A recent thread title “Ladies who are NOT close to their mothers” on one of my favorite message boards got me to thinking. I read their stories and sympathised. To keep it short, my mother yelled at us, called us names, beat us with an extension chord, never hugged us or showed any affection at all. She counted cookies and oranges and apples and punished us if one was missing. She worked the afternoon shift but had random days off. I never knew her schedule, and my heart would sink if while walking home from school I saw her car in the driveway. Myself and three other siblings left home at or before the age of eighteen. Every Mother’s Day I bought one of those funny one liner cards that didn’t really say anything. It pretty much summed up our relationship.
Time and distance made me wonder. Why was she so — mean? After digging and grilling other relatives I learned that my mother had grown up dirt eating poor. Her family didn’t live in a house, they lived in a “basement with a tin roof over it.” My grandfather worked in a steel mill but he gambled and drank his paycheck away, and beat my grandmother when she complained. My grandmother tired of his abuse and moved to Michigan — taking only one of her seven children with her. After she left, my grandfather took the remaining children to his mother and continued his drinking and gambling.
When my mother was about twelve years old she came to Michigan for a visit with her mother. Her brother, who had come to Michigan with my grandmother, and an older sister who had moved to Michigan when she finished school, were living with my grandmother at the time. My Aunt had always claimed that she sent for my mother. My grandmother’s brother made the same claim. Just recently my mother told me that her mother tried to make her go back down south at the end of that summer but she refused. So here we are.
My grandmother showed my mother little to no affection. She beat her, yelled at her and called her names. If I am to believe the tales her sister told, my grandmother was a stubborn child who got beat a lot. She also had a razor sharp tongue that caused a lot of trouble, but she managed to tame it in her later years. Her mother Mary was not an affectionate woman — there were no hugs served along with the beatings. Mary’s mother died when she was about 9 – 10 years old. Her father remarried, to a woman who was a world class wicked stepmother. She beat her step children, yelled at them, and called them names while clearly favoring her own children.
After digesting my research I began to understand and my heart softened toward my mother. I do believe that my mother, my grandmother and my great-grandmother loved their children. They just didn’t know how to show it. And they passed that not knowing to generation after generation of women in our family.
My grandmother “confessed” to me once that she loved each and every one of her children but did not know if they loved her. She explained the leaving — she didn’t abandon her children, she left them with their father. She prayed days and nights for a way out of her situation. She had siblings in the North who had done well and she had a sister who had the means to help her get to Michigan. One night she got up off her knees and decided. She would leave, get settled, then send for the children. It just never worked out.
My mother is raising six of her grandchildren. She is still a screamer. She still believes in spanking, using a wooden paint stirrer instead of an extension chord. But she also serves up hugs and kisses with the discipline. She will be 68 years old this year and is still growing. I think she recognizes her past mistakes and is trying to do better. I want to tell her — I don’t know how to approach her. You don’t have to scream at and belittle them to get them to behave. You don’t have to beat them. Yes, it was done to you, and your mother, and your grandmother. But that doesn’t make it right. The cycle does not have to continue.
Women who are not close to their mothers should follow my lead — try to find out why their mothers are the way they are. With research comes understanding that may or may not cause reconciliation, but it will bring some peace of mind and maybe a softening of the heart.
Happy Mother’s Day.