One of my fellow CTWorkingMoms bloggers recently posted a heart-wrenching story about her childhood (read it here). It seems her mother, after her own mother died, would not put up a Christmas tree again, even though her daughter asked her to do it. This elicited a very strong reaction in me.
I know that everyone is allowed to grieve, and everyone has their own timetable for this. You don’t just “get over” the loss of a parent. HOWEVER, if you ARE a parent, you have an obligation, in my opinion, to rise above your grief at some point and parent your own children appropriately. If you are clinically depressed, you MUST get treatment to help you function. I believe that as a parent, you need to put your child first, and deal with your own issues in a way that does not punish your innocent child for having the bad luck to be stuck in the middle of your troubled life.
The reason I am such an authority on this is that, as anyone who has read my posts about my mother knows, I was raised by a depressed mother. She lost her mother at age 7 and never got over it. Then her older brothers, who raised her, died when she was an adult, and as my less-than-understanding/fed up father would say, “You should have jumped in with them.”
She went to therapy eventually, but it was too late. She dwelled on her “lifetime of losses” every minute of every day, instead of her lifetime of blessings (3 healthy, devoted children, 7 adorable grandsons who adored her in spite of her detachment, lifelong friends, financial solvency, good health, etc.). When my father died, it was all about the enormity of HER loss. She never once acknowledged that my brother, sister and I had lost our father.
I can hear my mother saying, “You don’t understand. It’s like asking someone with a broken leg to get up and dance,” in response to my begging her to try to feel some joy around the grandsons and their accomplishments. She was quite the ORNERY depressed person, who clung to her gloom like it was part of her skin and fought with anyone who would try to take it away.
I respectfully disagree. I believe it’s part of the Mothering Contract that, if your leg is broken, you get medical help so you CAN eventually dance — you don’t just sit there and wallow in the pain forever at the expense of your child’s needs. And if your leg is broken beyond repair, then you dance in your wheelchair if you have to, to celebrate your child’s successes and happy moments. I don’t mean you have to do a jig 365 days of the year, but when something is important, you pull yourself together and do what it takes not to be a freaking albatross. My siblings and I were thrilled to watch each of our sons become a Bar Mitzvah, but we had to take turns being the Mom Wrangler at each joyous event. She was sooo anxious about being honored when the Torah was passed through the generations, she was sooo uncomfortable not knowing the routine at the temple, she didn’t know what to wear, she had to face lighting a candle alone without my father, and so on. One of us always had to make sure she wasn’t raining on the other sibling’s parade.
Being raised by a depressed, detached, physically present but emotionally absent parent is a difficult way to grow up. Being provided with creature comforts is nice — you know, warm house, food on the table — but being a kid with a disinterested parent — especially when it’s the mom, sorry to say — is devastating.
Her inability to care about what I cared about colored my entire life. When I had my own children, I realized how really cold she had been. Can you imagine not being interested in what your child is interested in? I learned so much from my children, about things that never would have crossed my path but for them. Sesame Street, Disneyworld, Mario Brothers, Teenage Ninja Turtles, Masters of the Universe, Batman, Legos, car and plane models – that’s just the beginning. I learned lessons in morality and humility from my children. I reveled in watching their minds work, and still do.
Don’t misunderstand: I was not gleefully rolling around on the floor with them every minute of the day. I worked part time until my younger son was 5, and then went full time. I’m the first to admit it was often boring raising little kids, and when they got older, I listened to more detailed stories about cartoon plots and video game conquests than I care to remember. But I didn’t check out. I didn’t make myself unavailable, as my mother did, both physically (she spent a lot of time in her room) and emotionally.
It took years of therapy for me to learn that it wasn’t something lacking in me that made me unlovable to my mom — it was her own diminished capacity to love, her inability to ever put herself and her own needs second and rise above her pain that impacted my life and my self-esteem. It has taken many years to get that understanding from my brain to my gut and to really believe it. I still sit precariously on that ledge and with very little stimulus, I will fall right off and assume I am unlovable once again.
I know we try not to judge other mothers at CTWMs, but to me there’s a big difference between understanding the choice between breast or bottle versus reading about a mother’s choice to ignore her child’s plea to do something that matters so much to the child.
I hope I haven’t upset my sister blogger with all this vitriol. What I really want to do is help other moms not to waste so many years trying to figure this out, as I did. Yes, it’s really scary to say, “My mom was wrong when she did this to me,” but it’s also amazingly freeing.