Sunday, May 14, 2006

Sure, You Love Your Mom...

But do you like her?

Not to throw cold buckets of water on Mother's Day or anything...parenting is an important responsibility that ought to be lauded and respected--assuming, of course, that the parent in question actually parents responsibly, in a way that is good for the specific, individual child or children they are raising. But I suspect for many people this assumption isn't always the case. Or may only be partially the case.

Most people I know have some ambivalence around their feelings about their parents. I suppose I do, too. My parents are Good People. They live a Respectable Life. They loved me the best way they knew how. They gave me a relatively safe and definitely financially secure childhood. There are qualities about them I respect, and some I even admire. There are other things about them I don't like at all.

As a result, I love them (or at least, I've been raised to believe I do--ha!). But I've often wondered, if I were not their daughter, and I met either of them randomly out in the world, with no reference or connection--say, I was introduced to them by an acquaintance at a cocktail hour--would I have any interest in knowing them further than a quick, "Hi, nice to meet you?" I honestly don't know. I often suspect maybe not.

And my case is mild. My parents and I may not have a lot of things in common as adults, but they were not extremely terrible parents. I have friends whose parents were horrible people in most every way to them throughout their childhoods, aside from managing to keep them from starving. And yet these parents expect their children to provide them with the same filial love they believe every parent is due. They don't assess how well or poorly they did their job. They were parents, and so therefore, the child must be involved in their emotional--or sometimes physical or mental health--care for the rest of their lives. That is one weighty, and possibly undeserved, expectation. But you know what? Every single one of my friends can't help themselves. They keep trying to create that filial love they so desperately want to give (and have given back) from their parents.

Love of one's parents is a complex emotion, which can be a straight-forward, freely-given kind of love at times, but in all honesty (though I know most would hate to admit this) is also often at times tied up with a sense of obligation and latent childhood dependency instinct that we learned early on. As a child, to be outcast or abandoned by a parent is a threat to our very survival--that instinct gets burned into us, and I don't think it ever really goes away. And--perhaps because of this very message burned into all of us--as an adult, the horror of being rejected by family (or you rejecting them) puts a stigma on you, not just in your own mind, but out there in the world. I notice people who have decided they don't want to be in contact with their family or openly admit they don't like their family are often looked at with suspicion. There is a sense that the person must have done something wrong to put him or herself in that position--he or she must be the one with the problem. I think this is why you see so many victims of incest choosing to continue to go to the family Thanksgiving when the family member/s who perpetrated the abuse is/are sitting right there, surrounded by all the other family members who chose to ignore (and continue to choose to ignore) the abuse as it was going on so as not to rock the family boat.

Of course, that's an extreme example. It's not always about abuse. In some cases, maybe it's just as simple as some people just can not get along with their parents as human beings. Their minds, philosophies, politics, beliefs, ways of living, whatever are just too different. And yet, most of us feel obligated to our families just the same.

Does the fact that someone raised you mean they deserve your care, attention, and loyalty no matter what? Does your parent deserve to demand your life-long respect and devotion simply because they had the ability to successfully get an egg and sperm to smack together or sign those adoption papers, regardless of how they treated you as a human being after that moment? If you wouldn't have been friends with the person your parent is, or even liked her or him if you'd met outside of a family unit, does it mean it's okay to let that relationship go once you're a fully realized adult individual?

I guess all I'm saying is that in every society, motherhood is given the big, conceptual capital letters. MOTHERHOOD. And in Christian-founded societies, there's a lot of Madonna-ization that goes on surrounding mothers. In the US, that Madonna-ization reaches its fever pitch today, on Mother's Day. Just look at the image up top there--it's not a religious painting, but it's damn near religious in its connotation. And yet, it feels like so much conceptual stereotype and not enough reality. If you are a mother, your role is elevated. You are the Great Caretaker, the Great Sacrificer--even if you really aren't. You are to be adored, worshipped. You are to be given a Day, like a saint, or a president, or a person who changed the world.

To be a mother is to be given holy stature. I won't even get into here what that makes adult women who have not become mothers, either by choice or not, in the eyes of this society--that's fodder for another post. But I will say this: mothers are not holy. Yours wasn't; mine wasn't. They are human. They fuck up. Some of them not so much. Some of them royally. Some of them were bad mothers. Some were bad mothers accidentally. Some were bad mothers on purpose. It's okay to admit any of that, even as we may feel whatever level of love we do feel for our mothers, great or small, conflicted or not.

I can only imagine for the people out there today who have mothers who have violated the conceptualization of MOTHERHOOD with all too much human reality, that Mother's Day is a pretty awful holiday to have to deal with. And for any of the rest of you out there, who might not feel horrible about their moms, but might feel at least a little ambivalence about them, or around this holiday, I just want to say to you that there's at least one other person out there who feels like that, too.

