Sunday, August 12, 2007


The Kid (aka my 50 year old baby sister) called me to ask if I was okay because of my post about the crisis of confidence. Isn’t she a great sister! Anyway, yes I am but somehow during the discussion we started talking about our mother.

Our mother is a perfectly nice person, very smart, independent and well liked. She appeared to be a good mother to our older sister but somehow Kid and I weren’t privy to that. Maybe she and dad were already having problems by the time we came around but the mom who greeted us seemed rather cold and distant. The warmth of a mother’s love was missing. All the physical trappings were there and outward appearances were maintained until she discovered dad with his secretary. Then all hell broke loose.

After that she stayed on the cross and was a very unpleasant person to live with most of the time. Because of that I never really got to know her and that’s rather sad. She had a fairly interesting life as one of the first WAC’s in WWII, Captain in the Army, college professor, etc. She won awards and was honored several times. Articles have been written about her. She did a TV commercial and wrote a textbook.

But Kid and I really don’t know her. She chased us away. I was wondering if I should make more of an effort and Kid told me she actually did make an effort to get to know mom better a couple of years ago. She spent some time at mom’s house helping her with some projects and talking to her. From our conversations, it sounds like it helped her understand more of why mom is the way she is, but it didn’t ease the pain, anger and frustration.

So I question what I hope to achieve. I know so many people who adore their mothers and love being around them and in my fantasy we would finally bond and develop this idealistic relationship. But the truth is spending time with her is painful for me. Perhaps knowing her background would allow me to understand her motivations, but I’m not sure it would make anything better. She’s 2,500 miles and 3 time zones away. She’ll be 87 soon.

I’m comfortable with the way things are now. I have a happy and peaceful life here. Somehow my reasons for going don’t outweigh my reasons for staying yet.

What would you do?


Church Lady said...

I'm reading a great book by Mitch Albom called "if one more day."

These stories break my heart. It's her loss, and a big one at that. Someone once told me that if you can manage the relationship you have with your mother, you can manage any relationship. Manage doesn't mean suck up. I don't think it means push away either. Did your mother express any regret to your sister? It doesn't sound like it. From what you have sketched here, it doesn't sound as if she's a self examining person.

I understand, on a few levels, what you're going through. I have a very superficial relationship with my mother. I often wonder why she had children. But the guilt in me can't push her totally out of my life. I did try to reach out several years ago, only to be told what a bad, selfish, unmanageable child I was and everything wrong was my fault. Part of me hates her. But I want to understand just enough so I don't even come close to replicating her with my own children.

Anyway, my heart is out to you. I hope you find a way of reaching out (because it sounds like it's something you want to do) without being over-invested emotionally.


mcewen said...

Oh that I were qualified to offer some practical words of comfort or advice. Sadly, I lack both, but I'll tag along if I may and see what other helpful intelligent people have to offer you.
Best wishes

The Anti-Wife said...

There doesn't seem to be anything more frustrating than a fucked up relationship with your mother. Last time I saw her - at the wedding - it was very unpleasant and I couldn't wait to get away. I imagine this is a temporary feeling on my part and it will go away soon. Then I can go back to that comfortable indifference I usually feel towards her.

I also look forward to hearing what others have to say and am glad to have you along for the ride.

Anonymous said...

Chris, on the contrary, she expresses plenty of regret... that we screwed up our lives despite her best efforts. Regret that she didn't realize how screwed up we were earlier. She ruminates and psychoanalyzes and revises... and she shares her revisionist history with everyone she meets.

I made a very nice life for myself after I left home, thank you very much. I don't appreciate neglectful people blaming me for being neglected, or acting like my escape from the toxic environment was cause of a ruination that never happened!

Go ahead, Sis. But, just say no to psychodrama.

Anonymous Sister of Anti-Wife

The Anti-Wife said...

"she expresses plenty of regret... that we screwed up our lives despite her best efforts"

WE screwed up our lives despite HER best efforts? Well, that pretty well eases my mind about not going.

Anonymous said...

The trick to staying sane around her is to stay very, very busy, be strong, and absolutely refuse to get drawn into the psychodrama.

There is plenty of work to be done at her house that would keep anyone with your organizational and construction skills busy for the entire visit. You are strong. You could handle it. :)

Anonymous Sister of Anti-Wife

Stephen Parrish said...

Since so little time remains (she's 87), I think you should make every effort to participate in a relationship with her, even if you have to accept all the blame for your past relationship.

The reason is, the way we evaluate our mothers changes when they die. We tend to dismiss all the bad things that happened and focus instead on the fact that the person who brought us into the world has left the world. It's an uncomfortable feeling. If your relationship was poor or nonexistent at the end (even if it's not your fault), the feeling is worse.

The key to a relationship with a difficult person is the assumption of complete responsibility.

ERiCA said...

I have no advice, but wanted to say I feel for you.

Oh, and that I agree with church lade--One More Day was a great read.

The Anti-Wife said...

Anonymous Sister,
Thanks for the advice. I'll consider it.

Thanks for the advice although I somewhat disagree because after my father died I never reevaluated my relationship with him. I was very clear about where we stood and tend to think the same about my mother.

Thanks for stopping by. Think I need to look for that book.

Church Lady said...

Hi Anti-wife,

It's very difficult when one person in a relationship grows and the other doesn't.

I disagree with Stephen about assuming responsibility for another person because the other person is difficult. But I do agree that if there's a minimal gesture you could make before she passes, it might actually feel good. It might give you closure in the sense that you've tried everything you could. I don't think organizing her house would be that step, although I'm not a member of your family. That would be like having memory after memory in your face. It could be therapeutic if you were at that place, but it doesn't sound like you're at that place.

I don't know. I hope you can find an equilibrium that gives you peace.


Stephen Parrish said...

I wrote ambiguously. When I said "The key to a relationship with a difficult person is the assumption of complete responsibility," I meant responsibility for the relationship, not the person.

The Anti-Wife said...

I'm actually pretty comfortable with where I am. She's a very unhappy person and tends to enjoy spreading that attitude to others.

I think for something to be called a relationship it has to be a 2 way thing. Both parties have to want to be part of it and work to nurture it. Nurturing is not in my mother's nature.

wordtryst said...

This is a tough call. It hurts me to read about distant, neglectful mothers. Marital issues can be debilitating, but the welfare of your children is more important, imo. My father put my mother through all kinds of hell, but she never let that derail her commitment to us. My mother and I have our issues, we have our differences and resentments, but her three children acknowledge that she's a great mom.

Where I can identify with you is in my relationship with my father. I hardly ever see him or speak to him, because I find it hard to forgive him for the breakup of our family. That last time I saw him was at his mother's funeral last year. Before that I hadn't seen him in about 8 years.

It bothers me sometimes. He wasn't a bad father, really. I feel guilty about not pursing a closer relationship with him, especially as we both grow older, but then I recall his womanizing, his abusive treatment of my mother, his drinking and rages, etc, and I really don't want the complications that contact with him might bring. There's a line in the Desiderata that counsels you to stay away from people who are vexatious to the spirit, and my father is definitely one of those.

I know I have a lot of growing to do in this area.

Follow your heart on this. I'm certainly not qualified to offer advice, but I'd go with church lady.