Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Running From My Mother's Shadow

I've been thinking about this past weekend's events a lot over the last few days. I suppose I'll be thinking about it all for quite some time. I'm not rehashing it to punish myself. Thank god I've moved beyond that. Now I'm just standing back trying to understand, trying to learn what I can. One thing that keeps resurfacing in my mind is how often I try to run from my mother's shadow, and when I say her shadow I mean her mistakes. I'm no different from a lot of you. I've looked myself in the mirror and swore I would never make the same mistakes my mother made. I vowed to do things differently, to do things better. Most children have probably done this very thing. Maybe my own mother did when she was a new mother. There are a lot of qualities and characteristics about my mother that I would love to inherit, but I didn't want her mistakes--as if we have the power to pick and choose. I wanted to be spared from those. In high school/college I loved having my youth/college group over to our house after the Sunday evening service because I knew my mother wouldn't just lay out a bag of potato chips and call it good. My mother is an entertainer. She oozes hospitality and I love that about her. When I taught a girls class at our church I always wanted my mom to be my assistant because I knew she would get on board with my ideas and show the same excitement as I did. I knew I could count on her to go above and beyond, making the girls' learning experience something memorable. I love that about her too. She always made birthdays and holidays special and I'm lucky to have inherited that from her. She is one of my favorite people to spend time with (despite the fact that she can spend more time in Wal-Mart than any human being alive--you've been warned people!) and often when she's in town my siblings and I fight over her. And as far as our relationship goes I've reached a point in my life where I don't feel as if I have to live to please her, and that is a great blessing, one of the greatest blessings a parent can give to a child. But her shadow has haunted me and I've carried it all my life. The irony is that the more I run the faster it pursues, eventually reaching its bony hand out to grad the back of my shirt. It always catches me. ALWAYS. And this past weekend was no exception. More than once, when I'd get angry and frustrated, loosing my temper and raising my voice, in my minds eye I could see my mother. I was doing the very thing I swore I'd never do. So why do I insist on continuing to run?

That is the question I've been asking myself the past couple of days. What would it be like if I stopped running? What would it mean? What would it look like? What would be the worst possible thing that could happen? I'm not sure I even have an answer for these questions yet. I'm still pondering and stewing. I don't even know if I know how to stop running or if it's even a possibility. Is it just a part of the parent-child relationship? Is it a natural part of wanting to be separate and unique? I don't know. I do think that I'm afraid if I stop running, if I stand still, if I open my arms, if I crumble to the ground and refuse to move another step, I'll enter a dark place and never be able to work my way back out. I'm afraid of who I might become. I'm afraid of losing control (key word being control--I'm such a perfectionist--yuck!). But the truth is, the very thing I'm most afraid of, the things I just described, is what happened this weekend. It's what I'm creating every time I run. So how do I stop running? How do I make peace with the past, the mistakes, the things I secretly wanted but never received? I don't know the answer to that yet. I do know that becoming a mother has helped me to be a lot more understanding. Now I know what it's like to feel exhausted, and fed up, and empty, and fearful, and stretched beyond my limits. But this week I also realized that understanding and forgiveness aren't the same thing and that maybe facing the shadow begins with a generous combination of the two. So that's what I've been thinking about lately. I've been trying to figure out how to stop all this running I've been doing.

PS--Mom, I know sometimes you read my blog. If today happens to be one of those days I want you to know my words aren't meant to hurt you. I know you can be sensitive like that. This doesn't have anything to do with not loving you or not being grateful for you. It has to do with wanting to become my own person and the very fact that I want that means you did something really, really right. If you hadn't then I'd be satisfied with just staying in your shadow and never living up to my own potential. I'd be happy settling for second best. A child realizing her parent made mistakes and had weakness isn't a bad thing but it is a difficult thing. I think we all secretly want our parents to be perfect. I'm just trying to work through it all, trying to learn, trying to come to terms with my own parenting mistakes, trying to figure out how to stop trying to be so damn perfect (yes, I said damn), and trying to live out of the positive instead of the negative.


Blogger Wenda said...

I like how you are looking at your experience from so many angles, digging deep for insights and making the most of a hard time. Your process reminds me of the economy of making soup from bones after the main feast, making sure that nothing is wasted, soaking up every once of nourishment.

10:13 PM  
Blogger Bohemian Girl said...

imagine turning to that shadow and giving it a warm, rocking back and forth hug.

perhaps if you gently acknowledge it, embrace it, love it...then it will cease to haunt you and will let you go.

this is the vision that came to me while reading this and thought i'd share it with you.

not sure what it means...but it is for you, not me.

love to you. xoxo

10:49 PM  
Blogger dani said...

firstly the image is brilliant!
and secondly, i so get your stuff about your mum - and the bit about us wanting our parents to be perfect is so true. i have learnt something really good today reading this post - thank you!

11:10 PM  
Blogger liz elayne said...

this is a new idea for me. to stop outrunning the shadow. you have invited me to turn my thoughts upside down about this one. amazing. i have been trying to run and run and run as fast as i possibly can from this shadow. maybe i need to stop and take a breath. and just see what happens.
beautiful michelle.

