9/10 times in my life, my mom has failed me.
I guess I shouldn’t say such things on Mother’s Day.
Which is why I am saying it the day after Mother’s Day.
And it isn’t entirely her fault, of course. Her mother was prickly, emotionally awkward, and not above giving a kid a smack upside the head if she got angry.
Except there never is an excuse to hit your child. (NOTE: Spanking done correctly works. It was the only thing that worked with my daughter when she was two years old. But it so very very very tricky to do right that I cannot say that I unilaterally recommend it).
The part that I keep coming back to is how alone I felt growing up.
Being the only girl, I thought this was normal. That everyone everywhere felt like they were floating in a bubble full of pain with nobody who could help them.
That was my childhood: a bubble full of pain. Even if it weren’t my own personal history, it would make me cry.
I now have a label to place on that hurt: childhood emotional neglect.
I didn’t ask my mom for comfort as a child because it would stress her out and make her feel guilty and then she would also get embarrassed (and if my dad were around, she would feel like she was being judged… because, frankly, she was being judged) and that was a shame spiral you did not want to spin around in.
She would start yelling and making you feel like you were the most ungrateful bit of humanity, beating you with whatever was handy. Spoons, shoes, spatulas, her hands.
So you were in emotional pain and now you are also in physically pain.
You learn to nurse your injuries on your own real quick in such a situation.
I don’t mean to self-pity myself into a corner. It’s just that my mom’s unwillingness to face her own fears and change has cost me dearly in my life, and yet somehow, if you ask her, it’s all my fault that I struggle with feelings of abandonment and unworthiness.
Fuck that. I am worthy. Even when I fuck up. We all are.
Which is why, on Mother’s Day, I focus on what I have done right with my own child.
I know this sounds like I’m bragging, but it more a celebration that wounds can heal.
Because, ask anyone, including my mom, and they’ll say I’m a great mother.
Yep, I’m a gorilla. Deal with it.
So here is some advice from the Ape Mom herself.
- Don’t see your child as less than you. They are your equal, just happening further down the timeline of human history. You need to show them the way to be a good human, of course. But never forget that they will someday be an adult and if you treat them like an underling now, you won’t enjoy them as a peer later on.
- Having a child who is a peer, or becoming a peer (hello, adolescence!) is one of the greatest gifts you will ever give yourself.
- Don’t read parenting magazines; they will make you feel incompetent. Gloss over articles for advice, and reject most of what you read.
- Don’t take it too personally if they say they hate you. They don’t hate you. They love you so much that it hurts and they don’t know what to do with that feeling.
- Always tell them they are loved. Every single day, multiple times a day.
- Ask them for solutions. They want a happy home as much as you do.
- Chores. Make them do chores. Pay them allowance ONLY if they do their chores.
- Talk to them about art, literature, science, math, politics, game theory, sports, etc. Make them put things into their own words. Make them paraphrase without bias. Make them learn new words. Make them explain themselves calmly and with the strength of their convictions. Allow them to get emotional but stay calm yourself and pull them back to that place of civility and start again. They will learn.
Lastly, I wrote a poem for my dearest daughter Mimi, but I have decided not to post it.
She is a sensitive soul with an eagle eye, and it’s my job to make sure she stays that way.
My mom is improving in her old age as well, as she sees the bounty that arises from having a loving mother who actually listens to her child and doesn’t lay a hand on her.
Except to stroke her (pink, half-buzzed, half-floppy) hair. And kiss her crinkled nose.
Instead, I offer this song by Brandi Carlile. It’s where I got the name for the daughter in my novella Hellfire on Horseback.