Many of us can identify a key relationship, often formed early on in our lives, that has been profoundly influential. For me, that relationship was the one I had with my mother. My mother has been dead now for 31 years, but only very recently in my 63rd year can I honestly say that I am free of the grip she has had on the manifestation of my personal identity. Let me explain the long journey.
Make no mistake, I was a well-loved child. I see myself actually as a child of great privilege with theoretically limitless possibilities for my education and ability to be successful in whatever I chose to do. All of this was just “theoretical” though. I also knew, from a very early age , that my mother had in mind a very specific blueprint for me. In reality my “choices” were much narrower than they needed to be. I was limited by the way she saw me, and what I needed to do to keep her pleased and happy. That’s the truth. I wasn’t strong enough emotionally to rebel against my mothers projected image of me, except on a few important although exceedingly rare occasions. In retrospect, I don’t even blame my mother for the reality of my childhood and adolescence. In many ways it was a golden time. But….it was what it was…. It was co-created by a whole cast of characters.
Fast forward to my 32nd year, when I lost my mother tragically to breast cancer. Although the loss at that time was devastating, I have gradually begun to realize that I lost so much more than my mother herself in 1982. As the years went by and I faced the monumental task of raising my own daughters, the full extent of my loss came into focus. Here is how I view the loss of my mother now:
My mother died before my eldest daughter had her first birthday. I had always imagined that my mother would be thrilled to be a grandmother, and I looked forward to bonding with her in a new way around our now shared experience of “motherhood”. Obviously this experience was mostly denied me, but even more importantly, as I think back on it now, I was also denied the opportunity to separate and individuate from my mother in a whole new way. Ideally, when I became a mother I could have demonstrated to my mother that I understood “motherhood”, but I was going to be a different kind of mother than she had been to me. My new motherhood could have been a chance, at last, to find a way to rebel and be different from my mother. I could have come up against her, so to speak. I was not conscious at the time of the far-reaching effects of this loss, but I became more aware as the years went by.
Flash-forward again to 2003 and I am dealing with my own rebellious teenage daughter. She is telling me that I’m controlling and suffocating, and that she can no longer live her life in such a way that I am always pleased and happy with her. Oddly, although her words are vaguely familiar to me, I cannot really make the connection to my own thwarted teenage self. It does not even occur to me that I have become my mother. I’m mostly just suffering and focused on how unbearably anxious and worried I am all the time. My mental state at that time was indeed a total “energy drainer “ and left no room for anything else. I was actually at this time suffocating as well, and I see now that the inner experience of suffocating actually quite literally is the inability to bring “fresh air” to a situation. It’s no coincidence to me that an anxiety attack is literally the experience of not getting enough air. That’s what I felt then, and it prevented me from seeing the “bigger picture”. I think my daughter and I were both feeling that way.
My final “flash forward” brings me to the present day. My daughter has ventured out on her own now and had adventures that I would have never have had at her age. Me…. somehow I was forced to “let go” of the way I had become with her…and this was really the “inner work” for me. In “letting go”, painful as it was at times, I was finally able to actually gain a much bigger perspective on what had gone on between my daughter and I, and how closely this was related to my relationship to my mother. The insight allowed me to “let go” even more and realize it wasn’t sustainable for us to go on the way we had been. In the end the relational paradigm kind of let go of itself. One of us had to be the one to make the move, physically away from the other, and fortunately she had the courage to do it.
So, what does this have to do with my mother? The way I see it, the “mother/daughter” healing I have experienced with my daughter has healed my relationship with my mother at the same time. There is in fact no distinction or separation between the two. What I have experienced is a change in all of my relationships with women…. friends, sisters, older and younger women alike…all of them. In a larger sense, I think there has been some “fresh air” brought to my personal and archetypal female lineage, and I’m hopeful that this will carry forward to future generations.
Subjectively, I know that I breathe fine now. The air is clearer, the colors are brighter, my voice is louder and carries more authority, and my life feels infused with new energy and excitement. For me the lesson is a hopeful one. The damage done “in relationship” can best be healed “in relationship”, it is never too late, and new opportunities are always presenting themselves.