11:40 PM  
Blogger Tongue in Cheek Antiques said...

the dried pansey petal came from a fresh beautiful pansey. the peeling paint was once striking and new. the shadow is an image of that which stands to block the light. Once light pentrates into it, the shadow disappears.
Like you said you have stopped running and are trying to understand what is your Mother's shadow and transform it into light. the image you took is wonderful! everything changes everything can become something new! Even that which seems old and forgotton.
Your light is evident in your writing, you share light with us!
Michelle you are a gift!

1:37 AM  
Blogger telfair said...

Michelle -- I've been behind on my blogging this week so I missed most of your no-good, very bad weekend. It sounds like a lot of bloggers were there for you (and one not so much) but let me just say again that I think you're an amazing mom, and an amazing woman. I won't dwell on it because I know you're moving past it as you should!

Secondly, I really loved this post -- it's honest about all the things you love about your mom, and all the ways you want to be your own unique person, and not replicate patterns that you might have seen in your role models. I struggle with this all the time and I really appreciated your insight. Thanks again for your candor and emotional honesty -- by sharing your experiences, you are helping lots of folks, believe it.

2:13 AM  
Blogger gkgirl said...

very well thought out
and interesting point of view...
many things to think about.

you have such insight into yourself...

i loved how you said
"yes, i said the word damn"...
my mom still taps me on the back
of the head for even mildly swearing)

2:56 AM  
Blogger Josephine said...

You are so beautiful in this way. This searching way you have.

I grapple with issues similar to this, and what I'm learning is that the only way to get what I want is to give it to myself.

Or, sometimes, learn to live without.

Either way, it's not easy. But it's inspiring to see such an alive woman blazing her own path!

Keep on keeping on, Michelle.

3:34 AM  
Blogger Colorsonmymind said...

I was just talking to one of my longest dearest friends yesterday about embracing, fully accepting, being with completely that which we are uncomfortable with to be able to change or understand it.

I love reading about your inner journey, it always gives me courage to share more of mine.


5:00 AM  
Anonymous krista said...

One of the most important things that I need as a daughter is autonomy. I need to feel seperate from. It sounds like there is an element of that at play here too for you.

Your mom sounds very much like my own.

It is nice to be able to sit in your mind as you walk through these thoughts. They are familiar to me, and I feel as though reading them halps me face my own running...


5:16 AM  
Blogger katie said...

it's always exciting to experience someone with such curiosity about what's arising in life. you've asked some potent questions, and after years of chasing after answers, the questions are what i value now, just holding the questions. mother/daughter relationships are intense and complex, i certainly experienced that with my mother when she was alive. i enjoy your blog, i'll be back!

6:24 AM  
Anonymous Charmaine said...

I recently had my very first "rough spot" with my mother. Where I felt she was needy, demanding and not understanding of my time/space/feelings. Then she met me in Minneapolis a few weekends ago and we had 22 hours of alone time -- needless to say it was exactly what I needed. I actually needed more than I was letting on to, or letting myself. I thought I was so independent, so unlike her, so different. But I really am quite similar. And yes, there are things that bug me about her, but that's because they are habits I see developing in my own persona. Yet. I couldn't ask for a better mother and now, after our mini-weekend together, I feel so much better about our relationship it's hard to even explain in words. Thanks for sharing your thoughts as always.

6:45 AM  
Blogger kelly said...

i often wonder what my mom would think of my blog, not that i am a writer like you, but i sometimes think i should put the apologetics
at the bottom of everyone...just in case!

i learn from you everyday girlie...
thanks for sharing your life!

7:02 AM  
Anonymous chelle said...

I think it is amazing that you are attempting to come to terms with every aspect of your view points. I have never had a Mother's Shadow to run from, since my birth mother never was there. However, I have had a lot of examples of what I do not want to be like.

It is an amazing yet hard thing to carve yourself out and be distinct. The thought process, questions are all part of that!

7:20 AM  
Blogger melba said...

is starting a parenting book club.
I just signed up.
I think it is important for all of us to share our struggles and support each other.
There is no right way to parent.
We are all trying to figure it out.

9:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh Michelle-- I can't keep up with you-- I'm still back pouring through your art journals!!!!! They are gorgeous-- you are so sos os so so so so sos SO talented!

And this post about the sweet and the sour of what we receive from our parents-- so powerful-- so resonant-- you slay me.


10:20 AM  
Blogger *aimee* said...

Thank you, thank you for sharing a glimpse of your soul with me (with all of us) on a daily basis. It is so refreshing to know that we are not alone in the world and that somewhere, there is someone who is feeling the same way; someone who is feeling the weight of passed legacies and the frustrations that come with life. I don't have children and while I think about that part of my life a lot, I know the time is not right. I am still very selfish and still discovering who I am...but I do wonder what kind of mother I will be. I look at the women in my life and as if I could choose, pick out the qualities that I hope will represent me. In essence I am trying to create a 'perfect mom' in myself and I don't even have children. It's kind of scary--such a huge responsibility. So, thank you.

