This recent question assaulted me like a slap across the face. I had no answer for the person who asked me. At first I decided that the questioner must have had an unresolved relationship with her own mother to even ask another woman such a thing, but I realized I was only deflecting the issue and needed to think out an answer, if only just for myself. It has taken me some time, thought, and discussion with other women who have had a less than perfect relationship with their mothers for me to come up with a reasonable response. I also started examining other women’s interactions with their mothers who were still living or reflections of women whose mothers were no longer around, particularly those who claimed to have a good relationship. At this point in my life I was able to do this with academic eyes instead of covetous eyes that I used to watch such things through.
I discovered that no two mother/daughter relationships seem alike. There must be many types of love. Some women revere their mothers. They miss their help and guidance if they are gone. They talk about wonderful sacrifices their mothers made for them. Some talk about being best friends with their mother. I hope those women also had best friends their own age. Many spoke of misunderstanding and even anger between their mothers and themselves. Words like disappointment and betrayal started cropping up, too. I had a lovely woman who told me she loved her mother because she thought she had to, but she didn’t like her as a person. I have heard and read accounts of mothers who verbally and physically abuse their daughters. I think back to a former student whose mother not only allowed her boyfriend to sexually abuse her but participated in the abuse herself. With my head swimming in examples of relationships, I decided I needed to look again at mine with my own mother.
A friend recently spoke of self-righteous anger toward her mother. She went on to explain that she now feels she did not have the right to her anger when she considers what her mother had gone through as a child and young woman before having her. That really struck me. I needed to stop and consider that when thinking about my mother who was a survivor of poverty, abuse, and illness. I do also realize that this friend and I are finally at an age where we can be gracious about granting our mothers this kindness and compassion.
If I am asked again, I will know how to answer the question of whether or not I loved my mother. I’m ready now. I only had thirty-two years with her. The last six years were spent in a role reversal forced on us by my mother’s severe illness. When my father died, I became her caretaker. Those years were not pleasant, and it took me some time to get over that. Before that, our relationship was clouded by the understanding that I was always to protect her and keep from her anything that might upset her. My father, brothers, and I did this “dance” around her for as long as I can remember. We also covered for her when she wasn’t well. This was my normal, and I was old enough to spend significant time away from my house before realizing that was not everyone’s family situation. I did love her, though. I even liked her when she was well. She was a bright, caring person. I didn’t like her illness. Her tongue was verbally abusive when she wasn’t well, but she broke the cycle of physical abuse that she had suffered. I have great respect for her for being able to do that. She did very well with the life she was given. I do not miss her at landmark events like births, weddings, and other such things as she openly talked at the end of her life about being too ill to participate in such things. She was ready to go. I am at peace with this and with her memory for the most part.