MOTHERLESS MOTHERING + WINNING OVER LOSSES
I work a social services job in public school, drive a used vehicle, and serve up cereal for supper on the days it's not frozen pizza night. My second job is an attempt at private practice work. It's occasional and unpredictable. Aside from my natural grey hair that hangs past my 34-year old shoulders, you wouldn't be able to pick me out of a crowd. This millennial mom is just trying to do it all well (but please don't call it a hustle) without glamorous branding or an innovative strategy. It's just me doing the day to day thing in a small-town Canadian city.
And for the first time, I'm not only content, but actually happy too.
It can't have anything to do with money, recognition, opportunity, or actually any improved changes in my situation because, well, things have actually worsened - I made less money, we grieved deeply, and the relationship with my mother finally disintegrated down to its boiling point. The emotional toll of my work forced me to reduce my hours. There's the night I was the last family member to sit at my uncle's deathbed. Then there's the moment my mother quit our therapy sessions: "You're the one who needs it, not me." Not only did I lose a surrogate parent, but my flesh and blood stripped off the fraying twine that was binding up my last bit of hope.
My mother has been drowning all her life - constantly stewed in the past and strewn about by emotions. From her erratic behaviour I thought being the perfect kid would make her the perfect mother. Or at least the one I needed. The roles have been reversed so long that I didn't even recognize emotional orphanhood anymore - leave it to children to see brokenness plainly.
"Mom, was it hard for you when you were a kid?" This question. It came from the back seat and I was unprepared. In a blink, wounds I thought forgotten, rushed forward, and tears threatened to spill the hardness buried there. I'd wondered if the day of her death would bring mourning for the childhood I had or the one I missed out on. "Yes, son. But the good thing is that my parents are good to you." It's the truth. Because no matter how much it hurts to remember, I will not brew generational pain. And should they grieve my mistakes when they are grown, I want them to know the words that make room for fresh starts.
Much of the time it doesn't feel brave or even good. But it's in the win column anyway.
Here's why. We usually think winning has to do with size and we prefer to view our victories as a discrepancy. Like going from nowhere to somewhere, from a nobody to a somebody, but with a definition like that, "success" can only be achieved once in a lifetime and our chances are one in a million. It can also then make our everyday, which is so so far from our dreamy "one day," deepen the disappointment. Discrepancy relies on comparisons between you and I, as well as within ourselves, one of the surest recipes to relational failure.
Ironically, we're more alike than we realize. Half of us grow up to be securely attached adults and about 40% of us aren't. So chances are we sit in one pot or the other and for every woman who bought a "love your mother" t-shirt, almost just as many didn't. There's a whole lot of us then who are parenting insecurely. A friend of mine calls it "motherless mothering" and there's a thesis to be written on Disney's fascination with "the absent mother" central to nearly all its films.
But whatever condition our mother left us in, whatever our experience with this life is, even if it feels like trying to hang on to a sinewy and picked-over carcass, discard the discrepancy. It's not how wide the cavity is that you've come from or how big your platform is now. It's the integrity of the bridge you've built that holds you, not the size of it. And you can only trust the kind of bridge that takes heart-breaking hard work everyday to stay sound. No wishbone or lucky break will give you what your sweat can.
If you're like me, you come from a motherless love. You've been failed, abandoned, and scared most of your life. But being failed doesn't make us failures. Being abandoned doesn't make us bastards. And being scared doesn't make us selfish. There's only one way to mother without a mother: throw our guts into parenthood's hot water and let it disrupt our relational tendencies, predispositions, and templates. It's only when our hearts beat louder than our fears that our shame comes undone.
So right now, hold up your fingers in the V-victory gesture. You got this. Now look at your hand again and I'll do it too. It's no coincidence that it's the same gesture for peace. We got this together.
Written by, Chantal Wiebe