Daughters of mothers

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:

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Or even this:2017-02-16 19.25.17-2


Or maybe even something like this (eeek)2017-02-16 19.25.17-3


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).

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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 🙂

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7 thoughts on “Daughters of mothers

  1. TeeHee, can open, worms everywhere! Take one 20 year old new mom, add mastitis so she can’t breastfeed for more than 6 weeks marking her first emotional failure as a mother, stir in her over-bearing, hypocritical, alcoholic father, and her slightly spoiled only child mother who preferred boys anyway, fold in the new child and husband/baby daddy who, until she was 8 nos pregnant, was unemployed and living off her meagre LPN income. Wait 3 years for first implosion of marriage as she ran off with another man for 8 months. Spoon in grace and forgiveness as Dad took Mom back, add 1 more baby. Wait 3 more years until marriage completely fails and she runs off with another man. Frost with daily drama and sprinkle another 2 divorces for her, one emancipated minor in my brother, lost jobs, and an early death due to dementia. Palatable leftovers of children’s stable marriages, healthy grandchildren, whose relationships to their parents i.e. my brother and me age well with time 🙂

  2. Oh, wow… I’m dealing with all this now, as my mother is on hospice from an aggressive brain tumor and won’t be around much longer. It wasn’t until recently that I also came upon the realization that my mother is a narcissist. She thought only of herself or how the world impacted her. My mother-in-law was the polar opposite, and when she died at 49 from cancer, my mother called me sobbing because she didn’t die first. I cannot count the times I and my sister would wake up to emails absolutely BLASTING us for some infraction, or because she and my father got in a fight and he wronged her somehow, or she couldn’t sleep and began pondering what ungrateful children she had, and then down the road telling us how she can’t believe the wonderful women we’ve become in spite of her many failings as a mother. I got an email after my daughter’s 2nd birthday party (held at my parents’) laying in to me about how I’m not protecting my daughter from all the pedophiles in her neighborhood by letting her run around their backyard (with a privacy fence and about 25 trees) naked, and how dare I make her do work for the party (boil hotdogs. No, seriously). I could never talk to her about my relationship with my husband- you know, the stupid things he does that are irritating, or how he’s so fantastic with our kid- because that conversation (or, now that I think of it, ANY conversation) would turn to how my father has wronged her for 40 years and how she had to basically raise us alone (which is patently not true. I was there, I know). My older sister was killed in an accident 21 years ago- I was 15, my younger sister 10- and both parents checked out. My sister will tell anyone who will listen that I raised her, though I just did what any teenager thrust into a shitty situation would do, I guess. Mom said that she would put us first from now on, and I’m actually surprised that lasted as long as it did… two weeks. After a while, Dad sort of came back to us, but Mom never did. It always felt like we were an inconvenience she kept around to clean the house.

    I do with my daughter what my mom didn’t do with me. She’s not penalized for mistakes with corporal punishment or over-the-top groundings. We explain things to her most of the time instead of expecting blind obedience. She has age appropriate chores and isn’t expected to do her own laundry (I started at 7). I yell more than I’d like, but 4 year olds are a pain in the ass, man. The difference is that I’m pretty sure my kid isn’t afraid of me, which is not something I can say about my own mother when I was that small.

    1. I remember many instances where I was made to feel not adequate growing up. I pray I was a better mother to my oldest (now grown and married) and that I continue to do the same to my soon to be 7-year-old.

      I’m sorry for what you endured. It breaks my heart. I would reach out and hug you if I could. <3

  3. My mother was not a very loving person and never did the whole “I love you and am proud of you” thing. When I married (at 17!) and later (not surprisingly) divorced within 2 years she made sure to comment that “he only married you to get a son” (talk about a blow to the self esteem – as if I weren’t good enough to love, only to pro-create, much like a brood mare.

    For years I made excuses for her and forgave her when she didn’t even realize that the things she did were wrong and hurt me. I finally cut off every single bit of contact with her when she called my 13 year old daughter a “bitch” for not wanting to give her a hug. You can forevermore hurt me, but mess with my Baby Girl and I will cut you out of my life without looking back. I have to say that it was absolutely freeing when I finally said “Enough is enough” and stopped it. I pray every day that my daughter knows that her mother loved her enough to refuse to allow anyone to be mean to her.

  4. My mother was, and is, incredible. She is the most compassionate, selfless, kind person I have ever known. She drops everything to run lines with me over the phone from 2000 miles away when I’m in a play and have no one to memorize lines with (and she and my dad are flying across the country to see me in said tiny community theater show next month). She sewed by hand so many Halloween costumes when we decided what we wanted to be on Oct 30. She would drive 45 minutes to buy special shoes while I was in school when I forgot to get them before dress rehearsal. She always picks up the phone when I call. A report card if Bs and C’s and even an F once were all excellent and “even better than the last one.” Even when I was 20 and slept with a married man (who told me he was single) and he then broke my heart and I was crying in my room, she told me to forgive him and that, essentially, all people are good.

    I love her. I don’t plan on having children of my own. Part of that is because I would never be as amazing as she is.

    For the record, my dad is equally as awesome, but you happened to ask about moms here.

  5. My mother was abusive in every way possible, except sexual abuse. That was my father, for which she blamed me. Neither are in my life any longer. Over time and a lot of therapy and prayer later, I reached out to her and realized she’s not capable of changing. She’d have to face her own demons first and I can’t make her do that. Through that conversation, I found forgiveness for my mother. She is still not in my life because I don’t want that toxicity in our lives. But she definitely impacted my choices in motherhood. I’m nothing like her. The cycle of abuse stops with me. I don’t get everything right all the time, nobody does. But I make a conscious effort to do my best in all things and I know my children are having a far better childhood than I ever did. For me, that’s enough.

  6. My mom taught how I should be friends before I get into a relationship with someone so u know they won’t beat me up. She taught me not to be an alcoholic, that one stuck pretty hard. She taught that I don’t want to be the kind of mom who walks into the grocery store and the a to her kids and say “now get lost and leave me alone”. She taught me what aandoment and betrayal feels like. My mother gave the childhood that people think I’m telling lies when I talk about it.
    The biggest thing that carried into my parenting, is doing everything I can to make sure my kids never get separated.
    I’m a mother. And I have no clue what I’m doing. I feel like my first born is this social experiment, like I have learn trial by fire.
    I feel like a lot of what I do and I do it is a direct reaction to what I experienced.
    It’s sad and it hurts, but my kids might be better for it because they will never know what it feels like to smell “hangover smell” and immediately flash to being a little kid looking at mom passed out on the couch.

    I want to be a great mom. I don’t think I am. But all I can do is do better than what I have seen.

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