Around 1981, my mother took a cooperative extension course near her home in Charlotte, NC; I don’t even know what the topic was. What my sisters and I DO recall, though, is that it had a profound, and, from our point of view, negative impact on her.

The message she received from the class was that she was a bad mother. She worked outside the home most of the time when we were growing up. She left her children with HER mother for the bulk of the day. She wasn’t much of a cook – because her mother, who was pretty good, didn’t bother to teach her – so couldn’t share this with skill with her children.

The first time she mentioned this to me, when I visited the family early in 1982, I thought she was kidding. But she brought this up
time and again. In 1984, I remember spending a whole train ride from Providence, RI, where a cousin had graduated from college, to New York City, where we rendezvoused with the rest of the family, trying, and failing, to convince her of her positive qualities.

After a while, my sisters and I developed some pat, and perhaps snarky responses to her ridiculous narrative:
“Mom, we all turned out fine, so you must have done SOMETHING right!”
“You were not around all the time, so we appreciated you when you WERE there.”
“Hey, none of us are in jail. We didn’t end up as mass murderers, or anything. So there’s that!”

This litany of hers went on, off and on, for perhaps a decade and a half; I specifically remember addressing this topic as late as 1996, because I probably said something such, “You have to stop beating yourself up over this! We’re not unhappy with you, but we’re sad that you’re so unhappy.” This wasn’t the first time my sisters and I had said that, but I don’t recall her launching into this particular diatribe, at least with me, again.

Still, I’m pained that she could be so susceptible, for so long, to someone else’s script. I knew that she could be emotionally squeezed by her mother and her husband at times. Still, this (bogus) message from a stranger really stifled her self-confidence at times.

As I remember my mom, two years after she died, I wish she could have listen more to her own voice.
***
Mark Evanier, his mother, her ophthalmologist, and a certain cartoon character, which is a fun story.

6 Responses to “Mom: you were WAY too hard on yourself”

  • thomas McKinnon says:

    I went through a rough patch in my life where I had lots of personal problems, and my mother was always afraid that she would be thought of as a bad mother because of my problems, utter nonsense, but it bothered her a lot.

  • It’s weird how so many times the words of strangers can affect us more—and especially, negatively—than the words of the people who actually know us. I’m sure psychologists have all sorts of explanations, but it seems to me most of us experience it at some time or other. It’s sad your mother carried around that burden for so long. Do you think she ever got past it?

  • Roger says:

    Arthur – she stopped talking about it, after 15 years or so, but I’m not convinced she was ever over it.

  • Deborah says:

    It’s scary how much there is out there to tell you you are an awful Mom. And if you work too…

  • Reader Wil says:

    It’s such a pity that your mom worried such a long time about the remarks of strangers. She could have been grateful that her children turned out so well. Every parent has some doubts about the way they handled a situation in the past.No parent is perfect and no child is perfect either. The most important thing is that you love each other! And that’s what you did.

  • Lisa says:

    Parenting is not an exact science and doesn’t come with any directions! It is sad she thought so little of her contributions to the family. I’m glad you all tried to convince her. I’m sure it helped in some ways.

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