Planning for Love – by Laura
How many of us are as close to our mothers as we want to be? How many of us find friendship with our mother-in-laws? I don’t know of many. I know of too few. For those of us who long for a good relationship with our mothers, what is it about mothering that alienates them from us and us from them? And the most important question: How do we not repeat that in our own children?
I think it’s a grave mistake to assume that just because we sacrifice our time, bodies, lives, finances, freedom, and love that our children will automatically love us back the way we love them. We must ask ourselves; “How do we not repeat our parents’ mistakes when by being raised by them, we were taught their particular values on how to behave, how to parent, and how to love? If children learn by example, how do we unlearn what they have taught us?”
My mother-in-law was here over the weekend to celebrate her grandsons’ first birthday. It was a tough visit for my husband and his sister. They’re not close to her, and they do not speak warmly of their childhood. Apparently, she suffered from depression, and she could often be physically and emotionally abusive during an episode. She would go on religious rants that led to violence like the time she ripped a necklace off her daughter because she believed it was unholy. It was a frog – a cheap, silver charm on an s-chain given to her by a classmate – but to my mother-in-law it was a symbol of the devil, so she yanked it off, leaving a small scar on my sister-in-law’s neck.
The compassionate thing to do is take a look at how my mother-in-law learned to parent. She was raised on a remote farm in West Virginia, and she was the youngest child out of eight children. Her parents frequently left their children to fend for themselves while they went to Bible tent revivals all around the state. She was literally raised with animals. And when she was 18, she joined the army so that for the first time in her life she had three meals a day. She survived 18 years of neglect, loneliness and abuse. But, she did not escape West Virginia any more than she did her upbringing.
Her past explains her parenting. She repeated her parent’s mistakes: physical abuse, religious tyranny, emotional abuse and neglect. After continuing the cycle her parent’s taught her, she cannot understand why her children don’t like her. She thinks her son and daughter are ungrateful for all she sacrificed for them. She thinks they’re selfish. She thinks their dislike of her is due to their own personal character flaws. She denies she ever hit them or mistreated them even though they have the physical and emotional scars to prove it.
My husband and I are determined not to repeat our parent’s patterns. But ,we have hardly a roadmap at where to begin. We can only start by admitting how much we are like our parents, so that we can navigate change. It’s a painful thing for me to do. I confess when I see a mother and daughter enjoying one another’s company I get an ache in my chest. In spite of all of the pain between us, I long for a good relationship with my mother. And I hope my children want that, too. But, as I have learned it doesn’t happen naturally. It’s work. I have to work for their love when they automatically receive mine. My gift is unconditional. Theirs is not. If I can remember this, I think I can succeed. I believe I can nurture a relationship between my sons and me that cultivates both love and respect. I believe we can all love each other well enough. Not just now but 30 years from now. We can love each other well enough.