Yesterday, mothers across the world were celebrated. I, too, celebrated my own mother, mother-in-law, and expressed deep gratitude for my own children –blessed that I am now called mother as well. Mother’s Day also caused me to reflect on my ever-evolving relationship with my mother. On May 11th, most individuals proudly proclaimed that they have “the best mother ever.” In all honesty, my mother probably would never be awarded such an honor by any typical societal standards, but I also love her immensely and am grateful for the strength and determination she has passed on to me, though often unintentionally. The following piece was written at age nineteen for a Women’s Studies course. It was also included in an anthology that discussed discrimination and sexism in our nation. Every woman has in her the power to hurt and the power to heal, and almost every woman I know underestimates her strengths, or has her talents diminished by society. I share this personal essay that every woman may know she is loved and stronger than she believes. I share this to let every woman know that we are not required to live in shame and fear of our flaws, for we will be forgiven by those that matter most. I share this to give voice to those mothers who worry they have failed their children. Our failures make us human, and they are only temporary; a mother’s love, however, is forever. This essay was written with the deepest of love for my own flawed, yet incredibly beautiful and brilliant, mother. Thank you for all that you are and everything you do, Mom. I love you more than you will ever know.
The Peculiar Relationship Between a Mother and a Daughter
I received a telephone call from my sister today. She spoke heatedly of hatred for my father and shared her desire for my parent’s separation. I couldn’t believe she said these things with such conviction and genuine detestation. As she spoke, I denied the possibility that my parents would ever seek a divorce. My sister went on to inform me that my father had been behaving as a jerk, and that my mother was in agreement with this assessment of his behavior. I also agree. My father can often be an insufferable jerk.
However, I went on to defend my patriarchal flesh by advising my young sibling, “Oh, that’s just normal,” as if it were acceptable for our father to be an asshole to his children and their mother. I have somehow convinced myself that it’s okay for our father to treat us like domestic servants instead of daughters while he sits on the recliner in front of the television hollering out demands – fetch me this and fetch me that.
There remains within me the idea that my mother and I both need him. Society certainly affirms that my mother needs him – for both economic stability and social acceptance. There is a selfish and culturally obedient child within me that believes my mother should stay and quietly endure my father’s mistreatment. Despite my belief, I’ve often remarked, “If I were you, I wouldn’t put up with his shit.” But I am a liar, because I will brush off his behavior as acceptable. Society has not been alone in teaching me to do this. My mother has taught me this too; I’ve followed her example. I am not as strong and seemingly insensitive as my mother though. Sometimes when my dad yells, I cry. Other times, I yell back.
My mother does not yell back at my father. She takes her anger, her hurt, her pain, out on me instead. I have a clear memory of many times that my mother verbally shot me down. I look silently into her face and toil to forget such wounds as we stand together outside. She stamps out a cigarette with a pair of worn white tennis shoes that she’s had for as long as I can remember. I then tell her she should really stop smoking and she whips back, “If you don’t like it, go away."
I often find myself staring at her features and, more and more, I find myself in her. I don’t always like what I see. That mirrored reflection tends to frighten me. I find her wiry eyes staring back, her sloping nose leading to her wicked mouth, her thick eyebrows, and heavy hair containing a few noticeable strands of gray. Her face looks so wry and troubled – much as I am. She looks back at me and tells me to just “leave me alone.”
Sometimes I will wonder why she says this. I am concerned that she might not love me or that she doesn’t realize how much I truly love her. My concerns begin to fade away as I understand my mother more. I don’t know why I ever imagined or expected to find my mother overflowing with sunshine and support all of the goddamn time, as though she walked off the set of some sitcom. Those women are non-reality based and the images they represent contribute to my belief, and the belief of women across our culture, that it is acceptable for men to act as my father does. But if my mother should act similarly – how shocking and sinful! I realize now that this is bullshit.
My mother has many reasons to desire no disturbances. My mother works so hard, moves in accordance with other’s desires, and has little left to truly call her own. My father works his one full-time job expecting to be waited upon while he sits righteously on his ass after arriving home. My mother works two jobs, cares for her four children, and completes all household tasks. As is the case for most women, much of my mother’s work goes unnoticed and unpaid. I would suspect that serving my father is not a high preference for my mother as this is the employment my mother performs for below minimum wage. My mother has remained in this pink-collar occupation since the age of sixteen where she first waitressed at an A&W.
When my mother makes her request to be left alone, I no longer take this personally. I am much more understanding because I have felt the same sexist, societal pressures that my mother feels. These pressures wear my mother down, and make her cold and bitter. I am still young and fighting, but life isn’t sweet, so leave me alone.
I wish I had the courage to share many things with my mother. She has built a wall around her heart and is hesitant to let me in. I know she’s really not as tough as she appears, but I often feel so weak that I need to trust in my mother’s tautness. Every time I attempt to share with my mother, she appears to be avoiding me, putting on a front of coolness. I could tell you that this is not fair, but nothing really is. I have learned this too from my mother.
Sometimes my mother will use the word ‘bitch’ when referring to me, and sometimes my father will use the word ‘bitch’ in reference to my mother. When I hear this word, I am filled with violence untypical of my personality. No one has ever called my father a ‘bitch.’ I have concluded that this title comes along with the territory of womanhood. My mother is not a bitch; she’s my mother. I am not a bitch either; I’m her daughter.
I want to escape all of this unnecessary, gender-based hatred. My mother and I step into her car together and she remarks, “Those stupid birds just keep on singing. They must not know how shitty it is outside.” It’s black and raining out there, but I know I’ll be safe in here – next to her. She doesn’t intend to hurt me.
She lights a cigarette and I again ask her to quit. She ignores me and turns on her country-western radio station. I hear a familiar song playing – She don’t know she’s beautiful – never crossed her mind. She don’t know she’s beautiful – no, that’s not her style. She don’t know she’s beautiful – though time and time I’ve told her so. My mother is so much more beautiful than she’ll ever realize.
When I ride along with her, it doesn’t matter where we’re going. I don’t need a destination. I just need her. Neither of us needs anyone else; my mom would survive even without my father. I wish we’d keep driving forever. Mommy, let’s run away together. Mommy, promise me that everything is going to be all right even though I know you would be lying.
One finds it difficult to describe the peculiar relationship between a mother and a daughter. We are not what you might believe. Please just leave us alone.