I always write my posts from personal experience, though I am rarely the protagonist. This story is especially personal and, honestly, it feels a bit risky to share, but it’s important, so I’m taking the plunge…
I had the perfect mom. We adored each other and had a wonderful relationship right up until her death four and a half years ago. She loved to laugh and make others laugh, and everyone who knew her relished her company — her children and grandchildren most of all. She was perpetually and reliably loving and supportive. I always felt she was in my corner and my biggest fan.
My mom had only one major flaw: she talked on the phone. How could she ignore us for those ten or fifteen minutes? Oh, and occasionally she went to the bathroom and closed the door (the nerve!). But otherwise my mom was absolutely, incredibly perfect, and I will always, always think so.
Then there was me. I remember a mostly happy childhood, yet it was evident early on that I lacked confidence. Even though I had lot going for me on the outside, I don’t ever remember feeling entirely comfortable in my own skin, the way the children I work with and my own children clearly do.
In my late teens, as my public career began to flourish, my insecurities really took root. Part of my job as an actress was appearing forever cheerful and ‘on’ at parties, publicity events and on the set, all of which I managed relatively gracefully. Deep down, though, I was dying. It was the 80’s, so of course I did my share of drinking and drugging, which had the effect of helping me to feel some false confidence and a comfort that I’d never really experienced before.
I’ll fast-forward through the details, but suffice it to say that at 25 I was an emotional time bomb. When I finally slowed down enough take stock and face my demons, I was flooded by the feelings I’d been avoiding and stuffing away all those years. I wasn’t prepared for the accompanying anxiety, or especially the self-loathing and depression, never mind the panic attacks. I was a mess, and for a long time I cried from morning ‘til night. I cried a river… and I actually think this is what helped to heal me.
After a few years of very intense work on myself, I slowly, slowly began the process of self-forgiveness and acceptance.
But what was so wrong with me?
This whole experience seems especially bizarre to me now that I have a 21 year old who could not be more different than I was at her age. Like my other two children, she is grounded, secure, capable and self-confident.
So again, what was the matter with me?
I got an inkling several years later, and this brings me back to my mother. By then I was happily married with two kids. I was having my daily phone conversation with my mom when she made a comment (in jest, I’m sure) that I objected to a bit. There was an old joke in my family that I was useless in the kitchen. This was certainly based on fact, had been true for most of my life, and I had always happily played along with it.
But since becoming a mom I’d changed a lot. I’d become the responsible person I needed to be. I’d figured out how to cook for myself and my family. I didn’t feel that I deserved the label “pathetic-in-the-kitchen” anymore.
So, although I’m certain I didn’t even raise my voice (because I had never raised my voice to my mother so long as I can remember), my feelings were hurt, and I got a little defensive. I objected to her comment.
She hung up on me. I called her back, but she didn’t respond. I tried again…and again. I left messages. But she wouldn’t speak to me. It took five days, and for those five days my anxiety was through the roof. I couldn’t breathe. I was in a constant state of panic. And strangely, deep within me I knew this place…it was familiar. I don’t remember when or how, but I knew I’d felt this terror before.
Eventually my mom took my call…and neither of us ever mentioned what had happened. I was so grateful and relieved to be breathing again that I would not have dreamed of saying anything that might drive my mother away from me.
My dear mom had never laid a hand on me. Never punished me. Never yelled at me. But she clearly could not handle my feelings. The result was I felt innately bad and wrong for ever having them.
So I’ve made a special effort to accept all my children’s emotions, especially their anger…to let them know that it’s always okay for them to be mad at me. I’m not going anywhere.
I’ve been far from perfect, but the good news is that with kids, we do get points for trying, especially if we confront and repair our mistakes. “I’m sorry I lost my patience.”
We are human, and our kids are incredibly forgiving.
This story and more are in my book:
(Photo by Lance Shields on Flickr)