I call my mom everyday after work. On my way home, she’s my virtual passenger seat partner. Most days, we talk about a whole bunch of nothing; kids, grand-kids, work, family happenings, etc. Most days, she has me laughing hysterically. Most days, my mom is my rock and my bridge over troubled water.
And then there are the other days. Those days when it feels as if she wants to push me off of a bridge and pelt me with a rock. As grateful as I am to pick up a phone or hop in a car, our relationship is very fluid at times and it bothers me. I’ve never felt void of love, but there are times when I still feel like a fish flapping on the shoreline, waiting to be tossed back in. I’d like for my mom to be the person who tosses me back in. I don’t understand the shift in our relationship when it happens, it’s deeper than just a bad day. Sometimes, I’ll share something special from work or a new love interest or some endearing antic from a friend, or upcoming vacation plans, anything at all and her response is either a very low, dry, “That’s wonderful.” or her signature, “Mmm. Anyway…”
Somedays, I wait to see if she’ll call me. By the third day, I’m usually the one who’s picking up the phone. She doesn’t sound happy to hear from me, but I push through the conversation and end up obsessing about what I could’ve possibly done to piss her off. Or, I hang up super-pissy because of her curtness.
Either way, I’m agitated and bruised. And then I shake it off and remember that she’s my mom and of course she loves me and I keep it moving. While I’m moving, my feelings aren’t. I often stay stuck between vying for her approval or giving her attitude. It’s rarely neutral between us and I just don’t know why. I can remember during one argument I yelled and said, “You make me feel like the bottom of your shoe!” We didn’t speak for almost a month. We never revisited it again. One of my friends shared recently that she rarely visited her mom because it always left her feeling wounded and critiqued, never comfortable.
What is this about? This strain and disconnect between black women and their daughters that we don’t talk about.
If you cannot relate, you are indeed one of the lucky ones. But from my aunts to cousins to friends to me, 1 out of 3 was raised by a mom who made them feel as if they didn’t like them.
A few months ago, I read an article that someone had shared on Facebook. It talked about how moms are often very rigid, firm and just plain mean to their girls, and the exact opposite to their boys. They’re nurturing, attentive and supportive. While I’m an only child, it made me think of the dynamic I shared with my own daughter, the see-saw relationship with my mom and just my general experience with the relationships that my friends and family have with theirs.
I recall a time with my daughter. She was a new mom and trying to return to work. She had an interview scheduled and while my intent was to coach her through the questions, I could see her visibly shaking. I said, “What’s wrong with you? You can’t answer those questions like that!” I went in. I’ll never forget her tearful response.
“Ma, I’m not you.”
Damn. She wasn’t and I’d never want her to be. But I feel like we get so caught up in the not wanting them to be like us, that we push them away like we, their moms, have been stricken with the plaque. We’re punishing our daughters for our mistakes. Choices that we regret and ones that we’re reminded of when we look at our girls.
I realized that every “mean mom” I knew was a good, good woman. Strong-willed. Raw. Real. Survived some heavy shit in life. Worked hard and asked for nothing. Made her own way. And is mean as fuck to her daughter. And has a black face like mine.
I’ve witnessed moms, black moms ridicule their daughters in front of a live audience. Brutal cuss outs that left my mouth wide open. Physical fights too. I’ve watched these same moms make plates for their sons, constantly refer to his big, grown ass as her baby while allowing him to bring multiple women through her door to lay up in a bedroom that she pays the rent for. Her son is her king. She’ll stand in front of him with her chest poked, hands on her hip and superwoman cape blowing in the wind, wishing a motherfucker would cross her son! While telling her daughter to figure it out, woman up and move out.
The other thing that I’ve noticed is when daughters become moms, the relationship changes. It starts with assisting and advising, and turns into controlling and taking over. If it’s a strong-willed daughter who stands her ground and says, “hold up now, you can’t takeover mom, it turns into an all-out battle.”
Why aren’t our daughters supported by their moms in a way that respects and acknowledges independence, but keeps her spirit intact?
What we don’t want to admit is that most of it is rooted in envy. That’s a hard pill to swallow. Who would ever admit it? Oh, how I wish they would though. I would do anything to hear a woman say to her daughter, “I see you, I do. But I wish that I had taken the same chances as you. I wish that I knew that I could balance home, work and relationship without losing part of me.” Women who never got a chance to reach their full potential because of family obligations, lack of education, no support, poverty, etc.. and punishing their daughters for it, unintentionally.
I’ve watched the products of mean moms become mean women. The women who couldn’t be vocal with their moms, who couldn’t say, “hey, don’t treat me like that please.” are the ones who are treating everyone else “like that.” They don’t do well in friendships. They tend to be very judgmental and hardened. They call it strength. I see weakness. Fueled by a mean mom. I didn’t want to be that person.
Yes, we need to keep them accountable. Yes, we need to stay on their asses when they’re off their square. But what we absolutely cannot do is strip confidence from these women we birthed. They need us and if that’s something that you struggle with, do something about it.
A daughter’s relationship with her mom shouldn’t feel like walking across a field of landmines. See her in the same way that you wished you mom had seen you. An imperfect, beautiful being who may make some mistakes and who may trip and fall, but who knows that her mom is rooting for her and waiting right there to pick her up, with no shame. We are so quick to blame dads for being absent and inattentive, but I’ve heard more hurt from women who grew up in homes with their moms.
It’s time to flip the script. Women’s empowerment doesn’t start at For Sisters Only with our good-good girlfriends. How can you check on your strong friends but ignore your struggling daughters? We’ve heard “I’m not one of your little friends” for as long as we could understand the words.
But instead of being one of the little friends, how about trying to be the ultimate one?