Afraid of becoming our mothers.

thToday is Mother’s Day, a time when many bloggers will wax sentimental about their moms and how they hope they can give their kids the same kind of magic.

Not me. I’m going to talk about regret.

When I was a kid, my mother and other female relatives would sometimes tell me, “Have fun while you can.” I knew what they meant. I’d already observed that for women, life ended after marriage. With the wedding ring came the assumption that even if you had a job, your home and family were more important.

This was during the late 1960s and early 1970s, when women’s roles in society were being called into question. But the women I knew had always worked. My maternal grandmother and aunts had sweated as field hands, cooked in cafeterias, toiled in tomato canneries; my mother was considered a success because she worked as a secretary in the glass factory instead of standing on its concrete floors eight hours a day to inspect and pack bottles. Other relatives and the mothers of my friends worked in dress factories, provided child care, drove school buses, took in sewing, gave piano lessons.

It was the middle- and upper-class women who had the luxury of arguing for liberation, which for them meant equality and fairness at work and at home. Among my kind of people, “having it all” meant doing it all. I saw the same dynamic over and over: When a man and woman got home from work, the woman headed for the kitchen and the man headed for the couch. After dinner, the men usually did things they wanted to do. The women did everything that needed to be done to keep their households running for another day.

What we girls saw was that women had no power. Their examples, spoken or unspoken, felt like inculcation. We did not want to be like the women we knew, helpless and/or devalued and/or saddled with all the responsibilities. So although they might have had useful advice to offer, we couldn’t listen. We were afraid of becoming our mothers, a running societal joke.

Ever heard a woman in a department store say, “That’s something my mother would wear”? Ever lamented with friends about the first time you opened your mouth and heard your mother’s voice coming out of it? And certainly motherhood is perennial fodder for comedians, who know that barely veiled hostility toward their own moms won’t be seen as disrespectful because, after all, everyone has a mother.

Apparently all mothers are alike. Martyr, fixer of everything, absorber of all of life’s blows, general drudge and ultimate laughingstock – who would willingly assume such a mantle? It’s no wonder we run like hell. But we can’t run far or fast enough.

“Girls like you don’t go to college”

I wish I had been able to understand my mother’s life, rather than judging her for what I perceived to be its lacks. During early childhood I was always afraid of doing something to upset her. As a preadolescent I longed for nurturing but had long since been trained to be self-sufficient. As a young teen I was critical of her, especially after she and my dad split up and I was left to run the household.

Throughout the divorce I was furious with her, unable to understand the parallel tracks on which her and my father’s lives had run for years – or the possibility that she might have wanted more out of life than just putting out familial fires. As a dangerously sick mother-to-be I was simultaneously grateful for her help and angry to be in what I perceived as a position of weakness.

I couldn’t really comprehend how hard her life had been from the first breath onward. She was the tenth child in a family of field hands plagued by hunger and poverty and violence. Mom likely remembered (but never spoke of) the two-room Tennessee cabin that had housed 10 people before the family headed “up North” to work in fields and factories. She was not quite six at the time.

My maternal grandmother died when Mom was 13. The oldest sister used the insurance money to buy half of a duplex, a place that had four rooms plus attic, but no bathtub or shower. My early memories of that home are mostly olfactory: cigarette smoke, cooking fat, kerosene, snuff, imperfectly washed bodies. It was poorly lit and old bedspreads covered worn spots in the furniture. In the winter, cold winds rattled the plastic sheeting that covered the windows.

Her siblings left school after fourth grade, sixth grade, ninth grade; somehow Mom finished high school, even though no one in her family showed up for graduation. She wanted to take college prep classes but a guidance counselor told her she couldn’t: “Girls like you don’t go to college.” So she took business English and business math, and worked as many hours as she could get each week in the five-and-dime or the army-navy store.

At one point the school got her a part-time secretarial job, but Mom left it because “my boss couldn’t keep his hands to himself.” She took a lot of grief for quitting the job, but kept silent about the reason. Later another student who took the job was also sexually harassed, but complained about it. My mother was called in and asked, “Did this happen to you too? Why didn’t you tell us?” Mom said, “Would you have believed me?”

As my Aunt Dot once told me, “Your mama never did a thing except go to school and work.” The biggest event of Mom’s life was a short trip to New York City with a school club (the future secretaries of America, or something like that). As far as I can tell, it was the first time she ever had a bath in a real tub.

