This is a guest post by Lilly, a middle-aged stay at home mother who doesn’t know how to ask for this kind of help without pain, angst, crying, and a stressful Thanksgiving dinner.
“Well, I don’t want to horn in, but don’t you think Abby would be happier if you put her in pre-school?”
“I was talking to a friend the other day who told me that this type of fabric for pajamas is HIGHLY flammable. Aren’t you worried?”
“Can I borrow a washcloth? I just noticed your telephone keypad is in desperate need of washing.”
“You’re the mom, so you know best…but do you think letting them eat that is really a good idea?”
“Should the kids really be running off down the street like that? I don’t want to intrude, but there was an attempted kidnapping just one state over last week!”
“Oh, I just wanted to call to make sure you were alright. Your brothers all surprised me with a visit for my birthday and brought me presents, but I didn’t see you. I was worried you might be ill!”
“Oh, I’ll just vacuum and tidy up a bit. I know you’re busy and probably don’t find the time to clean the house much…”
Have I described anyone in your life? I’ll give you a hint. We’ve all got one.
I have enormous love and respect for my mother. She survived raising me, after all. She survived raising six of us! As I grew up and moved away from home, our relationship hit a few snags as we tried to transition from adult/child to adult/adult. I actually thought we had figured it out. 25 years ago, we were getting along like two BFF who could talk on the phone for two hours — me off at college, mom and home.
Then I got married. I had children. I’ve mimicked her life in many ways, some remarkable, some not. I also have six children of my own, I also have a small career on the side, I also don’t like rhubarb. I really thought that having my own family would bring my mother and I closer together. Honestly, I really thought that! I remember excitedly handing my first born daughter to my mother, expecting the rays of sunshine and love to pour down on us as she held my daughter, her very first grandchild. Instead, she burst into tears and exclaimed, “I’m so old and flabby! And now I’m a…a…a grandma! I may as well color my hair blue and go watch Pat Sajak.” No sunshine. No love. Just Pat Sajak.
I’ve covered my pillow in tears over this relationship. I’ve plastered on my smile to attend family functions. I’ve quietly endured lectures and back-handed comments about my deficiencies. I’ve gathered my children in close and cried over how to avoid doing the same thing to them.
Our relationship seems to revolve around a strange need for validation by someone who should have grown past that point a long time ago. She really just wants to still be in charge. I’ve tried to humor her, I’ve tried to please her. I’ve tried to ignore her.
But I love this woman. I love this woman who in her heart wants to be kind and gracious and non-imposing, but in her mind she just can’t find a way to do it. In her heart, she loves to come and play with the grandkids and make cookies and read stories, but in her mind, she just doesn’t like little children. In her heart, she’s coming to my house to visit and catch up and share love, but in her mind she can’t stop pointing out that the baseboards need to be washed and the doorknobs aren’t polished and I still haven’t figured out how to make that roast lamb like I’m supposed to. I see the conflict in her face sometimes. I know she’s struggling through it. I feel sad for her. It makes it easier to tolerate — sometimes.
But other times, I want to rage and holler, cry and thrash, throw a tantrum and slam my bedroom door. In my heart, I know I am an adult, but in my mind I can’t seem to stop feeling like a little kid. I’m trying my best to play grown up, but my mother keeps on reminding me that I’m just a little kid, not ready for the real world.
How do you navigate this complex relationship? Have you found success? Have you suffered failure? Have you found a happy, middle place? And am I the only one that worries about when my adult children will complain about me?