Mothers and Daughters

Something I’ve learned over the last, say, 10 years or so is this: no matter how “good” you think your relationship is with your own mom, it’s always complicated. [Can I get an amen?]

My mom is great in a lot of ways. On the spectrum of potentially crazy mothers, I really lucked out. She’s not a lunatic, she’s not emotionally needy, she’s not a lot of awful things. And, for that, I am grateful. But she’s my mom, and as I’ve heard said before, she knows how to push all of my buttons because she’s the one who installed them.

At one point during our very brief visit, the question kept sounding in my head: “do you actually like me?” OK, that’s perhaps overly dramatic. I know my mom loves me. I don’t think she actually dislikes me. And yet, it’s hard to shake that question. Maybe it’s better phrased by wondering if she’s disappointed in me. Because my life doesn’t look quite like her life, and I’m pretty sure she thinks it should.

I feel her dissatisfaction with my home. She is a perpetual-motion home-improvement machine, and she can’t be without a project. She always wants to help me get organized. Or decorated. Or cleaned. My house isn’t a pig sty or anything, but there’s some degree of clutter. I’m not a great housekeeper, and sometimes things just fall where they may and the mess gets away from me. I really do think she’s trying to help me, but I feel the twinge of disappointment.

And then, there’s the issue of food. My mom is a very good cook, and I absolutely got my love of cooking and baking from her. I also, though, got my weight and body image issues through her. My mom isn’t skinny, and has worked at various points in her life on losing some weight. But she eats pretty darn healthy these days and gets a lot of activity, so she doesn’t seem to have any issue maintaining a reasonable weight right now. I, on the other hand, have struggled my entire life, and continue to do so. I remember very clearly when my mom took me on a number of occasions to a nutritionist. When I was about eight years old. Since then, I’ve never not been dealing with my weight. This is connected to the fact that I still sneak food. I eat in secret, because I know my mom will tell me not to. I’m nearly 30 years old, and even though I’m hungry (and an adult!), I won’t take a second helping of dinner, because I know my mom is watching. She might not say anything, but she’s watching. Watching how much I put on my plate, watching my fat ass in my plus-sized clothes. And she’s disappointed.

And though she lives 1,000 miles away, and has made it known that she hopes I might move back to Chicago some day… she arrived on Tuesday and left for my aunt’s house (her one sister who lives in Massachusetts instead of Chicago) on Thursday. Two days. 48 hours with me and the grandkids. On the one hand, I know his isn’t that different from my own struggles with balancing family visits. More than one person you want to see in a very short period of time. But still…

It wasn’t, of course, all bad. It was nice to have extra hands, and my mom is great with the kids. She’ll play peek-a-boo, sing songs, and read Brown Bear six or seven times in a row, all with accompanying animal sounds. She thinks the kids are great (and they are, of course!), and loves to do anything and everything with them.ย  And one thing I am very thankful for is that she has not been at all critical of my parenting. Mealtimes are when I say, naptimes happen like they’re supposed to. I do appear to be doing something right, and it’s something important. And her crazy organization/project thing does mean some legitimate improvements were made. Things I had long been meaning to do got done, plans were made to rearrange my den in a productive way (more on that later), new lamps were purchased, tasty dinners were made.

I guess this also got me thinking about the fact that I now have my own daughter. And I know that, despite all best intentions, I will make her a little crazy, too. Like it or not, I will push the buttons that I created. I’ll try my hardest to draw an appropriate line, but I know that mothers and daughters will always be complicated. I suppose the best I can do is, when my own daughter is an adult and a mother, I can try to remember what it’s like to be a daughter.

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5 Comments

Filed under Family, Just me

5 responses to “Mothers and Daughters

  1. You get THREE “Amens” for this, Liz! I agree 110% that mother-daughter relationships are ALWAYS complicated, no matter how close or great they are. Maybe it’s because moms just want their daughters to have better lives, or be new-and-improved versions of themselves, or not to repeat the same “mistakes” they made. Or maybe it’s as simple as the fact that it’s hard to lose control and realize your children don’t need you anymore. Now that I have Jack, I sometimes get wistful thinking about the not-so-distant day in the future when he won’t want or need me to pick out all of his meals, his clothes, his activities, his toys. I imagine it would be worse if I had a daughter, because I would be more familiar with the life experience she’d go through, and more likely to weigh in with unwanted opinions or judgments.

