles should be put away so that new ones, using given names, can define our multigenerational family members.

NOTE: If you abhor that thought then perhaps you feel more secure in your role as a child. If your mother hits the ceiling when you call her by her given name for the first time then you know that for sure.

That’s the wonderful, amazing, scary, completely incomprehensible thing about families: we are as whole and differentiated in our adult lives as our mothers allow us to be.

 

 

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