You know on Mother’s Day, when people take to social media to post photos of their mothers and write nice things about them? It’s a day I’m thankful my mom doesn’t “do” social media, so she can’t see that I have nothing to say about her.
No, she didn’t physically abuse or abandon me. In fact, she worked hard to help provide for our family, and drove us to school, after-school activities, and church youth group. She was always present and physically available to her children. She allowed me to move back in with her for a short time when life took an unexpected turn, and makes regular efforts to visit her children and grandchildren. That’s why it’s so challenging to navigate my feelings toward her.
Because my mother is also a narcissist. And incredibly manipulative.
She’s never wrong, and so has never, ever apologized to me. Instead, she’s informed me that everything is my fault. She spilled her drink on me? That was my fault for sitting too close to her. She left my father for another man? That was my fault too.
She constantly judges and gossips about others, from complete strangers to her own children. It’s her favorite topic, but only because she hopes they choose the right path . . . like she has.
As I’ve grown older, she’s begun to engage in competition with me, always via backhanded comments:
“Wow, you’re a real career woman! Good for you! I always preferred to prioritize my children.”
“I would never want a house this big. I’m partial to simple living, focusing on what’s important in life.”
“I wouldn’t want to be your size. I prefer a feminine figure.” (This said when I was at the upper end of the healthy range for my height, and treating my body well for the first time in years.)
When my siblings and I haven’t wholeheartedly agreed with some of her choices, she’s chastised us for “disrespecting” her and cut us out of her life for months at a time, refusing our phone calls and texts. Do you know what it’s like to find out you’re pregnant, but not be able to share the news with your mother? My sister does.
And after years of agonizing over every hurtful word and action, I finally realized that at the root of it all, she’s simply insecure.
She constantly criticizes others because it’s the only way she knows to build up her own self-esteem. She engages in competition because she hasn’t grasped the truth that others’ success doesn’t diminish hers. She fiercely resists showing any sign of weakness because she has to show her best face at all times.
And it pains me to my core, because I would very much love to experience the deep and sacred bond that other women share with their mothers. I long to be able to turn to my mother instead of the internet for advice about marriage, motherhood, and life. I desperately wanted to share with a mother figure when I was struggling with severe depression and low self-esteem, and to receive reassurance and encouragement in return. Instead I felt a survival instinct to hide and protect my weaknesses from my mother, lest they be used as a weapon against me.
After 40 years of the same experience, and countless failed attempts to connect with her, I’ve finally lost all hope of that elusive bond. But I am determined—determined—that my own daughter will know that bond well.
So I apologize to her regularly. I don’t pretend to be perfect or to know everything.
We celebrate one another’s accomplishments and freely expose our own weaknesses because we’re teammates, not competitors. And we’re cheering each other on to cross our own finish lines.
I will never, ever cut her off from communication, because I know the physical stab in your chest, the anxiety in the pit of your stomach, that comes from being shunned by a parent.
I pray she’ll always feel comfortable coming to me with her heart wide open, trusting me to provide assurance instead of judgement. And I hope one day she’ll be able to say nice things about me without gritting her teeth or feeling dishonest.
I wish I could say nice things about my mother. I can’t change the past. Or the present. Or my mother. But just try to stop me from changing the future.