Seven months later, she would have her first child; a year and a day after that, she’d have her second. During my pregnancy I caught her staring at me with a wistful look in her eye. “I have a hard time believing you’re old enough to have a baby,” she said. “But when I was your age, I had two.”

She could never get things clean enough

For my mother, cleanliness was not just the next thing to godliness – it was a measure of the distance she’d put between herself and her past. As a child she’d vowed to herself that when she grew up she would have a nice house. A clean house. Her kids would never be ashamed to bring friends home.

Our place wasn’t huge. The downstairs consisted of living room, kitchen, my parents’ bedroom and the “radio room,” a small cave off the living room that held my father’s ham radio equipment. The upstairs was one bedroom shared by two sisters and me; above that was the attic that Dad had finished off to make a room for my brother.

Over time it became a museum of the middle class, with my mother as its ferocious curator. The living room carpet was, of course, wall-to-wall. The furniture was from Sears, a style called “early American,” although it’s doubtful that the Founding Fathers sat on couches upholstered in tweedy pea-green fabric or stored their Bibles in end tables whose drawer pulls were just for show.

A bowl of plastic fruit sat on the coffee table. The bowl itself was made of milk glass; so were a couple of vases and a candy dish that rarely held candy. At Christmas my mother put out a green pillar candle with a ring of plastic holly around its base. The candle smelled like bayberry – or would have, if we had ever burned it. But in Mom’s world candles were for show, not for use.

Her kitchen was as immaculate as an operating theater. The waxed floor shone. Dirty dishes were never allowed to accumulate. Both sinks were scrubbed after every meal. One drawer was devoted entirely to Tupperware lids; the Tupperware bowls stacked in a cupboard were proof that my mother was no longer the little white-trash (her words) girl who cut asparagus and picked tomatoes, the girl who had two dresses (“one on, one off”) that she pressed with an iron heated on the stove, the girl whose father drank and hit his wife and children.

Look how far she had come. Look how not-her-family she was. Just to be on the safe side, Mom regularly soaked the Tupperware lids in a sink full of bleach water. Clorox was her favorite fragrance. She could never get things clean enough.

Why did you leave?

Mom always swore that her kids would have more than she’d had. How galling it must have been to have two daughters give birth out of wedlock and then struggle financially, and an artistically talented son barely out of his teens get his girlfriend pregnant and have to become a prison guard to support his new family. Her other daughter might have wound up the same way if not for infertility.

I was working as a typesetter and proofreader in Philadelphia when I got pregnant at age 20. Near-constant morning sickness left me so weak I could hardly walk. When I took the bus down to South Jersey to tell my mother I was pregnant, she took one look at my gaunt-and-ghastly self and begged me to move back home. In time I accepted – and almost immediately regretted the decision, because Mom began to pester me, gently but persistently, to look for a permanent job in the area instead of commuting to Philly by bus with an eye toward moving back there.

Yet she seemed afraid to press too hard, e.g., to attach an ultimatum like “If you don’t look for work here, you’ll have to leave.” Maybe that’s because she thought I would leave. I certainly considered it. In the end, we both danced around what we really wanted to say, pushing it all back behind the other un-discussed hurts in our recent history.

Looking back, I can see what Mom was probably thinking: How are you going to manage without help? What if you can’t pay your bills? What if something terrible happens to you in the city? And, maybe: Why are leaving me? Will you ever forgive me for leaving you?

I can see what I wanted to say, too: Why did you put us through all that? Why couldn’t you and Dad have worked out the divorce decently? Can’t you see that I am where I am because of all of that?

And, surely: Who are you to tell me how to be a good mother? If you cared so much, why did you leave?

The pregnancy was the perfect distraction, both for her and for me. I used the baby not as a weapon but as a shield, something to deflect the sorts of discussions I didn’t want to have – either with her or with myself. In fact, I distinctly remember thinking, “If I wanted, I would have an excuse not to make anything of myself for the next 18 years.”

That wasn’t what I wanted, and I knew it. But I didn’t know what I did want, except maybe for my mother’s attention. I was about to become a mother myself and I still wanted her to brush my hair and put it in ponytails, the way she used to do when I was 10 years old. Yet I just couldn’t let her in. Whenever she tried to talk about anything real – the pain of labor, the changes that children bring to your life, the need to be practical and get a job at the county courthouse – I would find a way to change the subject.

