My mom, at the ripe age of 60, is grappling with her relationship with her mother. She stumbled upon a support group for daughters of narcissistic mothers and had an epiphany: her mother, whom she dearly loved and respected, was a textbook narcissist.
This would be no easy revelation under the best of circumstances, but my grandma is 98 years old which complicates any promise of healing.
So she did what any reasonable daughter would do and ordered a self help book on amazon and called all of her siblings to discuss it. They were not as shocked. My grandma, for all her delightful endearing qualities, is not often described as “warm” or affectionate.
Motherhood. Ain’t it a bitch? When we’re not fucking up our own kids, we’re assessing the damage our mothers did to us. Ask any room full of women about their relationship with their mother and you might get some answers like this:
Or even this:
Or maybe even something like this (eeek)
My crazy family has it’s share of dysfunction, but we’ve by no means cornered the market. So when my mom told me she discovered something about my grandma, I honestly was expecting to hear that one of my aunts or uncles was not a full blooded sibling. Instead, when she said her mother was a narcissist, I nodded, waiting to hear the other shoe drop. I’d known my grandmother must have been a difficult woman to call “mom” long before I had kids of my own. By the time I was 10 I was actively avoiding her at family functions so I wouldn’t have to hear about how fat I was and how awful my hair looked and how lazy I must be to live in such filth. Occasionally my mother would share things her mother said and did to her, and I would marvel at the thought that my empathetic and affectionate mother grew up with her.
And now, I’m parenting a daughter. Let me tell you guys, this shit is cray. Forget sexism, parenting my daughter is fraught with emotional landmines I never feared with my son. This past christmas I got her a dollhouse and had to listen to the mean mommy character yell at the children characters constantly. Even worse was when mommy character was crying because the children characters destroyed her new purse or something. It was enough to rattle even the most confident parent. Hearing things I’d said to her without thinking, and how her little brain processed my frustration was enlightening (to put it gently).
I’m going tread lightly here, and suggest something. Here at Sanctimommy we pride ourselves on non-judgement and the idea that there’s no “right” way to be a parent, but the fact is, there is a such thing as a “bad” mom. Just because someone loves their children and just because their children grow into productive members of society, that’s not necessarily a motherhood gold star. Some of our mothers have made mistakes, they’ve failed us and they’ve failed as mothers. But just because you *have* a crappy mom doesn’t mean you’ll *be* a crappy mom.
Sitting next to me in the drivers seat, my mother got choked up as she asked me if she was a good mom. I instantly flashed on all the things I promised to never do with my kids, then I looked over at her, the mom who picked me up because it was raining and I didn’t want to take the bus, the mom who was excited to spend the afternoon with my energetic kids so I could do a long run and spend some time by myself. Was she a bad mom? Seriously?
I have 2 children that drive me into an anxious fervor almost daily. I cannot imagine what it must have been like for my mom, who had her first child at 20 and continued to have a baby every 2 years for the next 20 years. Holy shit.
If I know any bad moms, they do a remarkable job of hiding it. I know moms who drink and swear, moms who make crass jokes, moms who’ve lost their shit and hidden in the bathroom crying and main lining caffeine and chocolate. Not only have I known those moms, I’ve been those moms. That is motherhood. Forget the trope of perfection, acknowledged mistakes are what make us better parents. Crappy moms are the ones who think they’re doing it all right, who are too self absorbed to self analyze.
Here’s what I want to hear from you guys, what did your mother get right? My grandma, for all her faults, taught my mother to be independent, to stand up for herself. Her benign neglect fostered the sort of innate introspection that most women go through years of therapy to achieve. My mother knew she wanted to have warm open relationships with her children because she never had that with her own parents.
So spin your damage for me, sanctifriends. Tell me about how the shitty emotional heirlooms you got from your own parents shaped you as a parent. Or, conversely, use the comment section to brag about how awesome your mom is. Or your kids’ mom. Or yourself.
Here’s a pic of all my favorite moms to get you started 🙂