A mom, a friend, or both?

I heard something on NPR this morning that made me think about the past with Mom. This was one of those StoryCorps interviews, and a woman was recalling her relationship with her mother, who had recently died. This woman, at about age 30, had told her mother she couldn’t endure any more parental criticism. She said if that was how her mother defined her role, she didn’t want a mother anymore. She wanted a friend. She cut off her mom unless her mom agreed to be her friend. Her mom responded about two weeks later, and they were able to maintain that relationship for the rest of her mother’s life.

I never considered cutting my mom off in that way. But I did find her behavior at times to be completely irrational and unfair. Considering the hands-off way that she raised my siblings and me, she had high expectations of us, or me, at least, as adults to look after her, consider her place in our lives and give her a pretty elevated status. At least that is how it felt to me. But I also lived alone with her after my siblings left for college and moved out permanently. So our relationship might have been different, our bond might have been stronger. And when I was ready to loosen that bond, she didn’t seem to like it.

I think our whole family might have abandonment issues related to Mom. But she has them, too. When I left for college, just 70 miles away, she cried her eyes out. Before I left for my first job after college, moving to Maine to become a newspaper reporter, we had several conversations about how she felt I was abandoning her by moving so far away. We worked it out. I think we both cried when I left. But my marriage may have been what felt to her like the biggest abandonment of all.

I recall so clearly the fight we had when I told Mom I would not spend Thanksgiving with her during the first autumn after I got married. We would be heading to Michigan, where my husband’s family was gathering, and also because a friend was getting married that weekend in Michigan as well. When I informed her of this, she said, “I might as well hang a sign around my neck that says nobody loves me.” I could not believe my ears. For one thing, the Thanksgiving holiday had never been all that meaningful. We ate traditional foods and hosted my aunt, uncle and cousins for the meal. They lived about 50 miles away. And since I had lived in Maine for three years, three Thanksgivings had gone by without my presence, so Mom had started meeting my aunt and her family halfway between their homes for a restaurant meal. This should not have been a big deal. And it was going to be the first of a lifetime of holiday compromises that would be part of the deal since I was now married.

Mom’s self-pity struck something in me that I didn’t even know was there. I had stopped at her apartment on my way home from an out-of-town assignment for my job. It was just a brief stop since she lived between the assignment and my home. And I probably thought it was a good time to tell her about Thanksgiving, which was roughly a month away. I had obviously not predicted her reaction. So when she said that, I began screaming. Really shrill, really loud. I told her I was leaving, I stomped onto the front porch of her apartment, and I was just crying, and yelling, and shrieking. I don’t really remember what I said. But it snapped her out of her own funk and she calmly said, “Maybe you should come back in.” And I did, and I eventually calmed down, and as far as I remember, we parted amicably. I think it startled her to know how strongly I could feel about such a thing – not about Thanksgiving, but about her claim that because of this one decision to spend a holiday away from her, I no longer loved her. We had never even talked about loving one another in our entire lives, and yet she was accusing me of this over something so trivial.

We never really had any other fight like that again. I know it was a milestone for me, to demonstrate to Mom that she could have that kind of effect on me. I really don’t know if she ever thought about it again.

For many of my adult years, I think I could count Mom as a friend. I could talk to her about anything. She knew essentially everything about me, some secrets, because I told her. I knew some of her secrets. I joined her book club for a time and became closer friends with her friends, whom I had known my whole life. I enjoyed this part of my relationship with Mom, and it’s one thing I regret about not having children – I will never enjoy a similarly close relationship with an adult child of my own. Ironically, Mom has now become very child-like. But she will never become an adult child – she is stuck at some young age, one that I can’t really clearly identify. So I’m glad I had time to be friends with Mom before I got this job of taking care of her. It has made the transition easier.

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2 comments so far

  1. Laura on

    Beautiful piece, Emily.

  2. momsbrain on

    Thanks, Laura. It’s funny how certain things I hear or read remind me of single events from the past.


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