I especially didn’t want to hear her when she talked about her memories of us as babies and how much she loved us when we were little. Sardonic responses like “Sure wish you’d let us know” or “Except when we were selfish enough to run high fevers or spill something” kept leaping into my mind.

I felt a mix of guilt and anger about those feelings. Here she was giving me free room and board and driving me to Lamaze classes – yet somehow it felt like control. I couldn’t let her get too close. I couldn’t give her that power over me again.

Karma is a bitch

Oh, how I regret not having been able to talk with my mother, really talk and understand. But neither of us had the tools to get past our upbringings. She couldn’t explain and I couldn’t understand. We didn’t have the words to name what was wrong, let alone the power to affect change.

Regret is the keenest emotion there is, worlds stronger than love or hate or jealousy. Love either goes or stays. Hate ebbs and flows until, if you’re lucky, you realize what a waste of time it really is. Jealousy can be contained, or sometimes used as a goad for self-improvement.

But regret is like a slow, steady drip of icy tears. Regret forces you to look backward and inward: Toward the past to see what you did wrong, and inside yourself until you understand just how badly you hurt someone else.

Whether or not I could have lived my life differently is beside the point. The fact is, through action or inaction I did things that I now regret. The pain is particularly keen because there is no redress. I cannot tell my mother how sorry I am that we lost so many years, how sorry I am that because of anger or pride or the simple ignorance of youth I neglected to listen.

In the early months of her illness she said that she felt she’d failed my brother and me. Stricken by the knowledge that she was dying – the doctors hadn’t said so, but I knew it and I think she knew it, too – I rushed to assure her that it was all right. She’d been under tremendous strain, I said, and of course things went badly. But it was all in the past and forgotten.

Mom smiled with what appeared to be gratitude, but now I wonder if that wasn’t just a sham. She probably had plenty more she wanted to say. When I was in my 30s and 40s she’d tried a few times to talk about our lives, but I was not receptive. She’d stopped trying. Now she would never have the chance. And neither would I. I still wasn’t listening.

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  1. I am speechless. I think all mothers and daughters have some version of your story they could tell. I had almost a perfect relationship with my mother until the very end when I was 35. I will never get over the alienation that was driven by forces beyond either of us and only revealed to me when it was too late and she was suddenly dead. I suppose we all have some regrets about communication.

  2. Powerful, painful, breathtakingly beautiful writing, Donna. Thank you for sharing this.

    I don’t expect to ever be able to reach a loving resolution with my mother. It’s difficult to imagine another way having being shunned for years and at this point, I don’t really care anymore. It should pain me to say it, but there is nothing there, no love, no sorrow, no regret. I reached out with love to connect and she moved on while I was still clutching at her coat. After years of questions and sorrow, it is finished for us.

    • Totally understand this. Oh, how I wish life were really like a Hallmark movie.

      • Donna Freedman

        Wait…life ISN’T like a Hallmark movie? 😉
        Understand: My parents did the best they could and it was amazing that my mom achieved as much as she did given the lack of support and role models. The birth of my daughter helped her a lot, as she was able to lavish the love and care on her that she couldn’t on us. And then I moved away — but that’s another column for another day.

    • Donna Freedman

      Sometimes you just have to cut your losses and accept what is staring you in the face: That there can be no relationship. Painful, but no less heartbreaking than holding out hope and/or reaching out only to be rebuffed, and cruelly.

      • One of the most beautiful and moving essays on motherhood I have ever read. Bless you for being so honest and open. I have had a lot of the same issues with my late mother, and I have come to the same place you have: There can be no relationship. I just have to live with my regrets, and pray that Mummy is in a better place. And not make the same mistakes with my own kids.

        Again, Donna, God bless you for being so honest.

  3. Teinegurl

    Wow!! I’m close to tears but I have been emotional all week. Some aspects remind me so much of my mom and our relationship. When I was 17 I moved out to get away from her about 2 days after graduation. I think living apart helped tremendously and we also went to therapy. Once I had my kids it was easier to see things through my mom’s eyes but it was still hard to find answers to all the questions. Now I just accept her for who she is and that helps a LOT. She was a single mom with 3 kids and know I’m a single mom of 2 I can take the goods things and leave the bad .

