Dear Dana is a bi-weekly advice column for humans who engage in romantic relationships. Please send your dilemmas, issues, conundrums, assumptions, conflicts, anxieties, worriments, obstacles, complications, predicaments, queries, questions, and any other synonyms for “problems” to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This past Mother’s Day was rough for me because I really don’t get along with my mother and this was the first Mother’s Day where we didn’t talk. I have good reasons for cutting her out of my life. She is manipulative, never takes me seriously, and basically I have to agree with everything she says in order to have a pleasant conversation. She also took out a few credit cards in my name while I was in college that I’m still working to pay off, but she feels entitled to that money and doesn’t apologize when I bring it up. She says, “I raised you, what’s a few thousand dollars after all the money I spent on you?” I’m tired of being submissive to her and I found that, most of the time, my life is better without her in it. But now I’m doubting myself. I’m pregnant with my first child. My cousin said, “You’re going to miss her after she dies,” and “Your son deserves a grandmother,” and now I don’t know. I’m about to be a mom — how can I do that when I’m treating my own mom this way? It may be hormones, but I’m really torn up about the idea of my child not wanting to speak with me anymore and how bad that would feel. Should I try to reconcile with my mother?
Moms are Hard
Dear Moms are Hard,
I mean, moms are hard. When you become a mom you go from being wholly responsible for only yourself to literally sharing your body with another living being. Even after you give birth, your body has to heal and, if you breast feed, you’re still sharing it. Your time is no longer your own and something as simple as taking a shower becomes an extreme luxury.
But, having a mom is also hard. Our moms own part of our hearts – theirs were the first voices we heard, the first arms that gently rocked us, the first to give us food and hold us close. The bond between mother and child is so very close that trying to create space in it, even when that space is a very healthy boundary, can feel like a violation. “This is your mother,” society says. “She did everything for you, of course you should do everything for her.” But, actually, society is wrong because a person can never, ever, ever pay their mother back. You just can’t. You can’t settle a debt that includes sharing someone’s body, ruining their sleep for months or years, and being wholly dependent upon them for food and shelter and comfort. And because no one can ever pay back that debt, part of being a mom is to never ever fucking send your kid to collections.
For Mother’s Day, my kid painted me some pictures. That was nice of him, and it in no way makes up for the fact that I now pee myself if a sneeze catches me unexpectedly. But that’s OK because it doesn’t have to. Kids don’t have to repay their mothers. That’s part of the deal – you bring a child into this world without even asking them if they want to be here first and, in return, you understand that they don’t owe you anything.
Which is a long way of saying: Your mom is wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrongy wrong featuring the wrongettes. She has power over you because she is your mother, but she’s not wielding that power responsibly. When you have small children, they have no choice but to live the life that you lay out for them. They have to follow your rules, abide by your whims, and deal with it if you aren’t fair, or patient, or nice. But then they grow up, and grown-ups 100% get to decide what type of lives they lead and they get to decide who they allow into those lives.
You have another whammy coming, though: You’re about to have a child. Having a child has a way of taking all of your old, stowed away, unresolved feelings about your family and pulling them into the light. When you have a child, you relive your childhood, only this time from the perspective of your parents. You learn about a whole new side of life. You’re about to find out all of the tiny, vital things that your mother did for you in your first years. Everyone knows that new moms don’t sleep. Everyone knows that taking care of a baby is hard. But there’s a whole shit ton of different between being theoretically aware of these facts and experiencing them yourself, first hand, every single day.
Your feelings about having cut your mother off may become even more complex after your child arrives. But I want you to allow yourself that ambivalence. Allow yourself moments of doubt, and sadness, and grief. But also, think back to the moment when you decided to cut your mother off. Where you anxious, angry, flustered with emotion? Or were you calm, cool, suddenly certain of what you needed to do? Most big decisions come to us in those calm moments, the eye of the storm, when you finally achieve a clarity hard won from being disappointed time and time again. You know that cutting your mother off was the right thing to do. She emotionally manipulates you. She stole money from you. She doesn’t respect, or even acknowledge, your point-of-view. She doesn’t care about your happiness. What evidence do you have that anything would be different this time?
Milestones are hard. The first time you miss a holiday, or a birthday, you will feel that tug back toward her. You’ll miss her. You’ll want to reach out. Your cousin definitely didn’t make this past holiday easier for you, whispering those talking points that I’m sure came directly from your mother into your ear. Your mother has trained you to not trust yourself. Please, trust yourself. Remember, you cut her off for a reason. You feel better without her. Also, maybe consider not talking to your cousin that much anymore.
Good parents don’t steal money from their children. They don’t belittle their children, and they don’t refuse to acknowledge their child’s feelings. Good parents understand that a relationship between a grown child and their parent is no longer mandatory – it is a choice. So, if you behave badly, your adult child is fully within her rights to not speak to you anymore.
You can’t make your mother happy. It’s also not your job to make your mother happy. It’s your job to make yourself happy and to care for and protect the new soul you’re bringing into the world. Take what your mother has done, and invert it. Make sure that your child never feels the way your mother made you feel. Parent the way you wish you had been parented. Show your child what unconditional love really is.
Dana Norris once went on 71 internet dates, many of which you may read about here. She is the founder of Story Club and editor-in-chief of Story Club Magazine. She has been featured in McSweeney’s, Role Reboot, The Rumpus, and Tampa Review and she teaches at StoryStudio Chicago. You may find her on Twitter at @dananorris.