Why The Fear of Understanding My Mom Almost Stopped Me From Having Kids

I didn't want to know what it felt like to say, "I did the best I could." Because her best sucked, and I wasn't in the mood to soften my position on that.
Publish date:
August 20, 2012
parenthood, moms, bad childhoods

There were lots of reasons I was nervous to have kids. Most of them revolved around labor and delivery: squeezing something that large out of my vagina, not getting my epidural in time, pooping on the delivery table, the usual stuff.

I also had some fears about actually being a mom. Did I have to be friends with people just because we both had kids the same age? Would I become someone who posted prideful pictures of baby's first shit on Facebook? Would I be so blinded by love that one day I would defend my serial killer child despite overwhelming DNA evidence?

Was it possible to keep your dignity, reason and vagina relatively intact after giving birth and becoming a mom?

I knew my life would change when I had children, but how much would I actually change? I didn't even care that much about my vagina, but I liked me!

But perhaps the greatest fear I had was that I would have an understanding -- or even worse, an appreciation -- of my own mother and what she had done for me. Of all the cliches I heard ad nauseum from other mothers, "I really understood what my mother went through and how much she must have loved me" was the one that I couldn't bear falling prey to.

I didn't want to have a newfound appreciation for the way she raised me. I didn't want to know what it felt like to say, "I did the best I could." Because her best sucked, and I wasn't in the mood to soften my position on that.

I do feel the need to clarify something here. I don't hate my mom. But maybe what I do feel is worse. I am almost indifferent about her. I think she would prefer hate. At least then she could shift some of her guilt to me.

Many times she has confronted me with "Why can't you move on from the past?" She doesn't really understand that I have moved on from the past. But moving on from the past doesn't mean that all of a sudden we're going to have a "Gilmore Girls"-style relationship. I don't speak to her weekly, I don't go to her for advice, she just isn't that person for me.

I call on her birthday, ironically on Mother's Day, and usually after she sends me a buttload of crap she bought me with her excess Kohl's Cash. I listen to her go on and on about her menagerie of animals, animals that she takes better care of than she ever did me. I listen to her go through her Dr. Oz-inspired health kicks. I accept her sending me 25-pound containers of coconut oil without a critical word. I never say a mean word to her or confront her about the past. I even remain silent as she talks about how glad she was to have had kids so young and get it over with. That last thing is definitely hard to bite my tongue on, but I do.

My mom had me five days after she turned 17, which she reminded me of anytime I did something irresponsible like sleeping in late on the weekend or complaining about having to clean. "

When I was your age I was taking care of a baby," she would scream. Excuse me for not getting knocked up and dumped by a loser at 16, I would think. I became an expert eye-roller. I chose not to rub it in her face that it was actually my Nana that pretty much raised me when I was a baby. Pesky details like that would really set her off and I had grown weary of comforting her after confronting her with the truth.

If you've ever seen an episode of "Teen Mom," you have a pretty good idea of what my childhood was like, only slightly more brutal and with a lot more exposure to disturbing, ungroomed hippie nudity. A lot of the stuff that went down, I have no problem understanding. I mean, you can't really expect a girl in her late teens and early 20s to make the best decisions. Especially when it comes to picking men.

My mom made really, really bad choices in that department and I'm sure a lot of those bad decisions were because she felt trapped having 3 small kids before the age of 22. So I give her credit for eventually leaving my abusive stepfather and supporting us on her own, even if we were constantly exposed to a series of freeloading (yet harmless) losers.

Yes, we moved around a lot, her sex life left my senses scarred and she put us in contact with questionable people. It was partially the times and partially the fact that I had a mother trying to navigate the tricky balance of being a mom and sowing her wild oats at the same time. Annoying, not something I would do, but whatever. It was what it was.

When I talk about not wanting to understand my mom, I am talking about two specific events, bookends to the worst year of my life, the year my mom sent me to live with my "real" father, a man I had met once. I was 12.

The first thing was how she tried to sell the idea of me living with him. I remember sitting there as she told me of all she had sacrificed to raise me and that it was his turn. She told me about how she deserved to have some time as she had missed a lot of her childhood by having me so young. I could've easily said the same thing to her.

She drove me to airport. I cried the whole way. I remember it was the first time I had ever heard the song "Space Oddity," which was playing on the oldies station we were listening to as we drove. As she rattled on about all the great things my dad had promised to do for me, I ignored her, focusing on every lyric instead. I totally related to Major Tom. I remember vividly her leaving me at the airport that day. I was standing with the flight attendant, clinging to the laminated pass that told everyone I was a child traveling alone. I was still crying as she kissed me goodbye and told me to be a big girl. I watched her walk away, waiting for her to turn around and change her mind. But she just kept going, her purse bumping on her hip with each step, each bump like a slap to my face.

After a hellacious year of living with my biological dad, I returned to visit my mom in NY the next summer. I begged her not to make me go back. She told me that she would have to ask her new boyfriend Richard if I could stay. Even though he said yes, it was those words and the day spent waiting for Richard's decision that really crushed whatever typical mother/daughter bond we may have had. I wanted her to fight for me, I wanted her to tell Richard to fuck off if he said no, I wanted her to do what was right, to choose her children over a man for once in her life. Those were actions that could've changed everything between us.

Luckily, I have an older friend with a grown child who experienced a similar childhood to me. When I told her my fear, she looked at me and said, "If anything, becoming a mom makes you understand even less how they did what they did."

Now that was a sentiment, no matter how petty it might seem, that I could work with.

I had my daughter over two years ago and have another one on the way. Even though my life has changed, I'm still me, so I'm a lot less anxious this time around -- although I'm still nervous about pooping on the delivery table. That's just not right.