Monday, September 25, 2017

Daughters and Mothers

I had a distant relationship with my mom. I was the 7th daughter, 9th child, so she had been through the rounds multiple times before. She was already pretty worn out and tired by the time I came along at age 39, consistently a bit angry all the time. Growing up, she cared for the family basic needs, but limited investment of energy in "relationship things" with the last of us four youngest, all girls. She didn't go to school conferences because "they just tell you the same things anyway." She liked to externally brag up any accomplishments we might have had, but to our faces, they were hardly acknowledged. She didn't know, want to know, our friends, except perhaps boyfriends later. I got along with her, due to staying under the radar in my family, not making waves, pretty much trying to be ignored. 

Ironically though, she had an affinity for 4-H and would take vacation time the week of the county fair, diligently worked her shift and then some in the 4-H building, transporting us back and forth. Plus, she didn't skimp on hosting our turn for the monthly 4-H meeting, serving hot dogs, chips, lemonade, brownies and cookies after the meetings. She also loved to go to the summer 4-H softball games. I grew into adult hood and she became an empty nester finally after 38 years of parenting. She ended up being a pretty invested grandma, much more so than I remember as a mother, to my and my sisters kids. She came to all their activities including concerts, sporting events, grandparent days, and while still healthy, loved to babysit. It will be seven years come November since she passed away.

My relationship with my daughters is very different. I don't know if that means it is a better relationship, but is very different. I prioritize being mentally available for my kids, ready if they need to bounce ideas off, have sad days and need consoling, opportunities that they need to talk through to make choices from, and to know they have my unconditional support. Some might accuse me of helicoptering, but I don't think so. I just want them to know they can come to me with anything. Believe me, I did not go to my mom if I was having social or school issues-if anyone, and this was rare,  I was more likely to go to my next older sister, who was only three years older than me. She herself was a mix of caring older sister and teenage bully at the time, so I picked carefully what angst I might share with her. Still, despite not having a close touchy feely relationship with my mom, or really anyone in my family growing up, I had an OK childhood, most likely from my intentional emotional distance.

I try hard to separate the boundaries of parent and friend, though I think my girls see me as at least relatable when we spend time together and we have many similar interests. I'm not a big fan of the mom style of trying to be the cool mom, the mom who insists they are their daughters best friend. They have their own and I have my friends. We can enjoy our time and conversations and being mother and daughters, but there is a difference. While I think my mom started seeing us kids as a burden to get through, at least until we graduated high school, I am regularly in awe that I am a mother. I have no expectations of my adult children, though hold wishes that they will choose to keep me an active part of their life. My own mom put a lot of guilt on us in her last couple years. Depression, that probably was undiagnosed but present most of her life, manifested in blatant jealousy of the other side of our family's. Interestingly, the guilt seemed to be saved for just us four youngest, the ones that received so little of her emotional energy growing up, where as the older ones seemed to get a pass to come and go AWOL for weeks on end.

I am not sure what stirred all this up with me to the point of writing about it. My mom wasn't Mommy Dearest, and I'm no Carol Brady. I am sure we were not so different than other mom-daughters from large families. Perhaps it was hanging with my sisters, the four youngest, the other night, and a few old memories popped up in conversation. It might be stirring as DH takes on more help for his gradually becoming less independent mom. Perhaps with my youngest daughters new found independence as a driver, starting to plan her post high school life, I am feeling a mix of nostalgia with a heavy dose of  reality. Whatever stirred these emotions, we can't change the past, but we can hopefully reflect and learn from it. I'll end by saying how much I love all my kids, and I really love my relationship with my daughters right now and hope to keep it this way.
An old selfie of me and my girls from Mothers Day 2015.

15 comments:

  1. I could have written this post--except for the guilt trip as an adult, my upbringing was identical. In large families,different kids from the same family will have different perspectives of their upbringings. My older siblings had the emotionally close relationship with my parents. Like you, I always thought my mother was "tired of parenting." My parents main input on us (younger ones) emotionally was when we were doing something wrong--read required parental involvement. I even walked myself to and from my dance rehearsals--and forget about parents being at my recital.
    They did, though, instill me with an independent streak--and I appreciate that. It has served me well.
    I hope I am more emotionally available to each of my kids in my brood. (Maybe I shouldn't refer to them as my "brood?")
    I am honest with myself, and my kids, about my limits, and I think that helps with the emotional availability. I do not pretend that I can run this household the same way a household of just 1 or 2 kids can run.

