The Loveless and In-Lawlessness — by Laura Houston
My mother-in-law has been here for the past few days. I get along with her OK, but I don’t have any history with her, so it’s easier for me. My husband and his sister have different experiences with her. My mother-in-law is abusive to her children, and she has been since they were young children. She lashes out at them in pain and fear, and now her 78-year old body weighs heavy with regret, sorrow, fury.
She is almost entirely unlovable because of her behavior. Abused and neglected herself, she grew up in Appalachian poverty and Christian fundamentalism. And like many of the women in her generation, she married her husband in order to fix her situation, and when her husband did not turn out to be a white knight, she got pissed. Really pissed.
This is not a new story. I think we’ve all watched the Sunday Night Movie on some women’s cable channel relaying this same pattern of abuse. But it makes me wonder something: what will it be like for my sons and me when I am 75? Will they resent me? Probably. Will they avoid me? I hope not. Will the hate me? I’ve got no one to blame but myself if they do.
So as I go about watching my mother-in-law and my husband interact, I keep asking myself how do I not fall into the same behaviors my own mother, as well as many other angry, bitter, disappointed mothers fell into? How do I prevent alienating myself from the love and respect of my children? I know education and self-awareness play a huge role. Counseling never hurts. But there is one thing that bothers me: so many mothers say they are not going to repeat the mistakes their mothers made. But sure enough many of them do.
My friend and fellow parent Jason who is a member of Al-Anon says that in order to prevent it from happening, you have to admit it. You have to admit how much you are like your parents, and that their behaviors are imprinted in your brain. By acknowledging what you share in common with your parents, you know what you are up against in life, and you can fight it.
I’m sure my mother set out with the hope of being loving and close to her children in her old age, but somewhere along the line, just like my mother-in-law did, she became caustic. Gradually her behavior chipped away at the love I had for her. I learned to care for her less, if at all sometimes, out of self-preservation.
Perhaps right now I am just at the stage of motherhood where the disappointment eludes me, and I am still full of hope. Perhaps in time disenchantment will settle in like it did with many mothers who went before me. If it does I have to meet it with grace and compassion for my children, my husband and myself, and I fear I might do what I usually do and barge ahead thinking it would never happen to me. And that’s that kind of conduct that pretty much guarantees it will.