  4. thank you

  5. Taynia

    Thank you for telling your story with such honesty + bravado. I think there will be many who relate on a similar level. Myself included.

  6. jestjack

    Thank you for sharing your story. It goes without saying relationships between mothers and daughters are varied and complicated. DW had a somewhat complicated relationship with her Mom that was further complicated by her Mom’s decision to end a marriage of 35 years with the Father of their 5 children and later marry I guy who just “made her itch”. All too late, DW made peace with her Mom and the decisions she made in life. She came to the realization that her Mom simply did the best she could. She passed a couple of years ago…she was a good gal…a very good grandmother and we miss her dearly…Thank you once again for sharing your story….

  7. Extremely well-written, powerful and emotional piece.

    I am sorry you’ve had to live with regret for so long. As children and even young adults, we don’t really understand that our parents are just human beings, trying to do right but often getting it wrong. Even now I take the majority of what my parents tell me as fact, whereas if anyone else said it I would question it more deeply.

    All we can do is love each other.

  8. Wow. Contrast this to your love note to your dad.

    I think in there you can be proud of her, and realize that she has given you good lessons. Having kids with teen pregnancies is not the end of the world, and it doesn’t make a mother a failure any more than it makes a father a failure. And at some point, unless there’s been serious abuse, an adult has to take responsibility above and beyond whatever blame goes to hir parents.

    Even if she’s not there to tell her anymore, you can still reframe those feelings into the same kind of positive lessons you’ve reframed for your father. You can do that for you, and for her memory.

    In the end, you turned out just fine.

    • Donna Freedman

      Oh yes. I don’t deny that my mother did pretty darned well with her life without any encouragement…There is more to her story than what I revealed here, but how many words can you ask your readers to gulp in at one sitting? Another day, another time, I will tell more.

  9. Joyce

    I know how some of that feels. Thank you for putting all that into words. Good post.

  10. Donna, you have told a story worthy of Greek tragedy, and told it painfully well. Thank you for this.

    My mother was, in many respects, similar to yours, and we had the same communication problems. She died in my arms at the age of only 54 without our ever having opened our hearts to one another. Yes, regret stings, aches, keens, and never goes away.

    Today, I try to use that regret as a tool to open my heart, and my mouth, to make sure no one else has that same regret about me.

    • Donna Freedman

      What an eloquent response…Thank you so much, L, for helping us all to remember to use regret as a tool rather than turning it inward.

  11. ImJuniperNow

    In the nearly two years since my Mother’s been gone I’ve quietly come to the conclusion that she, like all other women, did the best with what she had. I add this to my realization (when my father died in 1997) that our parents were not beings instilled with magical powers after having children. They were just humans like everybody else.

    It doesn’t make it better and it doesn’t make it right. I’m still just the collateral damage left behind by them. And its up to me alone to do what I want with it.

    Like many of your postings, this piece puts on paper many things I think about but don’t dare speak. Thank you Donna.

    • Donna Freedman

      Thank you for your story — your conclusions will no doubt help others struggling with the same sorts of issues (and damage).
      Thanks, too, for being such a consistent reader and commenter.

  12. Donna George

    I was going to write you something inspirational, but in the end, I just want to tell you that this is beautiful and special.

  13. This is beautiful, Donna. Thank you.

  14. Linda

    This post puts in to words many of my feelings about my mother and our relationship. For many years, I blamed her for so many things, especially for not standing up to my dad when he wouldn’t let me sign up for college prep classes in high school and instead made me take shorthand and typing. I did manage to go to college despite this, but not after high school like most kids do. That meant I missed out on going to college and having fun, as I worked my way through school.

    My mother also grew up very poor, during the Depression. She talks about having two dresses, one to wear, one to wash. She was from a family of 13 children in a 3 bedroom house. She and two sisters shared a bed.

    Of the 13 children, mom is one of three remaining. It almost killed her when she lost the two sisters she shared the bed with for all those years. She is very elderly and fragile. There are many things topics between us that are taboo to this day. I’m sure they will remain so until she passes away.

    My mom’s reaction to growing up in poverty was also to have the cleanest house around–to the point that my sister and I were scared out of our minds if we spilled anything.

    Thank you for this eloquent post.