We're not bad people for feeling like that. We're just human, just like our mothers (and fathers) were/are.

And I'm pretty damn sure that you and I are not alone in our ambivalence, even if no one else wants to come out and admit it.

Note: this was a fairly serious post that derived out of a humorous origin, believe it or not. It all originated out of this very amusing, tongue-in-cheek top 12 list of "Gifts you should never give your mom for mother's day" over at AmericanInventorSpot. Note that as bizarre as these gifts are, they all actually seem to be for real--but can the #1 gift in the coundown really be legal?

Also, thanks to Davezilla for pointing the way.


Blogger frog said...

Thank you for this post. Thank you thank you thank you!

5/14/2006 5:05 PM  
Blogger Darkneuro said...

I can honestly say I do like my mom as a person. I think she's neat. I don't think I'd have made the same choices she did. But I do like my mom as a person. I know what she gave up for me, and I respect that, but part of me wishes she hadn't, that way she could live her life the way she wanted to, not just as the cards were dealt with the choices she made. Does that make ANY sense to anyone but me?
Great post, Syl... Really great post.

5/14/2006 9:29 PM  
Anonymous Darkhawk said...

Yeah, there's a lot of that there.

I get along much better with my mother long-distance, I'm afraid.

Dealing with the question of the meaning of motherhood is something that I find deeply, profoundly fraught, for a lot of reasons (up to and including my decision to go off the pill next summer).

5/14/2006 11:36 PM  
Blogger Miss Syl said...

Frog: Thanks for thanking me. :) I'm glad someone out there gets what I'm saying.

Your post on the same topic was very well-expressed as well. I particularly liked the opening list of the variety of ways Mother's Day can affect a variety of different kinds of women that people might not expect. I think it's very true. I'm glad you mentioned all sides, as I only mentioned one (with a hint at a second one).

Darkneuro: Thanks. I'm glad you've got a neat mom. :) Hopefully that means more than she's really good at dusting, heh heh.

What you're saying totally makes sense to me. Sometimes, even when people have chosen of their own accord to make certain sacrifices, and perhaps if they hadn't you could have even been YOU, you still wish on some other level it could have been otherwise for them. Course it can't be...but aren't our minds freaky amazing, the way they work?

5/14/2006 11:38 PM  
Blogger Miss Syl said...

Darkhawk: Are you going off because you're planning to start a family, or for other reasons?

If it's the former, well, yes, parenthood is a huge responsibility; but I think those who think and plan carefully for it are the ones whose children will fare best in the world. You sound like you're one of those people. :)

Not to say you won't make mistakes, of course--as I said, all mothers are human, as are children. No human can ever match another one perfectly all the time.

I just wish more people would get away from this image of the "divine mother." It makes life really hard on the mothers and the children. What mother can live up to that expectation? What child wouldn't be disappointed by the fact that her/his mother didn't live up to that societal projection of perfection?

We'd all do so much better if we could love each other without all the false stereotypes flying around our heads.

5/14/2006 11:58 PM  
Anonymous Tory said...

great post Syl. I can surely see your point of view. I know my mother isnt a good person but my loyalty to family makes me want to take care of her. I know it would be best if i just cut her out of my life but it just doesnt seem right after all she has sacrificed for me.

My relationship with my mom is the most messed up mother/son relationship i know of. I can remember having friends come over and saying how cuel my mom was. yeah she was cuel but damn it i needed a mom not another friend. I cringe at thinking of some of things my mother has done to me and doing it to my son. God i had a horrible childhood looking back. Thank everything that i had such a good dad or i would probably be some crackhead some where or in prison.

5/15/2006 2:20 AM  
Blogger Karl Elvis said...

American Inventor's list led me to this site:

Where I am absolutely compelled to order some furniture.

I want the glass-top casket coffee table, but I MUST HAVE the casket bookshelves.

And you know, my mother reads my blog. B^)

5/15/2006 3:40 PM  
Anonymous Darkhawk said...

Yeah, planning on starting research and development for the production of offspring. :}

My brother has expressed to me that he doesn't intend to have kids because he doesn't think he had good enough parenting models to not perpetrate fuckeduppedness on them. We made a deal -- he spots me messing up like our parents did, he kicks me.

I have a difficult relationship with my mother in a lot of ways; it leaves me with some strange insecurities about the prospect of stepping into motherhood myself.

Part of the reason the decision to go off the pill is set so far in the future is to give me some time to adjust my mind to dealing with the concept as something I'm intending to do starting next year, rather than the nebulous someday-in-the-futureness.

