Monday, March 19, 2007

Tipping the Scales

I just got home from dinner with my friend Liz, the one I wrote about here. She's obviously fragile, but was able to laugh and share ancedotes about her recent hospital experience. I gave her a small, soft teddy bear, which she hugged tightly to her chest throughout dinner. I noticed she picked at her food somewhat, but managed to eat most of it in the end. She has great confidence in her therapists, feels positive about her support system of friends, and is living with a friend who is a psychiatric nurse. She feels safe now, and I feel safer about her. So many of you left such wise and supportive comments regarding my earlier post, and they were all right on. Just being there to listen, laugh (and cry) with her, is the best thing I can do. It wasn't hard, and I've promised her (and myself!) to make sure I do it more often.

During our discussion tonight, Liz spoke quite a bit about her mother, who doesn't know anything about what her daughter has been through in the past two weeks. Liz is adamant that she cannot tell her~at least not yet. Liz's psychiatrist agrees, stating that she does not need any more negativity in her life at this moment, something Liz's mother is an expert at dispensing.

Motherhood has been on my mind recently, I think mostly because of the book I'm reading~19 Minutes, by Jodi Picoult. The book is about a teenage boy, victimized by bullies his entire life, who exacts "revenge" by opening fire in the hallways of his high school, killing 10 of his classmates and one of his teachers. But it's also about the relationship between mothers and children, and the many ways they fail to connect, with sometimes horrendous consequences.


It's an old joke in psychiatry that "it's always the mother's fault." It goes back to Freud, I suppose, or even as far back as Oedipus in Greek mythology. And truly, as much as I hate to admit it, many of the psychological issues that crop up in our lives can be "traced back" in some way to something our mother did (or didn't do) during the course of our upbringing. My husband's relationship with his mother has always been horrible-if you ask him, he'll say she was cold, selfish, demanding, and completely pessimistic about everything life had to offer. Yet I know she thinks she was a good mother, and feels that she gave Jim everything he needed.

As for myself, I would certainly call my relationship with my own mother a good one, but I don't necessarily think it's a healthy one. During that awful time when my father left, my therapist taught me how deeply my mother and I were "enmeshed," and that our "boundaries were not clearly defined." I have always felt much more responsible for her well being than it's healthy for a child to feel, and certainly now as she ages and becomes even more dependent on me, it's harder than ever to maintain any kind of clear boundary at all.

I think so many of the difficulties in mother/child relationships come about because it's so hard for mothers to realize that our children are separate, individual beings, that have unique feelings and reactions which are often completley different from our own. After all, we house them within our bodies, we give them life in the most elemental of ways from the moment of their conception. Shouldn't we then be in sync with their needs automatically? Shouldn't we know how to talk to them, how to respond when they're hurt or upset? Aren't they just like us, after all?

No, they aren't. It takes a long time~if ever~for a mother to accept the fact that this child she thinks she knows so well is really a stranger in many ways. And that's why so many children of all ages find themselves reaching out to other adults when they're in need of help. Sometimes, our own mother's really don't know what's best.

As I sat with Liz tonight, hearing her talk about all the people who have been helping her through this crisis~Ms. D., her high school English teacher; Alice, the nurse she was living with; Stacey, her college roomate; even Mrs. Hoyer, her sixth grade teacher~I was struck by the fact that she wasn't able to name her mother as one of her support system, in fact, wasn't even able to tell her mother what she was going through. I know Liz's mother ~she's not a monster, she's just a hard working, single mom, who I truly believe wants only the best for her daughter, just like the rest of us mothers. I put myself in her place, and I know how horribly sad and defeated I would feel if my son were in that situation and didn't feel he could talk to me about it. But I'm also realistic enough to know that could happen. I know that it's possible to love a parent very deeply, and still not trust their ability to give you what you need during some of life's most difficult times.

So I'm glad Liz has found some caring adults to help tip the scales in her favor, as she tries to get her life back in balance. I hope someday she'll feel able to share this experience with her mom, and that in turn her mom will have the wisdom to respond in the way that Liz needs.

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11 Comments:

Blogger susanlavonne said...

Becca, I'm glad for the opportunity that both you and Liz had to share this evening. Sometimes we are meant to be a bridge, not a mechanic :-)

3/19/2007  
Blogger Shaz said...

I am so glad Becca, I was hoping there would be time for you to feel better about that situation.
I know what you felt in your heart about the feeling of letting her down and I am glad you realised you couldnt have changed that. It sounds as if now liz is getting the help she needs and I am so glad for you both.

Prayers and blessings to you both.

3/20/2007  
Anonymous MissMeliss said...

I'm glad the two of you had this time together - as a new reader of your blog, I'm not up on the story, but I can tell you feel deeply for Liz.

The mother/daughter relationship has got to be one of the most complex organisms of all time. I'm 36 and when my mother visits I turn into a sulky twelve-year-old. It's horrid. Yet, I love her more than life.

3/20/2007  
Blogger Star said...

It's good to hear that Liz has several people who are supporting her through this difficult time. There will still be a lot of sorting out to be done in her therapy, but knowing there are people who you can trust to accept you as you are and walk that path with you is invaluable.

Your kindness to her will be repaid in ways you may never know.

3/20/2007  
Blogger jzr said...

Mothers do get alot of blame and being one myself and also a daughter, it is a complex game. My mom who has lived with us for the past 5 years is now in assisted living and I'm finding huge relief in that. I'm beginning to have my life back and though she has a terminal illness, so is she. We were too enmeshed and it began turning into an unhealthy relationship.

Though I've had no trouble letting go of my kids, I'm learning to let go of my mother at the end of her life. It isn't easy when you are a "fixer" like me.

3/20/2007  
Blogger Tori said...

Becca,
I am glad to hear that Liz has a vast support system.
I think that the mother-daughter relationship is one of the most difficult and complex.
I know that my mother has the best intentions and all her actions are out of love for my sister and I, but sometimes it just doesn't come out that way.

3/20/2007  
Blogger Kimberley McGill said...

You are kind and compassionate - never doubt that. I'm glad to hear that the young woman is reclaiming her life.

3/20/2007  
Blogger paris parfait said...

It's good news that Liz is getting the care and support she needs. And you've written very wise words about how complicated relationships with mothers and their children can be and how sometimes the mother is not the best medicine for a child. My own relationship with my mother has always been strained and she's not the one I'd phone unless it were a true emergency and there was no one else to help. You being there for Liz is very compassionate and sounds like she appreciates your visit and signs that you care.

3/20/2007  
Blogger GreenishLady said...

I'm so glad you have been able to find ways to be with Liz and that there are others available to her to support her too. It is something I am coming to see more and more - that in the absence of a 'perfect' mother-child relationship, we can find ways of creating relationships with others that provide the missing bits, and Liz seems to be managing to do this. You are a special part of that construction for her, and it is great that you are able to be there.

3/20/2007  
Anonymous Bella said...

You're a good friend Becca. I love what the first comment says "sometimes we are meant to be a bridge, not a mechanic". Very wise words.

3/21/2007  
Blogger Tammy said...

I'm glad your friend is doing better and has surrounded herself with a good support system.

Mothers...argh! So complicated and frustrating. Mine was cold and yet my girls and I are more like you and your moms. Drawing boundries is tough!

HUGS

3/22/2007  

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