    • Donna Freedman

      Your mom sounds a lot like my mom. We, too, were afraid of making messes, afraid of causing a fuss, afraid of, well, being children. Self-sufficiency was prized. We learned not to ask for help or nurturing — in fact, we scorned those who did as “babies.” Still trying to remind myself that it’s OK to want a little support now and then.
      Thanks for your story, and for reading Surviving and Thriving.

  15. Thank you.

  16. Katherine


    This was a heart wrentching and wonderful post.

    I lost most mom recently and this is our first Mother’s Day without her. She was a strong, silent, kind and loving woman and I hope to become more like her as I age.

    My regrets come from my children. I adopted my husband’s three teenaged daughters after their mother “went to go be happy” with her pedophile (now ex) husband. It was a bad situation from the start. There is nothing like living with three teenaged girls that DID NOT want to live with you. The oldest two lied, they acted out, they stole, they were destructive and no amount of money or therapy could counter act their behavior –event today.

    To this day, the oldest two of the girls do not talk to or acknowledge me. Of course, this happened after they moved out. DH and I helped set them up in apartments and paid for cars, college and weddings. I helped pay for those — not bio mom who pops in and out of their lives when she can fit them into her schedule. I was there for graduations, proms, crushes, glasses, braces and fender benders. I painted rooms, did science projects, tudored math, took time off from work to care from them when they were sick only to realize when they were older that I was merely considered an ATM and a driver.

    Even when my mom passed away, my oldest child didn’t call, text, send a card or acknowledge her passing in any way. Even to my father and only sibling. AND (a real kicker) she lives less than 20 minutes away from us and emailed my sister for a recipe during that time. Her true personality and the person she is has shown through to not only me but to everyone around us.

    To summarize, we can’t help what is past. We can hope that learn from it, that we love enough to overcome shortcomings or perceived shortcomings. We hope that we have shown our kids love (unconditionally), kindness, compassion, a work ethic, personal ethics and integrity. Whether they accept any life lessons from their father and me, may never been known. We know that we fought for custody for those girls and rightfully so. We loved them, kept them safe and we know — regardless of how they treat us now, that we did the best that we could under such dire circumstances. Did we make mistakes? YES. Were we the ones the girls called when something happened? YES. Will we be there in the future for them? We’ll see………..it depends on if they change?

    We can only learn from the past and the mistakes of our past. Learn, remember and move on.

    • Donna Freedman

      I admire your lesson of unconditional love, kindness and compassion. Perhaps one day they’ll look back and realize what you gave. Perhaps not. Either way, you can rest secure that you did the right thing for them.
      Thanks for sharing your story.

  17. What a heartfelt piece. Can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for you to write. I hope you realize you tried your best. And that’s all any one can do.

    • Donna Freedman

      Thanks, Peg. She tried her best and I did what I could. It’s too bad that we didn’t have even a few more years to find our voices.

  18. This piece just touched my heart! I have such mixed feelings about my mother. Our family immigrated when I was fairly young, which was very hard on my mother. Because of language problems, my brother and I have been mothering our mother since we were 9 or 10. I can remember my brother and I trying to explain to her when her doctor said she needed a hysterectomy when we were both pre-teens. Or that certain words were swear words and not appropriate. Taking care of her and my father has never stopped. She is in her 80’s now and obviously things haven’t gotten any easier. I feel quilt for being resentful about all the attention and care she needs but, she is my mother, so I keep taking care of everything for her. Does she appreciate it? She says that if she could do it herself she would, but she can’t so it , is my responsibility .

    • Robin

      I feel your pain. MIL (Husbands mom) is just like that. An immegrant who never learned the language and her husband died when my husband, (an only child) was barely 19 and he (we) has been stuck taking care of her ever since. She is now 89 and has been a huge financial burden which has put us in crushing debt and has not allowed us to get ahead. She spent money she didn’t have (by using the equity in her home to keep paying off credit cards for groceries and many frivelous items) and now she owes a huge mortgage that is more than here monthly income. Guess who pays the difference? We do. We have 3 children who have learning disabilities and spend fortunes on their tutoring, special schools etc. Whether they will become self supporting adults remains to be seen. MIL is still healthy and may outlive both of us. She lived with us for a while and it was horrible so we are just stuck.

