On this day of appreciation of mothers, I am wondering if my daughter is well and happy. You see, a few years ago, shortly after the death of my own mother, my daughter stopped speaking to me or having any contact. Her list of reasons, detailed in an email, were many. She focused mostly on things I did or didn’t do when she was a teen. Many of her indictments of my mothering were about what I didn’t know about her that she longed for me to know, things I couldn’t see or intuit, her experiences and perceptions of our lives in that time. In many cases, her email was the first awareness I had of these things. It was devastating, striking me precisely as I imagine she desired. She was hurt and angry and had held it in for many years. What were probably relatively small hurts at the time they occurred had grown to be large, painful obstructions. She couldn’t get past them, so she decided to cut them out by cutting me out.
I remember having similar expectations of my own mother. Why didn’t she know what I wanted or needed? Could she not just look at my face and know what I was thinking? People who love you just know, don’t they? If they don’t know what you are thinking then they aren’t paying attention because they don’t really love you, right? For me, this angst over my mother’s inability to read my mind and accurately interpret my behaviors and moods struck in my teens. For my daughter, it think it also struck in her teens (as I recall many times I pleaded with her to tell me what was going on only to be met with defiant silence). But her resolution of this angst began much later, in her thirties. I guess we all get there when we get there, to this place when we realize we are autonomous beings. It is at once terrifying and liberating to realize that you are truly alone in the world, that your mother is not a part of you.
We all pass through this stage at our own pace. Some quickly realize that the antidote to existential loneliness is to cultivate relationships, to reach out to others, to tell them what you are thinking instead of waiting for them to guess and being disappointed. Some of us spend a couple decades grappling with this concept of aloneness, allowing the terror of this awareness to dominate our thoughts and actions. I was afraid to be alone, which led to serial monogamy and a slowly increasing effort to dull my pain with alcohol. My daughter’s path has not been so very different from mine, minus the alcohol last I knew.
I suppose my own delay at coming to terms with my existential aloneness, my inability to cultivate or even recognize healthy, close relationships until later in my life, made for a difficult road for my daughter. Just as my own mother’s coping with her past rendered her emotionally unavailable to me, so too was I emotionally unavailable to my daughter. I have since been able to come to terms with my aloneness, come to be comfortable in my own skin, and learned to seek healthy relationships, rather than needing another person to feel whole as was my earlier pattern. Thanks to time, my own willingness to face everything, and a couple of excellent therapists at different times in my life, I let go of my expectations of my mother. I have discovered that there is nothing I need that I cannot give to myself. I am complete. My only regret is that this awareness did not come sooner so that I could have had more time to appreciate my mother for who she was instead of whom I wanted her to be for all those years.
I realize now that my mother was never mine. Sure, she birthed me and she cared for me and she raised me until I could venture out on my own. But I wasn’t the only thing in her life, an insight that did not come until decades later. I am quite certain that I was a pain in the ass. I wasn’t into drugs and I was a good student and I usually did the chores she asked of me, but I was smart bordering on smartass, and I am sure this presented many challenges for her. I see that each of us kids presented different challenges for her. Being the baby of the family, less was expected of me and, consequently, I achieved more. Those expectations we have can be problematic in so many unforeseen ways…
Mom was her own person. She belonged to herself. She wasn’t mine to have. Had our circumstances been different, we might have shared parts of ourselves with each other in my adult years, but we were both too stuck in our own pain to reach one another. I am glad that I was able to work through the pain that held me captive for so long. I am grateful for the awareness that I now have. It has helped me be more available to other people, more loving. I will always carry scars from my own childhood trauma, but they no longer dictate my decisions or control my responses. They present temporary hurdles at most. Usually, my past manifests simply as an awareness of how I belong to me now and can do whatever I deem best in the circumstances. If feels good to be my own person.
I hope one day I will have the opportunity to know my daughter. I hope one day she will want to know me. In her eyes I am the person who failed her, who failed to be what she wanted or needed me to be as her mother. One day, I hope she will choose to know me as I am, instead of as whom she wanted me to be.