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    1. On my worst days, I was exhausted with only my three, so I should understand my mom better.I have many friends with large families and of course, I thought there life was ideal-grass always greener. How many children do you have Meg?

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  2. Lost my mom 17 years ago and sure do miss her. She always gave great advice when asked and didn't poke her nose in unless we asked. I feel strongly that as a parent our job isn't to be our child's friend. I've taken a page from my mom's parenting book to only give advice when it is solicited and to otherwise not bring up sensitive issues. Sometimes I'll throw out a remark and by my daughter's response I can tell whether to pursue said topic or not. There are times I wish I could ask my mom's advice and am thankful I have two sisters 9 & 12 years older than me that I can turn to. Family is everything is it not!?

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    1. I do miss my mom a lot, despite not being close. She did what she could, with the resources, physically and mentally, she could.

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  3. I have a close relationship with my mom, so close that sometimes it gags and suffocates me. I think sometimes we forget that our moms were individuals and not just moms.

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    1. My husband and I took my parents to her 65th high school reunion the summer before she passed away. There I heard more stories of the person she was before the 10 of us cam e along.

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  4. Lovely photo Sam. I'm like you and available for my son if he needs me. It's not so often these days but last week he came to me for support.
    Arilx

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    1. I hope my kids feel the same. The youngest still of course has a certain physical dependence on us, but the other two-getting asked for help at times feels really good.

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  5. Timely post as we just moved our daughter into college two days ago - she is our only child. I am surprised by how traumatizing it is. It's now hit me that her moving into college is the end of her living at home. It's profoundly painful. I was a stay-at-home mom since I was 7 months pregnant with her, over 18 years. We are all having to learn how to live this new life and I'm a bit lost right now as I'm sure she is too to a certain extent. Now I understand empty nest syndrome.

    D.

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    1. I'll be facing that in two years, though my kids are 12 years apart. In some ways I am looking forward t having all of me back, but yet, the house will be so strange. Plus, I am hopeful they never stop needing me on occasion.

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  6. I think your mother was just plain tired, not tired of parenting. I think at some point a mother figures out that the kids do not need the energy she had and invested in the older children. And, you think she could have been depressed. It is interesting that she threw her all in 4-H. Maybe it was a good memory for her if she was in 4-H or maybe she wished she could have had involvement in it as a kid herself.

    I think my mother let us older three go faster than she did the younger two.

    You never mentioned how your father helped. But, that long ago, maybe he was an old-fashioned type.

    I think only when a woman is in her 40s can she evaluate her relationship with her mother and why her mother did certain things.

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    1. I would say my parents, in the sense of who did what, were probably ahead of their time. He worked very long hours and my mom also worked outside the house. We had animals and gardens and there was pretty much always work for someone to do, so he carried as much effort as she did. I am not angry or bitter, though I probably come across that way. It just was how I grew up.

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  7. I'm a 7th child too. You do realize that if we had 7 children that 7th child would supposedly be a witch! Not that that's gonna happen. I would say my 8-years older sister raised me and I thought it was completely normal. When mom was pregnant with me her 6 year old daughter developed a brain tumour. Mom once told me that she had arranged to have an abortion (of me) because she just couldn't cope with all those kids and a paralysed child. "Luckily" for me my sister died before mom could have the abortion and I am here to tell the tale. It never bothered me her telling me that but apparently all her grief came out in me and she was very hands off - hence my sister taking over. That being said, I think she felt very guilty about her feelings for me as a young child - but hey, I'm an adult and I knew they loved me. I also agree that I don't want to be my kids' friend - something my ex wouldn't stop trying to be. You only get one mom and that's me. Anna

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    1. I'm the 7th girl, but 9th child. There were 10 of us, though the oldest two were graduated high school before my younger sister, 18 months younger than me, and the "baby" was born.I know from older sisters,my mom had several miscarriages as well. I too have had several, and perhaps, like me, my mom thought about what those kids might have been like-and didn't get too emotionally invested in us youngest maybe out of just a sense of loss. Who knows why we all are how we are.

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