Tipping the Scales

I just got home from dinner with my friend Liz, the one I wrote about here. She's obviously fragile, but was able to laugh and share ancedotes about her recent hospital experience. I gave her a small, soft teddy bear, which she hugged tightly to her chest throughout dinner. I noticed she picked at her food somewhat, but managed to eat most of it in the end. She has great confidence in her therapists, feels positive about her support system of friends, and is living with a friend who is a psychiatric nurse. She feels safe now, and I feel safer about her. So many of you left such wise and supportive comments regarding my earlier post, and they were all right on. Just being there to listen, laugh (and cry) with her, is the best thing I can do. It wasn't hard, and I've promised her (and myself!) to make sure I do it more often. During our discussion tonight, Liz spoke quite a bit about her mother, who doesn't know anything about what her daughter has been through in the past two weeks. Liz is adamant that she cannot tell her~at least not yet. Liz's psychiatrist agrees, stating that she does not need any more negativity in her life at this moment, something Liz's mother is an expert at dispensing.

Motherhood has been on my mind recently, I think mostly because of the book I'm reading~19 Minutes, by Jodi Picoult. The book is about a teenage boy, victimized by bullies his entire life, who exacts "revenge" by opening fire in the hallways of his high school, killing 10 of his classmates and one of his teachers. But it's also about the relationship between mothers and children, and the many ways they fail to connect, with sometimes horrendous consequences. It's an old joke in psychiatry that "it's always the mother's fault." It goes back to Freud, I suppose, or even as far back as Oedipus in Greek mythology. And truly, as much as I hate to admit it, many of the psychological issues that crop up in our lives can be "traced back" in some way to something our mother did (or didn't do) during the course of our upbringing. My husband's relationship with his mother has always been horrible-if you ask him, he'll say she was cold, selfish, demanding, and completely pessimistic about everything life had to offer. Yet I know she thinks she was a good mother, and feels that she gave Jim everything he needed. As for myself, I would certainly call my relationship with my own mother a good one, but I don't necessarily think it's a healthy one. During that awful time when my father left, my therapist taught me how deeply my mother and I were "enmeshed," and that our "boundaries were not clearly defined." I have always felt much more responsible for her well being than it's healthy for a child to feel, and certainly now as she ages and becomes even more dependent on me, it's harder than ever to maintain any kind of clear boundary at all. I think so many of the difficulties in mother/child relationships come about because it's so hard for mothers to realize that our children are separate, individual beings, that have unique feelings and reactions which are often completley different from our own. After all, we house them within our bodies, we give them life in the most elemental of ways from the moment of their conception. Shouldn't we then be in sync with their needs automatically? Shouldn't we know how to talk to them, how to respond when they're hurt or upset? Aren't they just like us, after all? No, they aren't. It takes a long time~if ever~for a mother to accept the fact that this child she thinks she knows so well is really a stranger in many ways. And that's why so many children of all ages find themselves reaching out to other adults when they're in need of help. Sometimes, our own mother's really don't know what's best. As I sat with Liz tonight, hearing her talk about all the people who have been helping her through this crisis~Ms. D., her high school English teacher; Alice, the nurse she was living with; Stacey, her college roomate; even Mrs. Hoyer, her sixth grade teacher~I was struck by the fact that she wasn't able to name her mother as one of her support system, in fact, wasn't even able to tell her mother what she was going through. I know Liz's mother ~she's not a monster, she's just a hard working, single mom, who I truly believe wants only the best for her daughter, just like the rest of us mothers. I put myself in her place, and I know how horribly sad and defeated I would feel if my son were in that situation and didn't feel he could talk to me about it. But I'm also realistic enough to know that could happen. I know that it's possible to love a parent very deeply, and still not trust their ability to give you what you need during some of life's most difficult times. So I'm glad Liz has found some caring adults to help tip the scales in her favor, as she tries to get her life back in balance. I hope someday she'll feel able to share this experience with her mom, and that in turn her mom will have the wisdom to respond in the way that Liz needs.