Lori: My mother told me way too much about herself. It was as if her psyche was an open book. I knew about her lovers, and as I got older I knew about her rage against my father. I knew about her disappointment in me, about her disappointment in others. What I didn’t know was the way in which she viewed herself in such a negative light. After writing the memoir I realize now that she had so much fear about facing a part of herself.
Do you approach parenthood differently with your own children?
Susan: Yes, I do. Despite realizing that I developed a strong sense of self by being left on my own as a result of my mother’s passivity, I also recognized the lack of closeness that resulted. I was determined to try to respect and recognize my daughters’ emotions and to express my own feelings to them, to represent myself as a feeling person with opinions and values that matter to me.
Joan: My mother raised us in a small town…. She didn’t have many outlets. I lived, and still live, in a very diverse suburb. I had a job, I was very involved with many activities, and my children very often participated with me in the activities I was involved with. I didn’t really make a deliberate attempt to be different from my mother but my situation was very different and that affected my children, I’m sure.
Vicki: I take a lot from my mother’s approach to parenting and use it as a guidepost…. I’ve realized now how extremely emotionally multi-dimensional the relationship between a mother and child can be. Our children are individuals, they are unique, they are ever-changing as they mature, and so are we as parents and as adults. We are always changing—it’s a learn-as-you-go experience, parenting and being a mother.
Lori: I would say that when I was a little girl, my mother’s style of mothering was not that different from my own with my sons. She was very tender, she was very attentive, she was a presence, she was funny. She was extremely loving. It was later that she transformed and became bitter…. She rarely asked me how I was feeling or my opinion on anything, even when I was in my teens, 20s, 30s. Whereas with my children—I have twin boys who are 19—I respect their opinion. I ask them what they are feeling. I hope to explain how I may be feeling. At times, I might even tell them more than I need to, but I tell them because I feel it’s fair and I value their judgment and intelligence.
How do you want your own children to remember you?
Susan: I actually never thought about this until you asked this question. They’ll probably remember me as a nag, and a bunch of things I don’t want, but the way I’d like them to remember me? As sensitive and nurturing and as offering a place of unconditional love and comfort, and also as a competent and accomplished woman.
Vicki: I hope my boys remember that I can be joyful, hopeful, honest, fun, and caring. But how they remember and how I want them to remember me are two different things. I hope they have some nice stories to tell their children one day. Most of all, I want them to remember me as perfectly imperfect. A good mom, flaws and all—I mean the stuff they couldn’t stand about me was outweighed by the stuff they liked about me.
Lori: I can only say I hope when they remember me, they are able to reflect on my strengths, my flaws, my foolishness, my insights and feel that yes, there was a lot of love there. And if they happen to be sharing a story or a memory with someone, that the listener too will feel that intensity of emotion.
Vicki, you wrote: “But. The house was a mess. There were piles of dirty laundry on the floor, I needed to get to the grocery store, and I had so many phone calls to make. I remember thinking of my mother. As busy as she always was, she stole the time to draw and paint.” How do each of you think back on your mother’s ability to find balance—to reconcile her role as woman and mother?
Vicki: When we were very young, my mother didn’t work outside of the house but she was still always busy…. [Then] at one point she was working three jobs, one full-time and two part-time. But still, all the housework was her responsibility. I remember she was always tired. I used to look at that and think, I will never let my husband get away with that. But she was strong and resilient and stubborn—she enjoyed her life. She always had hobbies, interests, and friends. She was full of energy. Whenever I begin to feel overworked (I have two part-time jobs outside the home, but my husband and I share all the household responsibilities), when I feel like life is all work and no play, I remind myself how much more difficult it was for my mother. I scold myself for being a whiner, and then I get on with it and remember to make some time for fun like she did.
Lori: My mother never worked. She didn’t have to, I suppose, but she didn’t have any desire to. Outside of mothering and decorating her home and that kind of thing, she didn’t understand, I believe, that a balance could be found within herself. She lost her way during and after the divorce and allowed that confusion to consume her. I’ve always had writing in my life and in fact...if anything, I had to cut away at that writing life more than I imagined when I had my sons. Yet within days I found myself loving motherhood. Nonetheless, I was always grateful that I could still feel the writer stirring inside, forcing me to work whenever I could. She just never had that.
Joan: My mother was finally able to find balance in her life when she and my father moved to California. At that point, her children were all on their own but she did still have to take care of my father, who was 13 years older, not in good health, and didn’t know how to do anything around the house, even make his own sandwich for lunch. I am still trying to find balance in my own life...which I assume all parents have to.