I think it took me longer to realize her imperfections because I never really got to have an adult relationship with my mom. We were never really equal. I come from old school parenting. My mom said to me on more than one occasion, “I’m not your friend. I’m your mother.”
Because I didn’t get the chance to become my mom’s friend, I always saw her through rose-colored glasses. I didn’t want to take off those glasses. I wanted to remember only the good things, but in the end that hurt me, something my mom wouldn’t have wanted.
I never wanted to blame her for anything that happened when I was growing up – it was easier to blame myself. I did not want to take her off that pedestal. How could she not be perfect after her courageous battle against cancer? She was so brave, never feeling sorry for herself, never letting me see how scared she was. Very few people handle anything the way my mom handled cancer – with class and dignity.
It wasn’t until over a decade after her death and years of therapy that I began to see her as regular person capable of messing her kids up like every other parent. She would have never wanted me to see her as perfect; that’s now how she saw herself.
Listen, our parents fuck us all up in one way or another, even the great ones. We all know this is true. Parents are imperfect creatures trying hard to either be like their own parents or the opposite, depending on how they were raised. Guess what parents, whether you admit it or not, you’re going to mess up your kids so just own it.
Parenting today versus when I was a kid is drastically different. My best friend asked me if I thought she was a good mom. I said, “Of course you are. You are present. You play and entertain him. Did your mom play with you?” She shook her head no.
My mom didn’t really play with me either. She played games and cards with me. She gave me plenty of attention and filled my life with activities. But she didn’t get in the floor and play with me. She bought me lots of Barbies and books so I could entertain myself. That’s just how it was. I doubt her mother ever played with her either.
I’m not bitter about any of that. I never felt lonely as a child. I never was starved for attention from her. She was absolutely always there when it mattered. But there were boundaries. She did not coddle me or say I was always right. She was honest with me. She never treated me like a kid. I don’t really remember acting like one very much either. In a way, it felt empowering because I had responsibility and could make my own decisions. In other ways, it created big worries for a little girl. I worried about my mom a lot growing up. I remember worrying about her after my dad left. She was probably sadder about the situation rather than about him. I was really young when they divorced. I have no memories of them together. And to this day, it’s hard for me to picture them as a couple.
My worries for my mom never left and only got worse. It was hard for me to ever mention my stepmother in front of my mom. If I said anything nice, she would cry. I know she didn’t mean to be emotional. And she probably didn’t understand what it did to my little mind and heart. My loyalty was to my mom, which made be less than nice to my stepmother. This in turn caused even more of a rift between my father and me. Even though my father made a lot of bad mistakes and hurt a lot of people, my mom wasn’t helping the situation. It’s really hard to write about what it felt like to be a kid in this situation. Lots of kids have divorced parents. Some handle it better than others. My parents, due to the nastiness of what occurred between them, were in no way co-parenting. My mom was the parent. My father was just somebody I saw now and then. I can’t recall that he ever did anything that would register as parental.
It would have been more ideal if my mom would not have elevated me to adult status so quickly. I was always mature for my age. Maybe I wasn’t ever really a kid. It felt really great that my mom told me things. But it informed my opinion on everything – some good, some bad. This trust made it easier for me to share everything with her. This was until around seventh grade when I hated everything and everybody. Lucky for me, my mom was a teacher at my school. This was the ultimate embarrassment. I didn’t actually have her as a teacher, but my friends did. I couldn’t do anything without her knowing. I had this boyfriend that she adored. She was so mad at me when I broke up with him. I think I did it purely because she liked him. And thus the start of my rebellion!
My rebellious behavior got worse. I was no sweet, innocent girl by any means. Yet it was always important to me that she not know. She let me do a lot and get away with a lot. She trusted me to make decisions then deal with the consequences. She let me date at 14 and spend much unsupervised time with my 18-year-old boyfriend.
Me being open about my life and feelings had ended. I never told her when I lost my virginity or when I cheated on a boyfriend. I just didn’t want her to be disappointed in me. I wanted her to always have this image of me that I was her perfect little girl. I didn’t want to burden her with my worries; she had plenty of her own.
Maybe I did start to see my mom as more human during this time. It’s hard to see your mom sick; especially my mom because she was always so active and athletic. She was six feet tall and could hold her own. Until she couldn’t. Chemo made her weak. She lost a lot of weight and most of her hair. She didn’t look like the same person. So at that point, I knew she wasn’t invincible anymore. That’s a hard thing to learn about your mom, especially at 16. I try hard not to remember her that way. It’s difficult to erase those images. They are somehow burnt into my brain as a reminder of how fragile we all really are.
I know my mom made mistakes every day as a parent. She failed to protect me. She pushed me too hard sometimes academically without really ever asking what I wanted. She let me get away with probably too much. But she loved me fiercely and without condition. I’ve made a lot of decisions based on what I think she would have wanted both during her life and after death.
I still think a lot about the impact she made on my life and what she would do. But I’m my own person now. I’m not her. We are different, very different in some ways. Yet there’s still a lot about me that is absolutely her. I love those parts. I love it when my best friend tells me I’m making a face like her or if I say something that she would have said.
In the end, I think she would be impressed with how I turned out, despite those mistakes. I had an imperfect mother. She was wonderful and beautiful. I’m so glad I had her for the time I did. If I had to do it over again, I absolutely would even though I know how it ends.