Category Archives: Travels With My Mother

Mother’s Day Part 1 – Lessons My Mother Taught Me

Mother’s Day is always good for bringing up stuff for me. It began when I was at the store the other day looking for a card for my mother. We’ve had a rough go of it – at least from my perspective. I don’t think she is conscious of how difficult I have found our relationship, even as I have tried to address some of the issues with her over the years. And of course that is part of the problem.

Looking for a Mother’s Day card is always interesting. Most of them are all about what a wonderful mother the person in question has been. How loving, how supportive, how… fill in the blank. The problem is that I don’t feel that my mother was a good mother for me. Yes, we always had food, clothing and shelter. My sister and I were not physically abused. My mother was not an alcoholic or a drug addict. She was the epitome of a good, responsible citizen.

Unfortunately, that was not enough. I didn’t get what I needed most: unconditional love.

Yes, I know she did her best. Yes, I know she was the product of her own upbringing and environment. And, as I have told my counseling clients many times, just because you can understand and have compassion for why someone acted a certain way, does not make it okay that they acted that way.

I do have compassion for my mother. And I still did not get what I needed as a child.

This morning I was looking at all the tributes to mothers on Facebook, and it was in my face again. I couldn’t honestly say that I felt the same way about my own mother.

In thinking about this more, I realized that, in fact, I got exactly what I needed from my mother. My relationship with my mother has been my greatest source of personal and spiritual growth.

Here are the lessons my mother taught me.

  1. Perfectionism. In my mother’s world you must do something perfectly, or you fail. An A- is not good enough. 2nd place is not good enough.

The real lesson:  I am already perfect. As a soul I am whole and perfect. It is the human part of me that needs to work on becoming perfectly myself. Because I’m already perfect.

  1. You have to earn love. This is a corollary to #1. The reason you need to be perfect is so that people will love you. Otherwise, you will be abandoned and alone.

The real lesson:  As a spiritual being, I am love. I don’t have to seek love from others, because that is who I am – and who they are – at the core. I have the love of Spirit, no matter what. No matter what I do or don’t do.

  1. What others think of you is more important than what you think of you. Starting to see a pattern here? Yup, once again about earning the approval / love of others. This time by being what they want you to be, which may not be who you really are.

The real lesson: Be true to myself. People come and people go. Some like me, some don’t. In the end, I’m the one who has to like me.

  1. Rules are made to be followed. If you break a rule / law, you will get in trouble. People will find out. They won’t like you anymore. Boy, was I good at following the rules! (I still struggle a bit with this and judgement of others when they break rules. But I’m working on it!)

The real lesson: Rules and laws are useful to keep society in check. And I do what feels right to me. If what I’m doing harms no one else (for me this is the litmus test), then so what if it’s against the rules?

  1. Right and wrong are opposites and clear cut. My mother has a strong sense of right and wrong – and difficulty seeing a situation from anything other than her own perspective. My sister and I used to say, “There’s our mother’s way to do something and the wrong way.”

The real lesson: I know what’s right for me. I don’t necessarily know what’s right for you. And there’s a whole lot of grey between those opposites of black and white.

In looking back over these, they really are all closely related. They’re all about judging and being judged in order to give or earn love. I guess that’s the crux of my issues with my mother and her way of being: I constantly felt judged and was constantly trying to earn her love.

These days my mother and I have the best relationship of our lives, in my opinion. I accept her for who she is, but I don’t buy into her stuff. That’s about her, not about me. I rarely feel guilty that I’m not being her vision of a “good daughter.” Once I gave up the guilt and the feeling of obligation that caused it, it was a lot easier to want to spend time with her.

I don’t have any illusions that my mother will ever become the mother I wish I’d had. But I do feel compassion for her and her own struggles, and I recognize the ways in which she tries to show me that she loves me. I’ve let go of feeling that every good deed from her comes with a price tag attached (that’s one I forgot to mention – if I do something nice for you, you owe me), and instead just express my gratitude for whatever the favor is.

Finally, I am grateful for the lessons I learned through having her as my mother. I believe that we pick our life lessons and who will play them out with us before we come for another lifetime, so obviously I set this all up for my own benefit. I guess I can’t be mad at anyone about that, but myself!

Are Authenticity and Compassion Sometimes Mutually Exclusive?

I recently took a trip with my mother. I knew that this time with my mother would be fertile ground for my continued journey towards being more authentic. What I didn’t know, but soon discovered, was that it was also an opportunity to practice being authentic with compassion.

Since my late twenties I have had a difficult relationship with my mother. I don’t know that she realizes that this is the case, but I have struggled mightily to separate from her. I can remember conversations with my therapist more than 25 years ago about how to interact with my mother and how to shift the relationship to more of what I wanted it to be. It’s been a long road.

During this recent trip I kept a daily journal. It was pretty interesting to see how from day to day my feelings about my mother and my relationship with her changed.

One day I’d be focused on all the things she did that had irritated me, many of them long standing complaints, and I’d be sure there was no way I would ever take a trip with her again. The next day I would have had some insight into what her experience was and feel compassion and even sadness for her.

Writing this blog about becoming more authentic has been amazing for me. The freedom that I feel saying what is true for me has spurred me on to be even more authentic in real life, off the written page. I knew that when I returned from this trip that I would want to share my experiences and learning in written form.

Enter my fear, and consequently my dilemma: how would my mother feel if she read what I wrote?

It is important to me to be authentic in my experience of and with my mother. This authenticity is not about making her wrong and me right. It really is a reporting of the process I have gone through not only on this trip, but over many years. And, I feel that I know my mother well enough that if she were to read what I end up writing that she will feel attacked.

Even though my intention is not to attack my mother, not to make her the bad guy, I believe that she will only be able to see where I am criticizing her in whatever I say and not be able to see that the story is not about her, but about me.

This thought occurred to me a few days ago, and I am still working on what the “right” answer is. I am not willing to forgo writing about my relationship with my mother. It is what I need to do to continue my growth in this area.

So far I have not shared my blog with my mother, and I feel okay about that. However, my ultimate intention is to write a book that uses the evolution of my relationship with my mother as a guide for others struggling with similar issues. Would it be inauthentic of me not to share this life accomplishment of publishing a book with my mother? Would I be doing the opposite of what I am espousing in this book to hide from her something that I am proud of achieving?

But what of compassion? If I believe that reading what I have written will be hurtful to her, is it compassionate to tell her about it? Or by trying to protect her, am I taking on her feelings instead of letting her own them herself (a lifelong pattern I have with her)?

It is indeed a sticky wicket, as they say. Right now I’m leaning towards not telling her about it. But is that the easy way out – the way I have always dealt with my mother when I fear a bad reaction?

I would welcome your input, comments, insights and thoughts about this dilemma.