Giving My Mother Her Due

Happy Mother's Day

May 6, 2011 by

For years, when people asked if I were close to my mom, I’d demure. It’s not that I have a vitriolic relationship with my mom, we’ve never had a huge fight, rarely had harsh words. Never called each other names.

She’s not mean. If I ask for help, even at age 85, she bats 800. If the request is to pick up an item at Target or Mall of America, she’s on it in a flash. If it’s to have my dog stay with her when I go out of town with the promise that I will hire a dog walker to take care of all the walks, not so much.

She’s always seems happy to see or hear from me and has never told me how to lead my life. As a child, I definitely remember feeling safe when I was with her. And yet, the adult me has had a long-running, low-grade dissatisfaction with the relationship. It just never lived up to my expectations of what I wanted from the relationship.

And that is the attitude I have had for the past 40 years. My focus has been exclusively on what I didn’t get from her rather than really appreciating what I did get.  So here’s what I got.

I lived in a clean house with clean clothes and a refrigerator full of food. The only real chore I had was making my bed every morning. For one summer, there was an expectation of weeding the garden, but that chore didn’t last long. When I was old enough to drive, I had access to a car any time I wanted.  I never had a curfew and I went to college without any student loans.

The only job I had in the high school was babysitting – it was a regular and well paying gig, but about as easy a job you could have in the 1960’s.

I wasn’t expected to cook, clean up from dinner, do laundry or iron my clothes. I didn’t even hold an iron until I was 11 and that was at a friend’s home.  I was visiting for 10 days and my friend did have daily chores. Since I was staying at the house, I was expected to help out, but when they found out I didn’t know how to iron, the chore became a life lesson.

My mom never said, “You’re wearing that?”

And that is the crux of my problem with my mom. She was disengaged. She provided the essentials but emotionally – she was not the kind of mom who shared secrets or tried to connect on an intimate level. And of course, what I wanted was what I didn’t have.

What I do know is that she loves me. What I do know is that she cares. What I also know is she has no idea how to show it.

One of her more memorable quotes occurred when I was 11 years old.  I asked if I could shave my legs. All of my friends’ moms had very strong opinions on the subject. My friends were all “mad” at their moms who said no razors until they were 13.

When I asked my mom, I got a very different answer.

“If that’s what you want to do.” It’s the same response I got from her when I told her I was pregnant for the first time at age 32.

Another time during this same time period I had some friends over and asked if we could do something in the basement. My mom was sitting in the family room and simply said, “I don’t care what you do, just do it quietly.”

Over the years, I’ve tried to figure out why; of all the things my mom has said to me during my life, those are some of the ones that I remember the most.  Actually, there is another quote that shaped my feelings about my mom. There was the day she said, “I could have been perfectly happy without having children, your dad was the one who wanted kids.”

If she had just said, ‘but once I had you and your brother, I couldn’t imagine how empty my life would have been without you because I love you so much.’ But, she didn’t say that. What I held on to for many decades was that she could have been just as happy without me in her world.

Her words stung. Now, nearly 50 years after that proclamation I finally get it. My mom is an ESL mom. Born in Israel, her personality is completely “Sabra”– prickly and tough on the outside- actually quite sweet on the inside.  Sometimes things are lost in translation. Add to that a personality that is more self-absorbed than supportive or collaborative, and you get a mother daughter relationship that is pleasant and non-confrontational, but without depth or texture.

So no, my mom is not my best friend. She’s never been, never will be, the person I go to for life advice. We don’t share similar interests, our politics are polar opposite, to her, cilantro tastes like soap – to me it’s divine. I love Indian food, Mexican and Thai food, my mom thinks a big fat glass of buttermilk is the perfect dinner drink.

But even with her hands off policy of “Do what you want, just do it quietly,” she informed the mom I am today. And for that I am grateful. My kids didn’t have curfews, they had very few household chores – instead of having to make their beds, and they did their own laundry starting at age 6.

But it’s the things that I felt I missed, that I made sure I did with my kids. So we spent time together in the kitchen – they made the mess, I cleaned up. We went on walks together. We played board games. We fought.

While I never said, “You’re wearing that?” I did give input on what would be appropriate or not appropriate to wear in different situations.

But most of all, I tell my kids what I never really heard from my mom; “I love you.”

Graphic credit: A Pastor’s Cancer Diary

About the Author

Elana Centor Has Written 6 Articles For Us!

Elana’s vision of a world class enterprise providing social media training, coaching and consulting is the foundation of DWT’s conception and development. Her distinguished 30-year career as a marketing expert, journalist, author and social media pioneer gives DWT the authority to succeed.
Getting The Latest Tweet...
Did you know Elana has a blog? Go see what you're missing...
Share With Your Girlfriends and Enjoy:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • email
  • Print
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Google Bookmarks
  • FriendFeed
  • LinkedIn
  • Posterous
  • Tumblr

1 Comment

  1. Wow Elana. Thanks for your story that will surely resonate with so many .. the expectation of what we wanted and what we got. I remember telling my mom that she wasn’t the Donna Reed mom like in “Father’s Knows Best” who seemed perfect to me. I think she laughed and told me I wasn’t the like the perfect daughters Betty or Kathy either. The happy ending is your children have no doubt that they are loved .. and so the next generation benefits. And that is a very good thing!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *