Everybody knows that a good mother gives her children a feeling of trust and stability. She is their earth. She is the one they can count on for the things that matter most of all. She is their food and their bed and the extra blanket when it grows cold in the night; she is their warmth and their health and their shelter; she is the one they want to be near when they cry. She is the only person in the whole world in a whole lifetime who can be these things to her children. There is no substitute for her. Somehow even her clothes feel different to her children's hands from anybody else's clothes. Only to touch her skirt or her sleeve makes a troubled child feel better.
---Katharine Butler Hathaway
I do not remember ever feeling this way about my mother. Her personality and mine were so distinctly different that I rarely, if ever, felt the blissful connection between mother and child that is so highly lauded in our society. She loved ruffles and ribbons and layers of lace; I abhorred scratchy, itchy, dresses. She was highly emotional and very expressive; I was highly reflective and extremely reserved. She dressed me in bright red as often as possible; I loved blues and greens. She seemed to live for church activities and get-togethers; I despised Vacation Bible School. She went to nearly every school activity in which I was ever involved; I craved my own space. In short, she was (and is) an extravert's extravert, and I am a dyed in the wool introvert. The things that to her were the epitome of comfort and joy were nothing short of trial and torment to me, and our relationship was considerably rocky for a long time because of it. There were other rather pronounced difficulties, oh yes. Still, even those were exacerbated by her natural affinity for living in the outer world and my rather plain-spoken distain for it, by my bone-deep need to dwell first in the depths of a quiet inner world and (what seemed to me) her oblivion and utter disregard for that at all. For years she kept battering away at the walls I'd purposely built to keep her at a "safe" distance, never really seeming to understand that her efforts only necessitated thicker walls. For years I battled anger, bitterness and, yes, hatred--of her and myself both--as well as guilt that she would never be the mother I was sure I'd needed, and I could never be the daughter she wanted.
I forswore motherhood altogether by the time I was eleven or twelve and felt no small relief in doing so. Already by then I was investing much of my identity in my thought life and academic achievements and interests. No children would mean more time to read, more time to devote to writing. Also, already struggling with depression, I reasoned my decision would spare whatever children I might have had, from life itself, which I considered to be very little short of misery incarnate. My mind was made up. My life would be my own, and I would not use it to create and be part of the tearing apart of someone else's.
Then I met Great Scott, and somehow, I ended up with two daughters who think I am the be-all, end-all of motherhood, an unlikely and unlooked-for grace, for certain.
Our twelve year-old gave me a hand written card this morning thanking me for being there for her "in troubled times" (she's beginning to hit the high hormone stage, and we spent some time drying tears after bedtime last night), and our newly nine year-old's card expressed her hope to someday "be like" me (a thought that causes sheer terror to rise in my throat, I assure you). I know that adolescence may bring more troubled times. Already the mothers of my older daughter's friends compare notes about difficult attitudes and increasing relational struggles. I'm bracing myself, but so far I'm nothing but touched and humbled by our girl's (by both our girls') love and regard, a love and regard for and in a relationship with which I've had no former experience and which, in truth, I could never deserve.
And my relationship with my own mother now? Improved. No bitterness; no hatred. I learned to express and enforce some of the boundaries I need in ways that acknowledge her good intentions and affirm her for them while still holding my ground. She began to recognize that my need for space isn't an indication of rejection, and assured of this, she seems to have less need to push. That's been a good starting point. It's made all the difference. We laugh now about things that would have been cause for dissension in the past: "When I'm old," she told my sister a couple of years ago, "I'm coming to live with you. Cindy would make me behave!" It's one of my favorite stories.