I have never really had the kind of relationship with my mother that I've wanted, or wished for. It is not to say my relationship is horrible, but that it has always been complicated and confusing for me, and I wish it weren't. I find myself trying to push my mom away, pretending that I don't care what she thinks, when really I just want her to love me and be proud of me. How is it that I love her, and I need her, while at the same time, just talking to her can fill me with guilt, anger and shame? We are such completely different people, with virtually nothing in common, that if I didn't see her looking back at me every time I catch my reflection in the mirror I would question if we actually really shared genetic material. But if you asked my mom, she would most likely tell you that we have good relationship. Does she have the benefit of some wisdom I don't, that she has gleaned from being a daughter who has lost her mother? Or does she just have different needs and expectations for our relationship than I do?
I don't think it's that uncommon for mothers and daughters to have complicated relationships. According to a Pennsylvania State University study of middle-aged daughters and their elderly mothers, researcher Karen Fingerman, Ph.D., found
despite conflicts and complicated emotions, the mother-daughter bond is so strong that 80 percent to 90 percent of women at midlife report good relationships with their mothers-though they wish it were better.
-The Mother-Daughter Bond, by Susan Campbell posted at Psychology Today
I don't know what complicates the mother-daughter relationship for everyone else, but I believe that most of the confusion and complications in my relationship with my mom, stems from my sexuality. And for as far back into my youth as I can recall.
As a pretty young kid, I knew that I was different. I wasn't like other girls. I was a tomboy. And not just a tomboy, but for a long while, I thought God had made a mistake making me a girl. I was sure I was supposed to be a boy. For a long time, this caused me great confusion and shame. I thought, how must my mom feel knowing I'm such a weird little freak. It had to be hard for her. How could she love a kid like me? I felt guilty for not being a normal girl, for depriving her of the daughter I thought she wished I was. She never pushed me to be someone else. She never pushed me to be girlie, or to conform to stereotypical gender roles. She let me be who I was. Yet, I still felt that I was a huge disappointment to her, and I carried a great amount of guilt for that.
Though I have always struggled with the guilt of not being the person my mom hoped and wished I would be, I'd say the most challenging times in my relationship with my mother, have been in the years that have followed my coming out to her. While she didn't disown me, or shut me out of her life, and she has always been inclusive of Betty Please from day one, she didn't, and really still doesn't share in my happiness for my relationship with Betty Please. And that really all comes down to her being Catholic. I know that I have broken my mother's heart. I know that she has struggled with being ashamed to talk about me when her friends and family asked about me. I know that she has been heartbroken that I will never marry, and presumably, never have children. It kills me that she grieves for my soul because she thinks I'm damned for eternity, because I'm gay. It both pains me and makes me angry that I have caused her such hurt, because I am who I am.
I've spent my entire life carrying around the guilt of not being able to be the person my mother hoped I would, and wondering if this is the day she was going to reject me and tell me she just can't have me in her life anymore. I've spent years, quietly seething, wishing things were different, letting my feeling get hurt by her Catholic beliefs, and acting like nothing was wrong. I spent so much time consumed by this, that I failed to give her credit or acknowledge the strides she had taken. I have noticed little things lately, like her introducing BP as my partner, but I have said nothing to her about it. I noticed when she added a photo of BP and I to small collection of photos of couples displayed on a hall table, and I said nothing. But I should have.
I'm not sure why or how, because I certainly did not intend or plan to discuss this with my mom, but a few days before Christmas I spilled this all out to her. I told her that it made me sad that she was the one person I wanted to talk to about certain things in my life, but that I felt that I couldn't, that I had to maintain this wall between us. I told her that I was sorry that I could never be anyone but who I am, and that I was sorry that I because I was me, I had caused her pain, grief and shame. She told me that it was very hard, and it has been a struggle for her, but that it has gotten easier for her. She told me that she knows now that I am gay because I am who I am, and it was not a choice. She said she was sorry for anything she ever said or did that made me feel that she didn't love me or was not proud of me, that she always loved me, and always thought that I was just about perfect.
Of course I've always known that my mom is person, who like anyone else doesn't always say the right thing, and doesn't always have the right answer, and who makes mistakes. But I have never really allowed for her to be a person. I have always expect her to be my mom. But on that day before Christmas, I realized that all this time I've been wanting her to accept me for who I am as I person, I hadn't been accepting her for the person she is. Now it is time to let go of all the stuff I've been holding onto all these years, and start working towards the relationship with my mom that I've always wished for. I know we will never completely understand one another, or agree on everything, but that's OK because she'll always be my mother and I'll always be her daughter.
Check out what others have written about the complexities of mother-daughter relationships:
HeatherB, of No Pasa Nada, writes
...they aren't perfect. They make mistakes and piss off their children just as their children have pissed them off. They say the wrong things and make their adult first born child cry and feel shitty and sometimes they don't think before they speak. They're just people.
-read full post Just People.
Ashley D of Turquuoise Ribbons writes
I realized I was having such a hard time describing my mother because I don't fully understand our relationship.
Our relationship is complicated. There are many layers. We both have many sides to ourselves that have emerged to form different relationships within our mother-daughter bond. Sometimes she drives me crazy. Sometimes I really don't like her. Other times I love her more than anyone else. Sometimes I need her. I can't describe everything she means to me.
-read full post The mother-daughter bond
Carol D O'dell, of Mothering Mother and More writes
The mother-daughter bond is resilient.
It's not a warm, cuddly blanket, but a sinuous cord that connects us. At times, it's the jet fuel we need to grow up and move on with our lives. We "use" our mothers. We hate them in order to love ourselves. We swear we will never be anything like them. We despise them when we don't want to admit we despise ourselves. We lash out in words and actions knowing it cuts like a serrated knife. We think it will always be like this-us, way over here-them, way over there.
-read the full post You Don't Have to Like Your Mother to Love Her: The Amazing Mother-Daughter Bond
Vered, of Mom Grind writes
"Regardless of what you do, or what happens to you, I will always love you. There's nothing you can do to make me stop loving you. Even if you mess up terribly, I will still be there for you."
I will always be grateful to my mom for saying this. I didn't mess up too badly. But those few little messes that did happen, proved that she meant what she said.
-read full post A Mother's Unconditional Love
Zoe is BlogHer Contributitng Edidtor (Life-GLBT). She blogs her everyday life at Gaymo.
More from living