This connection between mothers and daughters is influential on our identity and sense-of-self. It helps us grow but it can also hinder our growth and stagnate our development.
As I think about raising my girls, the ups and downs with myself sometimes it seems like a wonder that we made it through despite the mistakes, difficulties, struggles, and battles. As the girls were going through their adolescents I was struggling to connect with any part of myself. I was fighting with myself internally. I never actually formed a solid sense-of-self or identity of who I was, to begin with. Through all my confusion and disassociation, the only sense of myself I had was rooted in my connection to my father-all the negative aspects as seen through my mother’s eyes. My pain was deep to the core; the foundation was never solid or firm. My inner torment rooted deeply in my soul.
We prepare for the physical nature of childcare and raising children and for the daily responsibilities of life but we are not prepared for the psychological, emotional, mental and spiritual effects it will have on us. We don’t bother to acknowledge them nor address them when we are deep in the basic everyday concerns and responsibilities of being a mother. It is no surprise then that without any real strong foundation of who I was that I fell apart and disintegrated into nothing but emptiness when I became a mother.
I was so consumed with the chores, responsibilities, and commitments of motherhood, caught up in the process of motherhood that I missed the greater process unfolding within. Loss of income and outside values when one gives up that paying job and becomes a stay at home mom affected what little self-worth I had. It took away the little connection of myself I was grasping at. I hid in shame, fighting internally not to let the raging going on inside to show. It manifested as sadness and depression. My girls had to experience it.
As a mother, I believed I had no right to be myself, to have feelings, to want things for myself. My mother taught me that this was so even though she did have her life, she worked and had her social relationships. I believed I wasn’t supposed to be anyone besides a mother. As a mother, an individual-self doesn’t exist. I was not entitled to a life of my own. I limited myself and the options I had. I felt like I had no right to want to grow and live or move forward with my life even when I took steps to actually do that. The guilt always held me back.
The tug and pull of pretending I was all right, trying to function normally but not really functioning at all was exhausting. I often couldn’t handle simple moments like a glass of spilled milk and any crisis of a larger nature immobilized me. The voices in my head shamed me more than every time someone told me to suck it up and toughen up. The guilt of feeling weak pushed me into isolation. I isolated myself as much as possible. Weakness, after all, is a failure in life.
Overcome with shame and guilt I shut down cognitively, mentally and spiritually in addition to the emotional shutdown I lived my life under. I did the best I could to go through the motions of everyday living but I was dead inside. I sometimes felt like I wished I was dead. I would cry myself to sleep at night and pray, ‘God please don’t make me wake up and go through another day like this. I can’t do it anymore.’ I would wake up the next day and put on the mask and hoped it worked that day. Without any sense-of-self, any self-worth, self-confidence, self-value, or self-respect how could I even accomplish the simplest task? I kept pretending to be someone I wasn’t. I was betraying myself. I kept going barely hanging on, it was inevitable that I would eventually break and fall apart, but I prayed I would die first.
I read somewhere that when a person loses their sense-of-self, they often exhibit the physical, emotional, cognitive and behavioral symptoms that are typically ascribed to grief. When I contemplate this I ascertain a different understanding of what I have been through. At times I pushed any grief I felt away, other times I lingered in it. When my father died and my mother criticize me for my grief I actually plunged so far into the grief that it made my road to regain my sense-of-self more complex.
It bothered me that my mother carried on like nothing had changed and she expected me to do the same. For me, life would never be the same again. I felt like I had lost the one piece of myself I was clinging to. It was gone I would never be able to become myself whoever that was. Yet this conflict and grief was actually one of the early catalysts into moving forward into this journey of self-discovery.
Spending all this time hanging out and getting to know my adult daughter while I am still getting to know myself has opened insights I haven’t seen before. I have always taken responsibility for all the bad stuff, the frustrations, the disappointments, the things they couldn’t have or get to do. I have felt guilty for all the suffering they may have experienced due to my inadequacies, depression, dissociation, confusion, lack of self-esteem and my fears. And at times believed they would be better off without me, hence those endless nights of praying I wouldn’t wake up. I may have made many mistakes but I was the one who was always there. I was the one who encouraged their creativity and independence. I was the one who listened to what they wanted and was open to the choices they made. All the things I wished someone had done for me.
My personal struggles have actually helped them to grow into their own unique self’s. They don’t seem to be concerned with fitting in at all. They are accepting and comfortable with who they are. They are not dependent on others opinions for their self-esteem or their self-value including mine. They each stand strong in their own individual differences and talents. Bravo! I am not responsible for their successes but I have always stood quietly behind them. Now it is time for me to learn what they have done and step into myself. And I must do for myself what I did for them standing behind myself and encouraging myself.
It is sad to me that in order to even have the courage to fully step into this journey of becoming myself, I have had to emotionally and physically distance myself from my mom. Being around her threatens my being. I shrink in her overwhelming beliefs of who I should be, who she wanted me to be. I failed her. I have learned to live with that failure. It isn’t really mine.
For some reason, she can’t understand where I am coming from or why I am so different than her in my beliefs about life. She will never understand the choices I make because they are not her choices. I know she never wanted me to feel the way I do. I know she doesn’t mean to diminish me in any way. Her life wasn’t easy and the events that shaped her are not her fault either. She did the best she could. Now I must do the best I can. It is time to move out from under the shadow, from her fears and into my own light.
I have learned from my daughters. I have seen them do things I wished I could. Those words Monica spoke “Mom, go have your own adventure” still resound within and helps pull me along the journey when I find fear rising. Sam pulling me along on her journey as she learns new skills sparks me with enthusiasm to step out of the box I put myself in and play with life. I will keep learning from them and I hope that they have learned from me and will one day actually be inspired by my journey and how far I have come. Now time to play with Sam again….What fun will we have today!
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