Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Best Things From Your Mother?

I have suddenly started to think about something I've never really considered before:  What would it have been like to have had the companionship and guidance, the shelter and enthusiasm, of a mother, when . . .

I started high school, had my first date, struggled with geometry, looked for my first job, went to prom, wondered what to do next . . . 

Chose a college, transferred between colleges, started thinking about marriage, decided to go to law school, got married, went to law school, had my first encounter with sexism in the workplace, passed the bar exam, got my first legal job, bought a house, changed jobs, wondered what to do next . . . 

Found a church, couldn't get pregnant, got pregnant, bought a new house, threw up all day all night for seven months, had three babies in three years, quit working as a lawyer, had a husband who traveled for days  and weeks at a time, decided about schooling for children, went back to work, helped lots of people get divorced, changed churches, wondered and wondered and wondered what to do next . . .

Helped each of three beloved children through major life challenges, went to seminary, became a spiritual director, graduated from seminary . . .

Lost a child.

I'm pretty sure, because I know what I would be doing for my daughter if she were in my circumstances, what it would look like.  

But what does it feel like?

In three weeks it will be fifty years since my mother and brother died, in an era and a family in which people picked themselves up and brushed themselves off and didn't ask how it might have been different.

So now I'm asking.

What is it like, to be  15 or 25 or 50, to be starting a new thing or burying a child, and have a mother?  What has been the best thing for you about being the daughter or son of a mother?


  1. I want to answer this question because I love your post, and I can't imagine not having a mother for all of these years, all 57 of them!

    I can't come up with the best thing, except that I'm glad she was in the picture and that the love between us came from God and is a work in progress.

    You have inspired me to wonder if what I would do, or have done, for my daughters/son is what she did, or did not do, for me. Contemplating that is enough to drive me back into therapy before sunset!

    I look forward to what others might say.

  2. I wish I could answer this one for you. My mother was always preoccupied with her own problems, and she has also always had 2 favorite children (and I wasn't one of them.)She didn't even change her Hawaii travel plans to come to my son's memorial service. Beyond comprehension, I know, but I can honestly say that I've forgiven her. I just make it a point to be there for my daughters in every way I can. It's tough being a motherless girl. I applaud your courage and ability to survive so many experiences that would have been better/easier/richer with a loving, engaged mother.

  3. Robin, this question pretty well looks like torture to me. No idea what having a mother looks like, but trying to think about it depresses me.

    I found out today that my grandmother died 3 weeks ago. My mom didn't tell me.

  4. This is a huge question, and like the first commenter, I could do a lot of therapeutic talking on the subject, but not sure if it would be helpful to you in this context! =)
    Something to talk about over a bottle of wine?

  5. Wow. Huh.

    I have a wonderful though far from perfect mother and my relationship with her is pretty angst free (unlike that with my dad--there's always something). She has supported me most, I think, by letting me be me. While she hasn't always understood me (classic extravert/introvert divide), she has always supported me and my decisions while helping me see other choices as well. One of the best things that stands out as different from other mothers I've seen is that she accepted and encouraged my various life stages. When I was single, she never suggested I should be trying to get married. Even when it looked like she might never have grandchildren, she never suggested that was an issue. After I got married, she never asked when/if we were going to have children.

    So I guess that's what she offered at each stage--unconditional love and her support.

  6. I had a mother until I was 47 years old. But she was damaged, from trauma as a child...so, she wasn't really much of a mother. It's as if she weren't there at all for me during those times of significant life transitions, but she was still alive and still the woman who gave me life. I mourned that reality - having a mother but not really having a mother - for years. So that when she died it was as if she had died years earlier. Some days I think I'm lucky I stand and walk and get through the day. Other days I remember that my therapist was awesome! AND I had a deep and abiding trust in God, and God's love for me, as a child, even if my mother was challenged in her ability to love as a mother ought to...

  7. There are some painful comments here. I so appreciate everyone's honesty. I guess after reading here I feel particularly blessed to have had my mom-- not because our relationship was perfect, because it wasn't. But because, for all the ups and downs we went through (and there were some dreadful downs) I never ever doubted that she loved me fiercely and believed in me. Even when she (sort of violently) disagreed with my choices (leaving the Catholic church, my announcement of which she responded to by saying "Can't you wait until I'm dead?"), she believed in and supported my decisions to make my own life. (Eventually. It took a while. She was a control freak. But in the end, she respected me.)

    From my mom i got a vision of the fierceness of maternal love, for all the good and bad that implies. I am grateful for it.

  8. My experience is most like Mrs. M's and Mompriest's ... so I can't answer the question either. I've always envied those who had the experience of true relationship with mother and/or husband for any length of time.

  9. I so appreciate the honesty here.

    My brother, who was four when our mother and brother died, and I sometimes wonder about our fantasy/assumption of the "perfect mother, " or even "pretty good mother," knowing full well from our later experiences and those of our friends, that there are other possibilities.

  10. I'm not sure how to answer the question about my mother--I'll think about it. But my dad died when I was not quite 10 and so often I wonder what it would feel like to have a dad when...whatever it was--graduating high school, getting married, being ordained, having a baby etc. Thanks for sharing yourself and your thoughts so freely.

  11. My mother fought fiercely for me and with me to make sure that I did the physical therapy and other rehabilitation that was necessary for me to walk. Her self-sacrifice in that was truly heroic and it is because of her that I am able to walk. But like many others on this page today, I am very mindful of my mom's fragility and limitations. In the really critical moments of my adult life, my mom did not have the emotional strength to be there for me. It took her almost 5 years to meet my daughter, and her only grandchild.

    Part of being an adult has meant allowing my mom not to be the mom that I have wished I could have as a grown woman. And now, as she is slowly dying of cancer, I find myself honored to tend to her rather than the other way around.

  12. My mother is alive and lives nearby, just a few miles from me.

    But I can honestly say I don't know what it would be like to have a mother who truly saw me, who cared about my first day of high school, my struggles with geometry, my dates or any of the major and minor events of my life.

    Instead, I know what it's like to be feeling deeply and at the same time being yanked into the shallows where discussions of weight and weather are all that is on offer.

    I don't say this as judgment of her. I've done too much work, and have too deep a respect for the God in my life, to imagine that I can possibly judge her.

    But I do know hat we survive the loss of our mothers and the absence of our mothers in much the same way. Many of us build lives that require space and respect for the daughter - biological, of-the-heart, or metaphorical - who comes after us.

    Today I have a love for, and an understanding of, the woman who is my mother. But I cannot honestly say I have "a mother" like that which you are asking about.

    I believe that my daughters could, however, answer your question. As could yours.


  13. I have a wonderful mother and I have always realized how fortunate I am to have her. I knew it at age 10 and I know if even more now at age 52. While I cannot imagine my life without her, I know that day will come. And I think what I will most feel the loss of is having someone who loves me like only our mothers can love us. And I imagine it will feel a lot like working without a net. She is my safety net in this world. She has taught me how to be a mother and a grandmother. She is my rock.