No Treasure Chest of Memories is complete without a description of our relationship with Mother.
Of all our family relationships, our relationships with the woman (or women in some cases) who raised us are perhaps the most poignant.
As Lori Gottlieb writes in Mother, Brace Yourself (NY Times):
It’s virtually impossible to write about your childhood without writing about your mother.
Though I’ve hit the half-century mark, sometimes I can hear my mother’s voice in my head, proud and supportive of my endeavors. Sometimes though, when I’ve done something that she taught me not to do, or when I fall short of my own standards, images of her disappointed face dance in my head like un-sugared prunes.
We write about her, but do we write about our relationship with mother?
Search Google or Amazon for “Dear Mother” or “Dear Mommy” and you’ll get a sore finger paging through the memoirs that feature a relationship with mother. The best sellers, of course, are not all sunshine and ponies, flattery and roses.
Lori Gottlieb’s article makes it clear that an honest, chest-baring narrative about a relationship with mother stresses those relations. According to her, only Amy Tan, author of The Joy Luck Club, reported that her mother enjoyed the attention of having family imperfections disclosed.
Little Criticisms Versus Confronting Big Relationship Skeletons
As a mother, it irritates me that my every mistake is ingrained in my kids’ psyches as possible explanations of all their foibles.
But I’ve done that too.
My mother was an incredible mom and woman. I miss her daily, though she’s been gone a month shy of twenty years. We were close.
Still, I wonder if she and I shared some personality quirks, whether by nature or nurture or both. Perhaps my lack of confidence is something she unintentionally modeled.
I’ve also mentally and emotionally catalogued all the things I loved and admired about her and strive to emulate those qualities in my own life. I’m grateful to have inherited spontaneity, love of nature, empathy, compassion, and a love of laughter from her
CAVEAT: If you have an already-complicated-enough family dynamic, use caution when writing and sharing about your relationships with mother.
Writing honestly is therapeutic. Sharing can create fireworks. (See “Do no Harm” in When not to Share.)
Personally, were she alive, I would never, ever, let the ink darken a public page in any way that would hurt her. There was too much good and positive in our relationship to let one tiny criticism cause pain or remorse. In our case, although it wasn’t perfect, our mother-daughter dynamic was pretty darned good.
Not everyone is in that situation. Sometimes the dirty laundry needs to see the light of day to come clean, to find reconciliation. Perhaps, the skeletons would be less scary if they came out of the closet. (See “The Good, the Bad—What about the Ugly?” in Memories of Me: A Complete Guide to Telling and Sharing the Stories of Your Life for help with deciding what not to share.)
What do you want to remember about you mother?
Writing about what you admired about her reveals much about your relationship with your mother.
What do you want to remember, and why? Her voice? The sound of her laughter? Her cooking? Her wisdom? Write it down and brainstorm over it a while. What insights have you gained?
Alternatives to Writing a Letter to Mom
Granted, writing a letter to your mother can be hard. I know. I did it a year after my mother’s death. However, it ended up too personal to share with anyone else. I buried it near her accident scene instead.
Convoluted as it sounds, you can write about what you’d like to write. Include bits and pieces of what you’d say if you could. Try writing about the following:
- Things you wish you’d said
- Things you wish you’d never said
- What made the relationship work
- Things that you learned from your relationship with your mother that helped you through life
- How you’re like your mother
- How you’re different from your mother.
- When you miss your mother the most
- When you’re most proud of the upbringing you had
- How you’re put any bitter episodes to rest
- How your relationship with your mother impacted your own parenting
Ideas for Writing About Other Mothers
Moms that weren’t a part of your childhood are also an important part of your growing up. For instance, my dear friend whose mother died when she was five, thinks and speaks of her mother often. She wonders “what if?”. She remembers the precious time she did have with her mom.
What would you write to or about a mother you never knew? How do you imagine her? What type of relationship do you think you would have had with her, had you had that opportunity?
Mother-in-Laws and step-mothers often have a profound influence in our lives. How has she mothered you? What has she come to mean to you? How has your relationship evolved over the years? How has your mother-in-law nurtured both of you?
Substitute “mother-in-law” or “step-mom” or “biological mom” in any of the prompts above and see if they are helpful in writing about your relationship.
Your Turn: Describe Your Relationship with Mother