  19. nancy

    What a wonderful, painful, hopeful article. Several things struck me as I read it: 1)God she is a wonderful writer and how raw and out there, exposed she puts herself. 2)All of the teen pregnancies speak to how unloved they all must have felt. 3)Was there no birth control used or available or was that too expensive at the time, or did they receive the same kind of negative response at Planned Parenthood that I did that resulted in me no longer contributing to them, or were the children conceived an attempt to show they could demonstrate love better than their parents? 4)What strength must Donna and her siblings have that no one knows the depth of? and 5)God/Goddess, I wish I could write like that and have to courage do so.

    Thank you, Bless you, KEEP WRITING!!!!

    • Donna Freedman

      Thanks, Nancy. I don’t know if my sibs were using birth control. I was, but apparently not correctly.
      Out-of-wedlock pregnancy was nothing new in my family…But again, that’s another topic for another day.
      Thanks for your kind words, and for leaving a comment.

  20. hmbalison

    This was a deeply honest, beautifully written post. Thank you for sharing it. Mother’s Day is a bittersweet day for me. I have regrets and mixed emotions. It brings to the surface how imperfectly human I am as a mother.

    • Donna Freedman

      “Imperfectly human” — I like that.
      Thanks for your kind words, and thanks for reading.

  21. Alane Farmer

    Beautiful and powerful. Excellent piece.

  22. schmei

    Thank you. Do you have any advice for a 30 year old who doesn’t know how to have a real conversation with her own mother any more? Because that would be me. We talk on the phone every week… but we haven’t said anything in years. I see big, icy regret in my future but I’m at a loss about what to do to stop it. I feel like I’ve tried.

    • Donna Freedman

      Hoo boy…How about asking if she’d be willing to talk about her growing-up and young-womanhood (and -motherhood) years to create a family history? A little underhanded, I know, but it might help her open up and start talking. Send some questions in advance and ask her to think about them; she can reply by return mail/e-mail, or you could “interview” her based on her thoughts about the questions.
      Once you’ve had a chance to read over her replies, if you think there are things she’s not saying (and maybe is afraid to say), you could try gently to draw her out on certain aspects. Ex: “You said that life was pretty lean when we kids were little. What kinds of tricks did you use to stretch that one paycheck? How did it make you feel to have so little to spend?”
      I know there are books out there that offer tips on getting effective family histories. No doubt there are websites, too. Hope that helps.

  23. Punkinpye

    I sighed and bowed my head when I read this. It would seem that there are many more women out there that have had similar experiences than ones who had close loving relationships with their mother. My mother was unstable and violent for most of my childhood. I held seething hatred in my heart for both my parents for decades. But as I came to faith in Chrst, I asked the Holy Spirit to put forgiveness in my heart. Eventually, my eyes were opened to the desperate, unhappy life my mother has lived. My father only married her because she was pregnant. She was virtually a prisoner in a two bedrom house (she couldn’t drive) with seven children. She was constantly pregnant for nine years (she had one miscarriage). She never knew from day to day if she would have food for us. She had a nervous breakdown after her third chid and I know believe that my mother suffered from mental illness during most of my childhood.

    My father never hit her and he never actually abandoned us, but he avoided being home as much as possible. She was a woman who desperately needed to be loved and cherished by her husband. To this day, after fifty years, she is still pathetically looking to him for affection that will never come. My mother will die, never knowing a husband’s love. I realized that if my mother has done anything wrong in her life, she has more than paid for it in this life. I honestly cannot say that I would have done any better under the same circumstances.

    By the grace of God, all seven of us are educated, productive, stable people, so somewhere along the way she must have done something right. I have been blessed with the best husband and son in the world. It now gives me joy to show love, affection, and appreciation to my mother. Maybe she won’t ever have the husband she wants, but maybe she can take some comfort in a daughter who loves her.

    • Punkinpye, my mother was very unstable, too. I understand her history and have compassion for her problems, but that doesn’t mean I still don’t have problems dealing with her. I love my mom, but I don’t spend a lot of time with her or talking to her because it is very stressful and upsetting for me.

      • Punkinpye

        I understand. It took until my late forties (and a lot of therapy) to get to the place where I am now. For a while, my husband didn’t want me to see my parents simply because of what an emotional wreck I was afterwards. There are still times when my mother will cluelessly say or do something that hurts and upsets me. For a long time, I had to avoid seeing them. It was simply a matter of emotional survival. It is perfectly okay to do what you need to do to take care of yourself. Perhaps a time will come when you can share more of your life with your mom. However, I do recognize that sometimes we have to love people from a distance.

