This past Mother’s Day was the first one I have spent as a foster mother of teenage girls. Both girls were with their birth mothers for the day and my own children were off being mothers and fathers to their own children. They remembered me sweetly and I didn’t really feel neglected, but I became even more aware of the complicated relationships we have with our parents, maybe especially daughters to mothers.
About 1980, when my girls were 12 and 8 years old, I read “My Mother, Myself,” by Nancy Friday. Already deep in the throes of a long-lasting clinical depressions, I immediately recognized my mother, myself, and my daughters in those pages and became even more depressed. It was obvious that I had already done all the wrong things and damaged our relationships beyond redemption. I will need to reread those pages to recall what I was thinking, but for now, with almost 40 additional years of mothering experience, I have some observations of my own.
Working with teen girls in the Child Protective Services system (AKA Foster Care) for the past few years I have been struck often by the devotion these girls have to their mothers. No matter what the reason that the court has removed them from their mother’s care, they love her and long for her attention and acceptance. In many cases they yearn for the day they will turn 18 when they can establish that relationship they have missed. I am not sure if they blame the court system, but I am quite sure they don’t blame their mothers for what happened in the past. I truly hope the mothers appreciate the gift of forgiveness and devotion.
Sometimes they are mature beyond their years and have reached an acceptance of their mother’s flaws, while still holding on tightly to the belief that all of that is past and the “new mom” she has become will be there for them and for their children. I suppose that is possible, but my experience tells me that it is unlikely.
Not to be pessimistic, but for most of us mothers, it is an ongoing battle to be the parent our children wish they’d had, no matter how close a family we were or how devoted we were to the kids. I know women who did the best they could, given their own limitations and the culture of the day, to nurture and support their daughters. Yet, their daughters reject them, recite litanies of shortcomings and disappointments from their childhoods, and reject all explanations or attempts to reconcile.
It is difficult for a child to recognize that their parents are simply “people,” with all sadness, anger, disappointment, frustration, love, tenderness, and confusion that entails. Sometimes we are not good people, but usually we are not completely bad people either. Some of us are truly selfish, cruel, and demanding. Many of us probably shouldn’t have had children. None of us really understand what we are getting into when we have a baby. “My child will never <insert obnoxious behavior or unhealthy habit of choice>.” Then, by the time we realize we are in over our heads it is far too late to change our minds. Most of us make the needed accommodations, but some simply don’t have it in them.
I have always said that, while I don’t think of myself as “pro-abortion,” I do consider myself to be “pro-choice.” Not providing education and birth control and then forcing a woman to bear a child she neither wants nor can care for (especially if there are health issues and handicaps) condemns both the mother and the child to a of lifetime struggle. There are few safety nets for those little families; no childcare, no education, no healthcare, no counseling.
Someone mentioned adoption to me as a better option. But, how many of those children women are forced to bear will be adopted? How many of them are the right color, the right background? How damaged and neglected will they have been by the time they move into the “system” where are shuffled from foster home to foster home in search of an adoptive family?
I admire people who are willing to adopt children. They can be unselfish, giving, kind; it is not an easy task they are taking on. But, again, they are simply “people,” and some of them are just as selfish, cruel, and demanding as any other person. Nobody is a perfect parent, and nobody should be forced to be a parent when they already know they don’t want to do it.