Friday, May 23, 2014

Bad Mothers

I've been haunted by two very disturbing things I saw on TV recently. One was an episode of Louie in which he almost loses his youngest daughter on a New York subway. This spawned a dream I had last night in which I lost Bumpus on the subway and never saw him again. I shudder just thinking about it. 

The other was a scene in Mad Men in which Betty, a horrid narcissistic mother, asks her husband even as her young son clings to her why her children don't love her, and when the husband points out the obviously devoted boy, she says bitterly, "just wait." It makes me think about my friend who will snuggle baby Theo and say how precious he is, and then eye her own rampaging two-year-old and say half-jokingly, "yeah, but then they turn into that." Or my ex-friend with the sullen seven-year-old whose entire relationship seemed to consist of him goading her into buying him video games. I look at my own sons and wonder - is this what it becomes?

I like to think no, of course not, we'll be different, our relationships will always be loving and special, but I'm sure every parent thinks this when their kids are babies, and then peers, divorce, hormones, or just life gets in the way and relationships are strained or irreparably damaged, as is mine with my own mother. 

I often look at Bumpus and wonder if he loves me. It's probably my own narcissism that would even cause me to think such a thing - I mean, why wouldn't he? I adored my mother despite all the times she abandoned me or negated my feelings; but then again, it's those kind of mothers who are adored because we're so desperate for a connection that we want to force one to exist where it otherwise wouldn't. It seems like the craziest women I know have the most polite, perfectionist, perfectly behaved kids, whereas the most stable, normal parents seem to have the kids that are going off the rails (well, some of the time, anyway). But with Bumpus I guess I ask this for the dumbest and most obvious reason - because he doesn't say he loves me, doesn't give me kisses or hugs, doesn't even call me mama. He doesn't seem to need or care about me at all, except when he's hurt or scared and needs a hug. And I cherish those moments. And most of the time I enjoy the fact that he's so not needy and independent and confident, especially when I see other kids being super clingy. But a little part of me worries that I've made a mistake in pushing him to be strong and independent - that I haven't been loving enough. That despite telling him this every day that there is still a distance between us. Is there? Or is it just a toddler thing where he's so on the move all the time that he's got more important things to focus on than mom?

In my dream about losing him on the subway, I was absolutely frantic and shattered, but oddly complacent - my thought was, "I guess that's that - he's just gone." When I woke up all upset I kept telling myself, first of all nothing like that would ever happen because I wouldn't let it, and second of all I would fight like a lunatic to recover him, immediately calling 911 and grabbing every authority figure I could, shutting the whole system down until he was found, like any good mother. Wouldn't I do the same if I watched him grow up and felt like we just didn't have a connection? Wouldn't I get us into therapy or at least sit him down and talk about it? I would never just let him go. That would never happen!

Perhaps all of this is yet another projection of my own mother relationship. She let me and my sister go without so much as a whimper of protest - we were just gone from her life and that seemed to be ok with her. Why didn't she fight for us? We were right there clinging to her and all she could do was wonder why we didn't love her.

I just feel like once B can really express himself things are going to be so different. Right now I don't know how he feels about anything - does he like how I sing him a little song about all the things we did that day every night as I'm putting him to bed? Does he like when I pat his head as I pass him in a room, or kiss his cheek whenever I can? Does he like to hear me tell him that he's smart and special? Does he miss me when I'm gone? Again I feel weird even asking these questions because it's not about me, and I get that. I didn't have these kids so that someone would love me unconditionally - I had them so I could love something unconditionally. I've been known to have thoughts like, if I were to die right now, Bumpus wouldn't even remember me, because he's too little. He'd see pictures of us and maybe read this blog, but I would be a stranger to him. I remember once when I was around six years old and my mother had been gone somewhere and come back, and I remember hiding behind my sister because I was shy around my mother because I felt like I didn't know her anymore. It saddens me how malleable children's affections are at this age. 

I know that just worrying about our relationship is proof enough that I am not one of those bad mothers, that I will always fight for our bond to be strong and special and work through whatever old emotional baggage I'm carrying around to make sure that happens. But I won't lie, I see people struggle with their teenagers or grown sons, and I think all of those boys started out as sweet little loving babies like Theo is now - how did they get there? And how can I prevent it?


  1. Tough questions, I wish I had answers. I make myself weep with fear that my daughter will hate me when she grows up.

  2. I tried posting a comment but I'm not sure if you got it. I mostly wanted to tell you about Gordon Neufeld and his book "Hold onto your kids" in which he talks about the very issue you're describing. Great post!

  3. I think about this too, because my mom and I don't get along. It's why I was hoping for a boy first - to practice mothering before a girl might come along.

    I think showing respect to our kids at all ages will make a big difference. Sometimes Felix doesn't want my arm around him (like when we were on a little boat ride) so I respected that. My mom would have said, "oh sure, it's safer this way! I'll just have my arm right here, see?" And then the kid ends up feeling annoyed and disrespected. That's a silly little example but throughout a lifetime, it really adds up.

  4. Oh, honey! Of course he loves you. I say "of course" even tho i don't really know you because he's so well adjusted when he's not with you. The clinger they are the less happy on their own they are - and that's why they cry. They are telling their mum to love them more because they are not sure.

  5. Lots to say about this subject. Here's more. Kids hearts are like gas tanks, a theory about attachment parenting says. When they are clingy their tank needs filling with hugs and confidence boosting comlplime td , when they are happy tootling along on their own, their tanks are full and they feel lved and confident to try new stuff, knowing mummy will help them as needed.

  6. I worry too. I see boys or men who have gotten in trouble with the law or are perpetually unemployed and I wonder, "How did they get that way?" We're they sweet, well-loved little boys once? What happened? Will it happen to my boys despite my best efforts? Oh, how I worry. Wish I had some advice or magic formula to pass on to you.