Reflections on becoming my mother

Guest post by Erin Human

Photo by Mike Human.
Becoming a mother changes your relationship with your mother. In different ways for everyone, I’m sure — but for me it’s been enlightening in ways that are sometimes almost painful to consider. My relationship with my mom was not always butterflies and rainbows. My parents split up when I was 20 years old, and things were complicated for a few years. Looking back, I know that one significant factor was that at age 20 I had still not developed the maturity and wisdom to wrap my mind around the idea of my mother as a person, with a whole inner life that encompassed a range of thoughts and emotions beyond being my mom.

In the back of my mind I always knew that someday I would have children and that having my own children would bring me closer to my mom again — and it did. “I’m turning into my mother!” is an old cliche, but the actual experience of turning into your mother, or at least of turning into a mother and feeling those echoes of your mother deep in your bones, is so much more complex than the old cliche.

I remember I used to wonder, particularly as a bratty teenager, why my mom couldn’t go ONE DAY without getting frustrated or angry with us. It makes me laugh now as I wonder why my son can’t go ONE DAY without frustrating me. I used to wonder why she spent so much time cleaning the house — I thought it was about keeping everything clean. Now I realize that in the busy life of a mother, cleaning counts as “me time.” As you stand in front of a sink full of dirty dishes, you indulge in the meditative chore of scrubbing plates and let your mind luxuriously wander — maybe you even turn on some music and sing. Your children will let you do this but, mysteriously, they will never let you sit down in a chair and just close your eyes for a moment.

I remember that I looked askance at my mother for not going back to work until after the divorce, but ohhhh how silly I now know I was, understanding absolutely nothing about the work that goes into staying at home with children and the complexity of the choice to work outside the home or not.

I also remember how my mom used to sing to us, and sing along to the tapes we played in the car. I thought her voice was so beautiful and was amazed that she could sing a harmony to any tune; I couldn’t imagine why she wasn’t a famous singer with a voice like that. Now I have a more realistic perspective on that, too, but I can only hope that one day, even just for a year or two, my children will find me as beautiful and amazing as my mother seemed to me back then.

In my adult life I’ve always been pretty independent and haven’t really sought my parents’ approval since I left the nest, so it surprises me how much it means to me that my mom thinks I am a good mother and how much I actually craved validation from her when she was here visiting after the birth of Julius. I wanted her to love my children (she does, of course), and I wanted her to think that I’m doing a good job (she does). I can’t even explain why this is — though I think my mom is a good mother, I don’t idolize her — and yet her approval is deeply reassuring somehow.

I realize how lucky I am that my mom is still alive and well, that the fractures in our relationship have been healed by time and by sweet little baby snuggles. Not everyone is so privileged, I know. My mom is great about not giving me unsolicited advice or challenging my parenting choices. She loves being a grandma but respects the boundaries of that relationship. When she tells me about how things were in her day, it’s as a fellow mother and not as an authority figure, and I so enjoy hearing about her experiences of early motherhood now that I can relate.

I am not my mother (just as my children are not little versions of me). But I hear her when I sing to my toddler the getting undressed song (“hands up, hands up, hands up over your heeeead!”). I see her when I look down at my hands, hands that look so much like hers, stroking my baby’s head. I feel her at the end of the day when I just want to sit down, rest, and be alone for a while. That sense of continuity is what motherhood is all about for me — my mom and me, and my children and me — we are alike but different, attached but separate, connected through time and space.

Comments on Reflections on becoming my mother

  1. i’ll have to send this along to my own mother…we often swap stories of our experiences as stay at home mamas and we both love and cherish that we are able to do that. she often tells me stories of life when she was a child and how different/similar it must have been for my grandma. i love that motherhood connects us, me to my mom, my mom to hers and all mothers together.

  2. I agree that it brings new understanding to one’s relationship with one’s mother. In some ways it makes mine a bit worse because now I understand even less how she could have said and done the things she did, because all I want to do is protect my own little one. But I recently had a revelation that involved suddenly understanding why my parents would be disappointed about me wanting to read in my room instead of hang out with the rest of the family – they legitimately wanted to spend time with me. I didn’t get it.

  3. I never thought of my mother as a whole person outside of being my mother. It’s only now at 29, though I’m not yet a mother myself, that I’m starting to see that, and I’m starting to see it in her relationship with her own mother, my grandmother. I’ve taken over my grandmother’s care primarily but I keep my mother updated and involved and her relationship with my grandmother has become more apparent and it’s complex. I think that, more than anything else has made me realize that I don’t really know my mother. I know parts of her, but I don’t understand her nearly as well as I thought I did.

  4. sitting here with a lump in my throat. that is my baby who wrote that. she is one scary, amazing person and mother. what is more amazing is how wonderful she turned out with having a mother like me! she is the most intuitive person i know. my little gray eyed girl ~ who taught me what unconditional love feels like.
    thank you.

  5. YES YES YES. A lot of this resonates with me, although my circumstances were different. The bit about approval really hits home. I let it slide off me when my mom disapproves of most things I do, but it means SO MUCH that when she comments positively on my parenting. When I became pregnant with my son, I had dreams about telling her every night until I actually did. I was so anxious that she might disapprove of my timing. In reality, she was so thrilled that she was on the verge of tears (rare for her) and in that instant all of my own anxiety surrounding having a child dissolved.

    My mom isn’t perfect (obviously) but it means so much that she is around to see my son. My husband’s mother is deceased, recently enough to be especially heartbreaking, and I’m careful not to let myself forget how lucky I am.

  6. This post fills me with joy and stabs at my heart. My mom died 8 years ago when I was 21, and since having my daughter 15 months ago I’m finding myself missing my mom more than ever before. I totally get what you’re saying about finally understanding your mother as an individual human being and it just kills me sometimes that I can’t tell my mom that I finally get it and that I’m sorry for all the times I didn’t appreciate her. However, those “Oh my god, I’m turning into my mother” moments are really happy for me because it makes me remember how much she loved me, and it’s like I get to experience motherhood through her eyes.

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