    • Donna Freedman

      What a sad story, for all involved. I’m glad you have found peace, and feel sorrow for your mom’s illness and for the fact that she will likely never have all of the love she needs.
      Thanks for sharing your perspective with us.

  24. What a beautifully written post! I applaud you for writing about regret. It seems as if society has trained us to stop thinking about things you cannot change. Although it’s not healthy to dwell on it, I think it is healthy to talk about it.

    Life isn’t always what you expect it to be, and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that life is about being with loved ones. Spend as much time with friends and family. Life is short, and goes by faster with age.

    Luckily for me, my mom is alive and well, and I am focusing on making sure she knows how much I love and appreciate her each and every day.

  25. As always, your writing is just breathtaking. I am jealous. I like to believe I have a good relationship with my three kids (now adults) but worry about all the mistakes I made along the way. Amazing what a little time away from various situations makes one see. Given that, I believe I’ll be an absolutely fabulous grandma.

    Thank you for sharing your talented writing skills with us.

    • Donna Freedman

      Thanks for your kind words. And maybe grandchildren are our chance to try and get it right? Certainly they’re our chance to have all of the pleasure and none of the guilt. Grandchildren: the frozen yogurt of the family structure. 😉

  26. Ro in San Diego

    I am lucky to have my mother still in my life though via telephone as we cannot be in the same room without old patterns replaying themselves. My dad was a ham operator too and we always had to have a place for dad to operate his radio.

    Thanks for sharing your story. Rest assured we all have our regrets, and things left unsaid when important people in our lives have passed on.

  27. When I first read the title of your blog I was going to say “my mon did and said such & so and I’d never do that to my kids (3)” but as I read your piece it brought me to tears.
    I didn’t go through what you did and I know mom loved us but she drank alot and she and dad fought all the time. It really affected me & my sister tho in different ways. Sis became such a hellion and would tell mom it she didn’t give her this or do that she was going to tell dad who mom snuck out with. And for me, I wanted to crawl in a cornor and hide. Even now, if someone yells at someone, not a hello yell, but a mean yell I just cringe. My stomach gets sick and I’m ready to run and hide. Neither mom nor dad ever laid a hand on us and I know they both loved us just not each other. We were out of school by the time they divorced. I think they stayed together for us kids but I sort of wish they hadn’t.
    Don’t get me wrong. They took care of us tho we were poor. Tho I didn’t know we were poor until we were adults. Everyone I knew was in the same boat. We all live in the So end of town. (the poor part of town) They worked in a fish factory from 5am til sometimes 10pm. When they worked that late our Grams took care of us so they didn’t leave us alone.
    I’m sorry for all the rambling but this just brought it out, and like you, I could keep going.
    I miss them both but especially my dad. My sis would say”especially mom.”
    Donna, I have really enjoyed your blog. I came acrossed it on msn.
    Please keep up the good work. It makes us think.

    • Donna Freedman

      How odd that this comment came through now: A little while ago my dad called and said he’d re-read this piece and wanted to apologize for having messed up my life back then. I told him that we did what we could with what we had, which wasn’t much, and now it’s up to each of us (including my brother) to deal with the fallout.
      Thanks for your kind words, and for taking the time to write. I hope you’ll come back.

  28. Donna, that was an emotionally raw and beautiful article. Your style of writing paints an emotional story that is stunning in its simplicity and power. It made me think of my grandmother and that the life that she had. I hope you write a book one day about this topic concerning mothers and their daughters. I would buy it.

  29. jean b.

    excellent piece! i went to amazon to order your autobiography, and discovered that you haven’t written it yet! i’ve enjoyed your writing since the msn/money days, and look forward to more articles. this one really hit home, illustrating the long-range consequences of lack and dysfunction that i can so relate to. i wondered for many years about the constant conflict between my mother and i until i came to realize (in my fifties) that she has narcissistic personality disorder… not pleasant to know, but answered so many questions. it’s still a struggle with her, at age 91, since memory lapses and disorientation are now common, so i try to allow my awareness to remind me to be more patient.

    • Donna Freedman

      Narcissistic personality disorder is a tough one. I knew a woman whose now-ex-husband had it. Living with him was very tough on both her and her daughter — those “long-range consequences of lack and dysfunction” have taken their toll.

      Thanks for reading, and thanks for the vote of confidence on my autobiography. At some point it might be written.


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