Last week, I saw an elderly woman strolling along, holding hands with a 50-something woman, when I heard the younger of the two refer to her companion as Mom. It made me well with tears. Fluctuating hormones? That part of my life has passed, so it had nothing to do with that. It did, however, have everything to do with being a daughter, something I have 53 years' experience at, though I've only recently figured out how to do my particular job better.
Raising two sons helped, and making the shift from their nurturer to their mentor -- a role I never allowed my mother to take on with me -- did as well. It's a role that's filled my heart with a newfound sense of pride and gratitude, and helped show me what my relationship with her was missing. But it wasn't until I coupled the mentoring experience with research that it changed my approach to being a daughter.
There were reasons we weren't always close, my mother and I, some simple, some more complicated, all significant. As I began reading (for a book project) about the stages of growing up -- about attachment to and detachment from your parents, and their importance to your autonomy -- I found validity for feeling that I had missed some of these critical growth stages to varying degrees. The more I read, the more science helped me fill in the gaps about my childhood and adolescence, put into perspective the role of parents at critical times in a kid's life, and explain why, as an adult, I didn't react kindly to mentoring by my own mother. The feelings I'd harbored for many years have been replaced instead by a willingness to let it all go.
Had the present me met the previous me 20 years ago, and explained what I've since learned about how to be a good daughter, I'm not entirely sure I would have understood it enough to implement lasting change in my relationship with my mother. It turns out that sometimes timing really is everything, at least when it comes to an "aha" moment. You have to be open to receiving knowledge to hear it -- really hear it -- and for some, this takes longer than it does for others.
I am, it seems, a late bloomer.
Now, when I think about the possibility of my mother not being here for me, to answer my questions, to lend support, to stroke my brow the way she once did -- expressing love in more ways than words ever could -- I get emotional, and that's a good thing.
Raising children is a gift. It's also hard work, and harder for some than others. Though love may not be enough to see you through, it sure goes a long way, and my mother had lots -- she just expressed it in ways that as a kid, I could not yet understand. I know now, as a daughter and a parent, that most moms do the best they can with the knowledge they have, the help they seek, and the love they are capable of giving. Accepting these truths makes it easier to see your mother in the real light of day -- not the harshest light, nor the rosiest, but the real light, the one under which you stand as well. Short of your mother being abusive, consider cutting her some slack. Release the hurt and resentment. She has stories to tell and wisdom to impart if you listen carefully, not from a place of anger or judgment, but from a place of love.
Hold her hand, those of you lucky enough to still have your mother around. Hold her hand the way you once did -- before you became a teenager and grew self-conscious and cool. And when you call her name, say it with gratitude for the good she intended. Nothing else matters.