Day Seventeen: Mothers and Daughters

Passport photo of my Mom, circa 1975.

A friend emailed me yesterday in response to one of my blog posts.

She and her mom are going through a rough patch and they are both holding on to bad feelings from the past. I didn't ask (nor do I think it's my business to ask) what the particulars are, but I sensed that reading blog posts about someone else's mother brought up a lot of issues for her. So I gave her some insight on my relationship with my Mom.

Things were not always so peaceful and perfect between my Mom and me. And it's a universal experience, I think. There's this thing, this "mother energy" that makes daughters do the craziest things, whether it's for good or evil. When we're little, we try to imitate our mothers because they are one (of the two) biggest characters in our morality play. I may not remember myself as a toddler, but it can't be any different than some of the things my own daughter Masana did. When she was 2 years old, Masana stuck a bouncy ball in her shirt and waddled around the room after me. I was 7 months pregnant at the time. And after my son Mack was born, she would cluck her tongue and sigh whenever he offended her in the slightest. "Gee, I wonder where she got that from," my Mom would say.

As adolescents and teenagers, our "mother energy" constantly changes, from a "look at me!" phase, to an "ugh, why are you looking at me?" phase, to a "well, okay, you can look at me" phase, and then back to a "look at me!" phase. Up and down, up and down.

As adults, this "mother energy" can sometimes--and not always, because I can't speak for people who have perfect relationships with their moms, should they exist--transform into anger, resentment, a sense of abandonment towards some great wrong in the past. We experience something that rattles our faith in our mothers, and become mad at them because we're suddenly our own caretakers. And then we can't stand it when our mothers try to bestow advice or show affection, feeling that they've forfeited their right.

My Mom and I had a really tough time by the time I reached my twenties. I wanted her to own up to something in the past; she would not. My Mom wanted me to grow up and just get over it; I would not. And so it went on for a while. And I found myself holding on to my hurt feelings because it was the only thing that could be quantified as a relationship with her.

It all changed when Masana was born. Looking at my daughter--an unreasonable, screaming newborn baby girl--it dawned on me that I couldn't change my Mom: not her mind, not her ways, not her life. I could only change one person, and that person was me. I had to stop punishing her for being an imperfect human being. We all make mistakes, and, standing on the precipice of parenthood, I knew all too well that I was going to make one mistake after the other. So I decided to take my "mother energy" and slowly change it. I called her instead of vice versa. I let her give me advice. I began cooking for her. And I ended every phone conversation with "I love you."

Truthfully, it wasn't about my Mom. It was about me. I wasn't going to let my negativity get in the way of enjoying my Mom again. I wanted to look forward to the time we spent together, to help build a good relationship between her and my kids, and to know that I did everything I could to be a good daughter, to the best of my ability. I didn't want to have any regrets. And because of this, I loved her even more than I ever could have imagined.

And so I say this to my friend: let it go. Forgive your mom for past offenses, even if she feels that she did no wrong. Even if you don't say it to her directly, say it in your heart. You are not doing it for her; you are doing it for you.

Life's too damn short.