It’s been three years since I’ve been a daughter. As we age we lose more and more of our roles. But the relationship with my mother continues in my head. It remains one of the most profound influences on my life. By the way, I’ve always wondered when parent became a verb instead of a noun. Whenever I want a good laugh I try to imagine my parents, may they rest in peace, exchanging ideas in a parenting class. With fewer choices they were more certain of what they knew. Now there are so many theories that like the man with one clock knows what time it is - but the man with two is never sure.
One role I hope to always have is parent but I didn’t realize I would be parenting into my dotage. My daughter and my 2 grandchildren moved back home briefly when her marriage ended. It’s been said that women measure their self esteem by how the kids turn out. My question is - is there a statute of limitation on “turning out?” I was successful, married, etc. - then I got divorced at 40- did that make my mother a failure? My daughter and son are both going through “challenges” in their 40's does that make me a failure?
My kids were teenagers when I was divorced and I wasn’t there on a lot of levels. Now in their 40's they were complaining about something that happened to them during those years. I said “Look, I did my job! I screwed up the first 20 years of your life; now you have the whole rest of your life to get unscrewed! Just like everybody else. As Carly Simon‘s song says” sorry that your mother dropped you on your head, maybe her mother dropped her too, in the end we all get dropped we all get black and blue.”
Very few of us got what all we needed growing up, we all lived with disappointments. If I had ever gone to my father and said “I’m not happy” he would have said “and your point is?” Yet, now whenever anything goes wrong we go through the song from the show Mame”did he need a stronger hand, did he need a lighter touch?” Many of my friends and clients have adult children, in some cases middle-aged coming back home or never having left. We all should have read the fine print. It used to be that we were supposed to give our children 2 things roots and wings - more and more no one is leaving the nest.
I read an article in the New York Times Magazine a few years ago about how longevity was affecting families, and two stories illustrated the dance that is parenting. The article said that Irving, 77, wanted to retire from his law practice but his 101 year old father came to work every day so “how could he leave?” The story that really struck me was “Natalie has been trying to get her mother’s approval since the Hoover administration.” That says it all - We have the same struggles over and over. It’s not that we’re doing anything wrong - it’s biblical. It is what it is! So no matter how you struggle against it, Oscar Wilde captured that primal paradox when he said “Every woman becomes like her mother that is her curse, no man does - that’s his.
Happy Mother’s Day!