Difficult Moms

13 May 2012

written by Carolyn


My mother was difficult. For one, my mother hated us making a fuss over her. You couldn’t buy her anything. Buy her an expensive outfit? She’d never wear it. Buy her flowers? She’d smile that I’m-supposed-to-be-nice-but-what-is-this? smile of hers. A few months later, you’d go to her house and see flowers in her garden ten times as beautiful as anything you could buy from a shop.

Shrimp and new underwear was all she really appreciated on Mother’s Day. Even then, she would – or, I should say, might – eat the shrimp, but the underwear would sit in her drawer. Over the course of the year, she would gradually replace her old panties with the new ones, but she never just threw out those old raggely panties , the way we always hoped she would. When she died in August 2009, we found the panties my sister Caroletta had bought her for Mother’s Day just three months prior, still unworn in her drawer. We all chuckled, because no one was surprised she hadn’t worn them yet. My oldest sister Cheryl took them, with our blessing. No sense in brand-new panties going to waste.

My mother was such an outstanding cook that cooking for her – at least for me – was out of the question. I could never cook anything she would find edible. I will never forget her telling me, about some shrimp I cooked in a manner not to her liking: “You can serve that to your kids. I’ll cook my own.”

Whenever I complained to my mother about babysitting issues, she always managed to slip in, “I never thought anyone could raise my kids as well as I could.” She knew that being a lawyer was the reward for all of her fighting to ensure I received a decent education in sub-par Detroit Public Schools. She knew that I, the primary breadwinner in my family, couldn’t quit my job to be a full-time mom. But she couldn’t stop herself from getting those little digs in, whenever she could.

When my daughter was born, my mother came to New York to help. And boy, did she. She stepped in and took over. The baby became hers – much to the baby’s delight, I might add. My mother viewed my nursing struggles as a joke. She looked at me with disdain as I struggled to get my then week-old daughter latched on properly. She watched in obvious disbelief when I had a lactation consultant come to my home. About the recommended football hold, my mother told the consultant, “That’s not how I held Carolyn when she nursed.”

I rolled my eyes. The consultant patiently explained that holding a newborn in the crook of one’s arm worked better with older babies who already knew how to latch themselves on, but not as well with newborns who were having trouble.

“Hmpf,” my mother said. After the consultant left, she told me I was “over-intellectualizing” breastfeeding.

I didn’t invite her to come back to New York when my son was born.

When other women I knew in college and law school quietly spoke of how hard days like Mother’s Day were for them, I had the nerve to join in. At the time, I didn’t understand why women whose mothers had been abusive, or trapped in addiction or mental illness, weren’t willing to welcome me, the daughter of the woman who spent her life fighting for me, into the sisterhood of abused daughters. I wasn’t abused, not even close. My mother was difficult, yes. But she was difficult in the way that mothers who care about their children are difficult. Having a mother who refused to eat my cooking hardly equates to the experiences of a woman whose mother was, and perhaps still is, absent or emotionally unavailable.

Watching my own kids deal with a father who is frequently absent, and who is emotionally abusive when he’s present, has made me more sympathetic than ever to the plight of people who grow up with – or without – difficult parents. I understand my kids’ ambivalence about days like their father’s birthday and Father’s Day. The combination of love, hope, and obligation animating their calls to their dad is heartbreaking to both watch and experience. Each time he resurfaces, we all hope that this is the time that he will finally take his parenting responsibilities seriously. This is when his love for his kids will finally trump his inexplicable hatred for me. This is when he will understand that his children need his consistency more than his occasional presence. When it fails, as it always does, we are disappointed. Each new disappointment cuts less deeply than the last, but does more damage. The scar tissue from prior disappointments is an imperfect barrier that tries to keep hurt out, but which also makes it harder to let love in.

I used to wish I had parents like my friends’ parents. Now, I wish my kids had parents like my parents. I wish my kids had a mother who wasn’t so consumed with her own career obligations that she had more time to focus on their needs, especially as they approach young adulthood. I wish my kids had a father who knew how to let himself care about them without those feelings getting snagged in the net of his twisted feelings about me.

Of all of the parenting failures I’ve committed, failing to give my kids the loving, trusting father they deserve will always be the one failure that bothers me the most.

3 Comments on Difficult Moms

  1. Amanda Michelle Jones

    except you can’t give them a father. you can choose to work on building with a person, but you can’t actually make that person contribute. you did great by choosing not to drag out a relationship that would have kept drama in your kids’ lives 24/7.

    as the daughter of a mother who made the same decision, i can say that your kids will appreciate this, if they don’t already. although we maintain that love & hope, kids do recognize that deadbeat parents are lame on their own, not due to anything the other parent did or didn’t do.

    as always, thank you for sharing & being an inspiration. happy mother’s day!

  2. Karen durant

    Don’t you dare blame yourself for your ex-husband’s failings. You are a wonderful parent and a great example of hope, strength and grace under fire. Your mom was very proud of you, thus the digs. My mom was the same way, for many women of their generation the lives we have now are out of this world. Who knew? Truth is just as the women who came before us, we are doing our best to love, educate and nurture our children. And we are enough. Peace.

  3. Mark Robinson

    I had the most wonderful parents in the world. But I can’t give my kids my parents. I don’t even consider that possibility. I can only give my kids… everything that I have. That’s what is expected of a parent. That’s our duty. And as long as you give your kids everything that you have, you never have to obsess or regret not giving them the things that you do not have.

    I have never met your children, but I have borne witness to your parenting through the chronicles of your writing. I understand what kind of parent you are by the quality and quantity of the ideas you express and the questions you ask and the passion of your journey. Your children aren’t missing a parent. They have all the parent they could possibly want.

© 2017 Carolyn Edgar
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