On mothering, without having a mother

Mother and Teen Daughter. Close-up portrait of attractive happyIt’s an all-too-familiar scenario, one surely most of us have heard: the new mom, trying to adjust to her new role as mother and all that entails, feeling overwhelmed by so many things, including, in many cases, her well-meaning mother, who in her eagerness to help and enjoy precious time with her grandchild, ends up – well, more on the overbearing/smothering side.

Apparently, this happens fairly often. So I’ve heard. But I wouldn’t know.

When I hear such stories, it’s rather poignant for me. You see, I’ve been estranged from my mother, for very sound reasons – out of necessity, really – for more than 10 years now. And before the actual estrangement, we did not have a good relationship.

There was no way we could have a real, healthy mother-daughter relationship, as she has struggled with addiction and other mental health issues for most of her life. And I had a difficult, lonely childhood as a result.

But I always knew I wanted to be a mother and have my own family. Unfortunately, when I started having children nearly 20 years ago, I knew it would be without the support of my biological mother.

Oh, for the first few years, she would visit occasionally, and offer to help occasionally. Desperately hoping things would eventually, finally turn around, I made every possible effort to try and make it work, and give her the chance, and hopefully the motivation, to really be there for her grandchildren.

But it became abundantly clear she was only deteriorating, not getting better, and did not have anything close to a healthy attitude toward recovery or her family. I had no choice but to accept that our lives would have to move forward without her.

Still, every year, around Mother’s Day, I can’t help but think about her and wonder how she’s doing. I wonder how she’s feeling, and if she ever thinks about us. And if so, I wonder what she thinks. I wonder what she would say, if she had the chance. Would she have anything to say?

Over the years, I’ve had to try and figure out what it means to be an attentive and loving mother, one who puts her children’s needs before her own, every time. Without having that modelled for me, it’s not an easy thing. But every single day, I do my absolute best to give my children the mother I never had – and never will have.

It’s an odd thing when the only thing I learned about parenting from my mother is what not to do. But I guess that’s something.

Still, I find myself wishing all the time. Wishing I would get a call from her with good news, to let me know that she is healthy and in a better place and finally ready to enjoy her grandchildren and to work on repairing our relationship.

But I have to go on, knowing full well that day may never come.

That we may never have the opportunity to come together and make amends. That ultimately, we may both spend the rest of our lives carrying some degree of heartache and regret.

I harbour no bitterness toward her. At 36, and very much an adult, I have a much greater perspective about how and why she is where she is in her life.

I know she suffered a tremendous trauma, didn’t get the help she needed and has been self-medicating ever since. I know there is a hurt child inside of her who hasn’t been taken care of and comforted in the way that must be done in order to help the adult version of her heal and move forward.

Meanwhile, I try to think about the good things I remember about her and that I know I inherited: her intelligence, curiosity, her sense of humour (boy, she liked to laugh a lot, as do I, and sometimes while I’m laughing, it strikes me how similar my voice can be to hers).

I grew up watching her read, every day, the newspaper I now work for. I remember her listening to her favourite music all the time, playing it loudly and singing constantly, all things I do to this day.

And of course, regardless of the past, I love my mother and will always wish there was something I could do to help make her happy and healthy, as she deserves to be.

But that’s totally beyond my control, so all I can do is focus on my children and giving them the happiest, healthiest life they can possibly have. Right now, that can’t include my mother. But I’ll always hold out some tiny hope that maybe, just maybe, one day it will.