Her Strong Daughter

Photograph (181)Is it possible to be a good daughter to a mother who’s made it clear over your lifetime that’s she’s just not all that into you?

Don’t get me wrong. I love my mom, and she loves me, and she’s been a strong influence in my life. Some of it’s been positive, but there’s been an awful lot of negative in there as well.

Mom clearly played favorites with her children, and wasn’t subtle about letting us know who those favorites were. Suffice it to say I was not one of them. The second of four children, I was apparently a cute, bright, cheerful but quiet and undemanding baby, and an intelligent, curious and sociable girl/young woman who loved to read, and did well all through school and in the activities I pursued. Whatever I did never seemed good enough though, and if I wasn’t being ignored I was being compared to others and found wanting. I was adequately fed, clothed and sheltered, but was never hugged or cuddled, there were no words of love, no positive reinforcement, and little to no interest in what I did or wanted to pursue. I was expected to behave and do well, but there was no encouragement, no rewards. Others may have known my parents were proud of me, but I never did.

Within the family I was considered flighty, flaky, too talkative, emotional. I had no voice; my parents spoke for me and decisions were made for me. If I stepped out of my role and tried to assert myself, or wanted to do something differently from my parent’s expectations, I was told I was difficult. Nothing has changed much. I’m in my 60s and still feel expected to play my role with my siblings. However, because I choose instead to keep my distance these days or not go along with my siblings’ ideas of what I should do and when I should do it, or how I should feel, I’m still considered difficult, or I’m dismissed.

I became deeply depressed as I was growing up, but was blessed (and lucky) to have people in my life along the way who encouraged and valued me. They saved my life. There was my grandmother, who held me and called me her “diamond in the rough,” and who told me over and over that I would go on to do great things. She was there for me many times when my parents didn’t show or step up. Mrs. P, a family friend and licensed psychologist and counselor, knew our family dynamic and warned me (and Brett after we got married) to keep my distance, that it was possible and OK to love my family but still not like them or want to be around them. Their goal, she said, was always going to be to put me in my place, to make me stay in my family role. It was Mrs. P who helped me accept that I was in fact a very strong, smart woman, and not at all the lightweight my family imagined. According to her, that I never turned to drugs or alcohol to blunt my depression was proof of an innate inner strength and resilience that my family refused to recognize and couldn’t destroy. There were other women as well along the way – neighbors, my friends’ mothers, teachers, my sister-in-law – who comforted me, supported me, held me up, told me I was beautiful and smart, and stepped in when Mom should have but didn’t.

My mother is 92 years old, and she is dying. I feel relieved that she will not have a long, lingering end-of-life experience (i.e. stroke, bedridden, and such) which is what I feared the most for her, but I also know it’s not going to be an easy death either. I have already made plans to visit her this summer, and will be her strong daughter. I’m the child who has worked with the elderly, who has nursed them and cleaned them, the one who has sat in the middle of the night with the dying so they were not alone, the child who will be there just to be there for mom, with no expectations. I have no illusions about what’s coming, but hope for her to pass as peacefully as possible. It’s time to put away the past for awhile.

I already feel a great sadness, not for how things were and for what will be gone, but for what could have been and never will be. She is my mother, for better or worse, and I will always love her, and I will miss her.


14 thoughts on “Her Strong Daughter

  1. Kris Vaughan says:

    I never knew all this about you. You are an amazing person and have become an amazing mom, without a personal role model. I guess you learned what kind of mom you did not want to be. I am so glad that you were able to rise above all of this.


    • Laura says:

      Thanks, Kris! You and I met a short time after I spent time with Mrs. P. She had such a profound impact on my life, as did Brett.

      I’ve always felt that more than anything, my mom was a good example of how not to parent. Things got a bit better between us after I got married and had my own family, but so much will remain buried and unspoken and unhealed.


  2. Karen says:

    You are amazing. You were able to innately know what your children needed and you gave it to them without growing up,with a good role model. I am impressed that you have been able to put aside the hurt and step up to be the bigger person.


    • Laura says:

      I was a very, very angry for a long, long time over my childhood but eventually realized that my anger gave power back to my parents, that I was allowing them to still control my life. When I was finally able to let the anger go, that was when I truly began to heal.


    • Laura says:

      Thank you for being such a loyal reader! I can hardly believe that I have been blogging now for nearly seven years. It’s been quite the journey, but I wouldn’t change a thing.


  3. Ms. Moreless says:

    I’m sorry for what you have been through and what you are dealing with now, Laura. It sounds like a very difficult time all the way around. I wish you much strength as you navigate your mother’s final days and the emotions surrounding her life and death.


    • Laura says:

      Learning of my mom’s terminal illness has certainly brought many things bubbling back up to the surface again. I am determined to do get through this my own way though, as much as possible.


  4. sluggy says:

    My mother and I never had a real relationship until after I had kids.
    Growing up, the world outside my family saw only a perfect family, but inside I lived a life where both my parents were mostly concerned with themselves and had little to give us children.
    I was left to fend for myself at the age of 14 so I get having to be strong and your own person at an early age.
    I suppose you’ve been mourning since you were young.
    Don’t let your siblings drag you back into the family dynamic if that’s toxic to your well being.
    Be safe.


    • Laura says:

      My mom and my relationship improved some as well after I had children, but never completely healed.

      Like yours, most of the world outside of us saw a perfect family, and had no idea what was going on inside. Some of our neighbors knew and unobtrusively stepped up for me, as did friends’ mothers and some of my teachers. How they knew I needed their support I’ll never know, but I will be eternally grateful.

      Although we grew up in the same environment and shared many experiences, my siblings have never been able to, or wanted to, grasp that I had an entirely different relationship with our parents than they did, and therefore experienced things differently. If they do see it, my experience still doesn’t count for anything, and has no validity or worth. Both are contemptuous, but for different reasons, and show it in different ways. I pretty much have nothing to do with either of them now; we communicate by email re. my mom’s condition, but that’s it. I will be visiting Mom when neither of them are there.


  5. Janette says:

    This explains your journey more then any of the other thousands of words you have written in the last seven years.Your current writings of joy are a testimony of your ability to rise above.


    • Laura says:

      Thank you so much. I very clearly remember, about 25 years ago, feeling very, very angry one night over my family and my childhood (don’t remember what triggered it though) and suddenly a little voice said, “You can either continue to look back and feel angry, or you can get on with your life.” I decided then and there that I would only look forward, and see where the journey took me. It hasn’t always been a straight line, or easy, or without obstacles in the way at times, but I’ve done it my way and I’m happy with how things turned out.


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