10:44 AM  
Anonymous MOM said...

Yes, today was one of those days and I did read your blog. All I have to say is, I don't want you to follow in my shadow. I know that I made a lot of mistakes and everyday I wish I could go back and redo or relive a mistake in my life. But, I can not do that and neither can you. That is the hardest thing to face as a mother.

Yes, we do have a good relationship and we are not only mother-daugher but, we are best friends. (Although, I don't get to spend as much time with you as I would like because, everyone else is fighting over my time.That gets overwhelming sometimes and I just want to cry.)

About this weekend. You have to do what you think is best for discipling Britton. Sometimes the decisions you make hurt really bad. You have to learn to not dwell on that mistake and move forward.

The hardest thing I have every had to do a MOTHER.

I LOVE YOU and you will survive as a Mother. Remember,there is NO such thing as a perfect Mother.

11:59 AM  
Blogger tara dawn said...

You are far more brave and far more insightful that I believe you realize at times. Your little one is very lucky to have you as a have a mama who is willing to search her soul and make mistakes and learn as she goes along the rocky path of motherhood. Be proud of yourself...I know no doubt that Britton will know your love every day of his life, and when he is older, he will look back and be thankful for who YOU are, not only as a mother, but as a beautiful and strong woman!
Sending you lots of love,
Tara Dawn
PS - The poem on my site came from the book: "The Glance: Songs of Soul-Meeting" by Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks

1:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's really fascinating to be a mother, and be mothered...and try to learn from both experiences. Like you said, trying to take only the positives and none of the negatives. That always takes some negotiating because there's always that fear that we're not striving, striving, striving, we'll be mindless parents, mere replicas of who our moms were, and nobody wants that, regards of how wonderful your parents are. And it sounds like you and your mother have a relationship to treasure.

No mother is perfect. You won't be either. All we can do is try to stay conscious, no matter how much everything calls us to close our eyes and live blindly.

You are doing an amazing job of staying awake. Britton is lucky to have you.

2:11 PM  
Blogger carmen said...

I canot agree with your mom more. I think she niped it right in the but when she gave her opinion on being a mother. It such a hard job and none of us are perfect by any means.

7:47 PM  
Blogger Swirly said...

So many great questions in this entry! I have been struggling with similar issues for a long time and I feel a long way from resolving anything. But the idea of putting an end to the running - to just sitting still with the truth whether I consider it ideal or not - is a good thing to keep in mind. Perhaps the very thing I need to do to simply accept what IS.

8:12 PM  
Blogger Kim G. said...

Kudos to you for taking a sad and frustrating experience (from the weekend) and bringing so much light, introspection and a true and heartfelt desire to learn from the pain. My old pastor had a saying, "God does not waste pain on anyone." It always carries a sparkling gem of truth under the gritty, tough exterior.

You are blessed to have such a wonderful mom - I loved her response to your post! No wonder you have set the bar high for yourself with her example. Blessings to you all.

8:25 PM  
Blogger SUEB0B said...

Aw poopy. You and your mom made me cry. Your honesty is lovely, a sign of a truly generous spirit. Your mom did lots right, obviously.

The fact is that almost every child - every child, maybe - is going to grow up and wish some things had been different. It is part of growing to realize that our parents are *gasp* just ordinary people, just like us, not all-knowing, all-wise beings. People who were doing the best they could with what they had.

If we are lucky that realization, and accompanying forgiveness, happens while they are still alive.

9:12 PM  
Anonymous Marilyn said...

The title of this post perfectly sums up my first 51 years. I'm just getting caught up, so will have to go back and read what happened that you're alluding to here...but oh man, that title really sums it up.

3:52 AM  
Blogger BohemeMama said...

This is so poignant, especially because I am going through mother angst.
Thank you.

7:00 AM  
Blogger EmergingCrone said...

Perhaps you are ready to do shadow work...
When your little "s" self is healthy enough and you have done enough of the work of being an "adult" then you can begin to mine the shadow for the gold that it holds for us... all those disowned parts hold vast quantities of psychic energy - and our soul wants us to see them and own them...

See the works of David Richo, Robert A. Johnson, James Hollis, Connie Zweig... or email me and I can give you some directions if you are interested and ready...

Julie in Virginia

8:18 AM  
Blogger M said...

Thank you again for being so so honest. You always bring such insights, even in your own personal confusion and struggle. I can't wait to check in and see what you've discovered each day!You are definitely brave to be facing your shadow- I too feel like I'm running from something, afraid to stop or else it will all collapse. If I stop worrying about things, then the bottom will fall out. Let me know if you find any good exercises for getting through these feelings!

10:29 AM  
Blogger madness rivera said...

After reading your mom's comments, I'd say you'd want to be in that shadow. It's hard raising kids, but harder still taking responsibility for mistakes made while trying hard. If you experiment with not running and stand up to your biggest mommy fears, you may surprise yourself. Being a mommy is all about rolling with the punches and learning something new with each situation. But your honest examination of yourself means a lot. He deserves no one but you - yelling and all. You deserve to know this.

3:27 PM  

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