I just watched a video about not taking a mother’s love for granted. Very emotional description by a man, giving examples of what his mother did for him, and his regrets for youthful acts of rebellion. These stories always trigger for me what I didn’t get.
Yes, I was raised in a two parent home, in a nice house with all of my needs met, never moved during my childhood, college paid for, opportunities provided. Family friends would surely say we were a perfect family. We went to church, my dad was an Elder, on the Board, we went hiking, had a great summer vacation cabin, mother was a Camp Fire leader, we had music lessons and were part of a circle of friends with whom we are all still connected. I can feel guilty for I had, many, many good things that I do appreciate.
What I continue to process is family life behind closed doors. I met a person as an adult who said in our first meeting, “I heard you were the black sheep of the family.” First, who told them? Who described me that way? Second, my mother must have described me that way, or at least described her frustrations with me to other family members. That one sentence shook me up. I remember excusing myself rather quickly and walking away, feeling ashamed. And – unloved. What had my mother been saying about me? Yes, it was certainly an awkward introduction to this person, but it rocked me to think of how that rumor was spread, to know that others were given information to lead them to accept this description. And I didn’t know what I had done or why this was how I was described. One friend has said my mother must have been afraid of me.
The impact on me growing up was manifested in different ways. One was to take my time in giving my trust to others. Another was to try really hard to get approval from others, to make sure I didn’t do something that would be considered ‘bad’. This had an impact on establishing relationships for years. It accounts for my inability to express preferences in deciding what restaurant to go to for dinner. What if my choice is not the right one?
But. And there is a but. It informed me as a wife and a mother. My husband and I have had an unspoken, but acknowledged, belief in never talking each other down in public. We both have been acting on the principle that we would never say anything to another person about each other or our daughter that we would want them to feel disrespected by hearing. Does that make sense? It’s a code, that I believe in. That doesn’t mean we don’t share our struggles, but we focus on ourselves.
Why would I question if my mom loved me? You can say that she did many things for me that showed her love. But, a person doing something nice for you is not an act of love if they are really doing it for themselves, to be able to say, ‘See what I did.’ So much of my childhood was about maintaining appearances.
When my daughter was born, I asked my parents to come visit, but not come stay. They lived 45 minutes away. Easy to come for a couple hours and go home. My husband had taken time off of work and we wanted to be alone, have visitors for sure to see the baby, but we wanted to cocoon. My father talked me into letting them come, bring their camper, and stay for a week. I know that it was all about my mom being able to tell her friends,’Oh, Heidi had the baby and we’re going to go help out!’ Because that’s what her friends did when grandchildren were born.
Instead, she came and cooked up the prepared frozen meals that had been left for us (which I assumed would be handy when it was just the three of us). She didn’t come prepared to cook, just commented about how easy was to have these prepared meals. Yes, easy, that was the gift. My feeling about it, petty, maybe, but… She rearranged my living room one day while I napped, putting things away in the hall closet so my ‘guests wouldn’t be distracted’ by the ‘stuff’. Criticism of my housekeeping. And then sat. My dad went to town, met friends for coffee, shopped for things they needed back at their house. My mom sat. So awkward. Contrasted with my mother-in-law who came in and cleaned, asking what was a priority and if I wanted it done. Such a difference being asked about what you want, what’s important to you!
The lingering feelings are real, though not dominant. In my life, my mother never said to me “I love you.” Never. I began saying it to her at the end of phone conversations in her last years because I wanted to hear it back. Never. Just “good-bye”.
My father was very loving. His love for our family was obvious. We knew we meant the world to him. Weird to have two parents, neither of whom could say ‘I love you’ and yet not hearing it from my dad was not painful because I felt it. Not hearing it from my mom was painful because it confirmed what I felt. Three little words that can be taken for granted, mean everything, or mean nothing.
The thing is, I know I was and am loved by my family and friends. I know it. I feel it. And I love my family and friends. And I let them know it. I have been able to analyze my upbringing, take the good memories and make memories with my own family. I have been able to make my life the one I want. I have chosen a partner who is loving. My mother-in-law was the ultimate person to give unconditional love. I never questioned her love. I was very lucky to have her in my life.With her, I could do no wrong. I certainly didn’t walk on eggshells.
The most important take away in all this is that I know we never know what a person’s full story is. If we are lucky, we may be honored with hearing it. As you might guess, this is my story. Not all of it by any means, but part of it. The part I’m comfortable sharing.