I wonder if I can write coherently about any of this stuff in my own space. I actually don't know.

5/15/2006 9:44 PM  
Blogger Miss Syl said...

Tory: Yeah, it's that odd sense of obligation you get pounded into you that you're *supposed* to have if you're a "good child." The question is: if your mom wasn't a good mom, didn't you sacrifice, too, because of her actions, without much choice? So it's not like you owe anyone anything.

But I know, we all do feel we owe something's a strange thing.

I'm sorry if anyone was cruel to you when you were a kid, including your mom. No kid deserves that.

5/16/2006 12:33 AM  
Blogger Miss Syl said...

Karl Elvis: But it's doubtful she readds mine. :)

How funny--I went to the site before I read your whole comment and I was like, "Man, I *have* to have those bookshelves!"

My cat would so totally love the pet casket, too. She loves sitting on top of hard things. The couch rocks, too. But man is it expensive.

5/16/2006 12:37 AM  
Blogger Miss Syl said...

Darkhawk: Well, I hope you *do* write about it.

But even if not, if it's any comfort, I have a friend who had the world's most terrible parents. Well, okay, they never beat her, but they neglected her in any number of terrible and selfish ways. And despite this, she has had two children and is a fantastic mother. It's all in how careful you are and how well you have been able to step back from the patterns you've been told are "normal" and make new, healthier patterns. Good therapy helped her do this a lot, I think...

5/16/2006 12:40 AM  
Blogger baby221 said...

You know, I'd accuse you of having stolen my words -- except that I never bothered to write them down. You've exactly described my relationship with my mother. I love her, and I'm growing to like and to respect her, but there are just days when I wonder whether obligation is all that's holding us together, and I find that to be a very sad thought indeed. We're just ... very different people, and although we have some core similarities we tend to express them in vastly different arrangements.

Still, I'm sending her (late, on purpose, so she'll be more surprised and delighted to receive it) a little necklace with a teardrop pendant that reads "Believe" for Mothers' Day. She can read into it what she wants, but I hope at least one of those interpretations will remind her of her continual belief and perserverance of our unique relationship -- and how grateful I am to her for never having given up on me.

5/16/2006 1:16 AM  
Anonymous Tory said...

Not cruel, just a bad parent. I see it as all the bullshit and chaos has made me the man i am today. I have tooken some good shots that life has thrown but i am still here standing taller than ever. Whatever you got, hit me with it and i am going to ask for seconds cuz that wasnt shit.

That is just how i see things.

5/16/2006 1:50 AM  
Blogger Lady said...

I LOVE posts that make me think, and ths is one of them. Meeting my mom out in the "real world", the thought is scary. I can't say in all honesty thato I would be her friend......interesting to think of it that way!!!

5/18/2006 4:22 PM  
Blogger Miss Syl said...

baby221: That was very nicely put. You pretty much summed up my long-winded post in a much more concise way. :) I need to take lessons from you!

Tory: Just so you know, I used the word "cruel" because you had in your post. Sorry if I made an incorrect assumption--I'm not trying to pass judgment. And I totally see your point--going through hardship does show us how strong we really are as humans. But the thing is, I don't think anyone I like should have to have seconds after they've been hit once, just because they *can* take it. I don't even think they need to be hit once just because they can take it.

I believe you can take it--I don't need to (or want to) hurt you for you to prove it to me. :)

Lady: Thanks very much. The best compliment anyone can give me is to tell me something I wrote made them think. I think there's far too little thinking going on in this world these days. I write not so much to change people to my point of view (though it *would* be nice if everyone agreed with me always), but to open their minds to thinking about other perspectives, so they can be more solid in whatever point of view that perspective brings them to. I love when people can do that for me, as well.

5/18/2006 4:34 PM  
Anonymous Tory said...

syl, cuel is my way of spelling cool. hopefully my post makes a tad bit more sense with that tid bit of new info.

I hear what you are saying about not taking any shots but i am a guy. I got all that macho, got to prove my man hood bullshit thing i do. I kind of like it when i am short stacked (odds against me) and i still am able to overcome things that other people only wish they could. It is almost like masturbation or something for my pride.

I just had so many bad things happen to me that I am either one of the most mentally strong people i know or just emotionally dead inside. either way i am good.

5/19/2006 1:17 AM  
Blogger Miss Syl said...

Oops, sorry for the misread then.

No, no, no! Emotionally dead is *not* good! I won't have any of that! I will just have to poke you until you feel something. What I will poke you with I will leave up to your imagination.

5/20/2006 7:01 PM  
Anonymous Darkhawk said...

BTW, I finally got around to writing some of the stuff that was kicking around in my head when I read this.

6/02/2006 4:16 PM  

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