    I think that moms just can’t help it when it comes to their daughters. I felt like you were inside my head, describing my thoughts, for most of your entry. When my mom comes over, it’s great, but she’ll spend time wiping off the inside rim of our trash can, and cleaning the microwave door, and dusting our windowsills. After she uses the bathroom, I find that everything is suddenly cleaner than it was before. She never says, “Oh, God, Beverly, your house is a mess!” but it nonetheless makes me feel self-conscious when she’s rushing around with a paper towel or sponge, after I’d just spent a couple of hours picking up the apartment. It feels like it’s not clean enough for her, or that she feels as though I ought to keep things nicer. Also, whenever I know I’m going to see my mom, I take extra care into my outfit, anticipating things she might say, like, “That makes your butt look big,” or “That’s too low-cut.” As a result I often put more thought into my outfits on days I’m going to see her than when I’m, say, heading out on a date with Johnny or to an important client meeting. Food is an issue with us, also. I’m the biggest girl in my family. Please don’t laugh; I know it sounds silly, but it is true. It feels awful to know that although other people view you as a fit woman, your family looks at you as though you carry an extra 100 pounds. Just a few months ago, my dad jokingly called me his “plump little pig.” It doesn’t matter that you fit into a size 4 when your sister is a 00, and your mom complains that she’s “fat” when she weighs 110 at age 54. Anyway, it’s been pretty much this way all my life, so when I eat in front of family, I also tend to watch what I put on my plate. Johnny finds it puzzling how I’m always eager to please my family, my mom in particular, and why I have to care so much about these little things when I should be able to let loose around my family, the way he does with his. Problem is, his family is his parents (who are ultra laid-back), him and his brother. Men definitely don’t have the same dynamic with their moms!

    (Wow, I just realized that my family probably sounds awful. You know how it is, though — I love my family; they are awesome. I’m very close to them. But there are definitely complications in my relationships with them, especially with my mom!)

    To end my novel, I just want to say that I really liked what you wrote in your last paragraph:

    “I suppose the best I can do is, when my own daughter is an adult and a mother, I can try to remember what itโ€™s like to be a daughter.”

    That earns another three Amen’s. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. I remember what else I was going to say! I think it’s amazing that you balance everything you do while taking care of two infants all day. The fact that you keep your house picked up (who cares about a little clutter?) and that you get food in your mouth is good enough for me. I know on days that I am on solo duty with Jack (mostly on weekends, if Johnny has to be at school for a project), all dreams of cooking, exercise and housework go right out the window!

  3. Marci

    Yeah, you just about summarized my relationship with my aunt and my grandma (no mom as you know but they’re good subs). By the time their Christmas visit ended, I was getting ready to shoot myself. Enough about the virtues of tablecloths already – I didn’t buy a gorgeous hardwood table to cover it up. They drove me bananas in all the same ways and like Beverly, I too watch my food, my clothes, etc. when they’re around and was deathly terrified of what they would have to say about my giant for NYC standards apartment (since they have no idea what that means and 1100 square feet is a studio to some). The one thing I have learned from having a MIL though – she’s just as bad but I don’t feel comfortable telling her to stop what she’s doing because she’s driving me crazy and I’ve always been able to do that in my family. Not that it stops or works in the least bit, but I thankfully have always been able to release my tension to them and I can’t do that with her. Thank god we had the forethought to follow up that visit with a vacation ๐Ÿ™‚ It was coming from both sides over the holidays and I was close to committing myself in an institution!

  4. Very insightful post…most people don’t talk about sneaking food, feeling odd eating in front of your family or the mother/daughter dynamics. I echo many of your sentiments, and yet have a wonderful relationship with my mom. I don’t think our relationship would be any better if I were thinner, but I think it might be a bit more honest if she wasn’t so focused on weight. She is very thin, but makes the people around her hypervigilant and unsure of how she views them. She is absolutely one of my best friends though. I sure hope Faith and I can be friends when she is an adult!

  5. My mom left us when I was 5 and, since coming back into our lives, I’m constantly analyzing our new found mother-daughter relationship. It’s odd to say, but after reading your post, I think I am the one who always seems to be disappointed, not vice versa.

    When she comes for a visit (or we visit her), she tries to help, but in my book, she’s always doing something wrong…or at least, not quite right. Of course she knows how to diaper a kid. And feed a kid. And make sure the kid doesn’t run into the street…but for some sad reason, the way she does it just isn’t ‘good enough’ for me.

    It’s horrible that I have such a grudge against her for leaving that I’m still holding it over her head …after all these years. It never used to bother me, but since becoming a mother, it was as if she could do nothing right in my book. I really try to be positve and thankful, but there is this feeling in the pit of my stomach that makes me wonder how on Earth she could ever leave her children. And while she’s reading Brown Bear to Finn and Reid, I don’t think “What a great Grandma my boys have!”, I think, “Is she going to leave them like she did me?”.

    It’s refreshing to read someone else’s take on the dynamics of a mother and daughter. Even better to know that I’m not alone in my…complications! ๐Ÿ™‚

    I haven’t been visiting all of my usual blog friends lately, hence the e-delay…I’m just now getting around to commenting on your past posts. You’ve been busy the last few weeks!

    P.S. I hate those run-to-make-sure-the-kids-are-still-alive dreams. You just have to get up and putter around the house to rid yourself of the dream…that and check on your kids every minute for the rest of the night. I hope that you got some sleep!

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