• None of the Mother’s Day cards seemed right for my mother

    by Debra DeAngelo

    So, who are these schmaltzy, saccharine Mother’s Day cards for? Not my mom, that’s for sure.

    Picking out a Mother’s Day card for my mom was challenging… “For all the times you were there for me.” Nope. “Your love is warm as sunshine.” Hardly. “I’ll never forget your encouragement, wisdom and guidance.” I wish.

    “To Mom. Happy Mother’s Day.” Yeah, that’ll do. There wasn’t much to work with.

    It’s not that my mother abused me. She wasn’t crazy or alcoholic. It’s just that she didn’t like me that much. She only said “I love you” to me once in my entire life (and it took her 27 years) while hospitalized with a brain aneurysm, hallucinating and heavily medicated, just before she died. Part of me wants to cling to that statement as evidence that she really did love me. Part of me believes it was just the Haldol talking.

    I don’t mean to sound pathetic. I’m just stating the facts.

    My mother wasn’t mean to me, or not mean to me; she was just sort of “there.” Or maybe I was. She was aware of me like one might be aware of a houseplant that you water from time to time when it droops.

    Her indifference gnawed at my psyche most of my life – if my own mother doesn’t love me, there must be something intrinsically wrong with me. I must be horribly flawed in some way that I alone am unable to detect. But over time, particularly after raising my own children and experiencing the power of maternal love, I came to realize that my mother was just lacking any maternal instincts.

    Do I resent her for that? How can I, really? People are what they are. They have their deficits. Do you resent them for being deaf or diabetic? Or do you just learn to accept them as they are, and alter your unrealistic expectations of them?

    Over the years, my frustration and resentment over my relationship with my mother (or lack thereof) subsided, but never entirely disappeared. Recently, I decided to me to view my mother through a different lens: Not as my mother, but as a woman in the 1950-60s.

    It was an oddity for women to work in those days, and if they did, they became nurses, teachers or secretaries. June Cleaver was the standard to which all women were compared, and women were expected to be content with a husband, home and family. Women didn’t elbow their way into the male world and become, say, doctors. But my mother did.

    She was one of only two female graduates in her class at medical school, where she met and married my dad. Together, they set up a private medical practice and had the world at their fingertips. And then she got pregnant. With me.

    Was it planned? Who knows. There’s no one left to ask. But I suspect not. Why would my mother defy the odds and cultural expectations, work her way through medical school as a waitress, start a private practice, and then choose to get pregnant? Clearly, she didn’t.

    And, there’s further evidence that I was more inconvenience than blessing:

    — She took heavy-duty diet pills while she was pregnant to avoid gaining weight (and looking pregnant), despite what that might do to her unborn child. I was saturated in Biphetamine for nine months.

    — After three days of labor, I was stuck in a transverse arrest, with my spine against her cervix, and was delivered by emergency C-section, leaving her abdomen looking like Frankenstein. I was born with pneumonia, and spent my first days in an incubator rather than in her arms. My arrival was marked by pain, disfigurement and separation.

    — My mother went back to work full time when I was only two weeks old, leaving me with this or that aunt or grandmother, as well as random people she hired, including a schizophrenic patient she felt sorry for. Consequently, I never bonded to anyone in my infancy, and was a year old before I smiled. Babies usually smile at five weeks. (Many years later, a therapist diagnosed me with “infantile depression” resulting from the revolving door of caretakers.)

    Research shows that mothers bond poorly with babies that don’t smile. Ditto for babies that don’t make eye contact. Well, unbeknownst to anyone until I was about 3, I am so nearsighted (legally blind, in fact) that without correction, the world is just a big blur of color and motion to me. I can’t see faces. Or eyes. With which to make contact.

    So. Here is a woman who fought to break the June Cleaver mold, a feminist before feminism was cool, unexpectedly pregnant; the delivery is difficult and painful, and the baby is sickly and sullen. And, a choice between motherhood and career must be made. About this time, my parents started having marital problems. I frequently fell asleep to the sound of yelling and tears. And, guess what – I looked just like my dad. And clearly preferred him.

    And so the chasm widens.

    Bottom line, my mother and I never connected. We were two strangers, staring blankly back at each other. She was always pleasant, but never present. She hid beneath layers of defenses, mostly banal and cordial, but obscuring the real person underneath. I could never “get” her. It was like trying to grab smoke. Open your fist… nothing there.

    It’s been 26 years since she passed, and I still don’t “get” my mother. But rather than dwelling on our sad, sorry relationship any longer, I’ve decided to just accept it for what it was, without blaming or judging it, like you might identify a rock as a piece of granite — neither good nor bad, just a piece of granite. Just accept it for what it is, or was, and stop lamenting that it wasn’t a ruby.



    • I get it. I really do.

      and it is what we make of it. You have made a life of love.

      Kudos to you- and Happy Mother’s Day.


      • Carolyn Wyler

      • May 13, 2012 at 12:31 pm
      • Reply

      I use to dread picking out a mother’s day card too Deb. I would spend almost an hour looking for a card trying to find one that would fit. I’ve never been a fan of mother’s day for that reason and because I don’t want my kids to feel obligated to say do or buy me anything. If this day was removed from the calendar I would be perfectly fine with that.


      • Debbie

      • May 13, 2012 at 1:28 pm
      • Reply

      I too had a difficult mother – come to think of it, those two words in combination may just always be redundant, like ‘dysfunctional family.’

      You are absolutely right and wise to let go of the angst and accept that it was what it was.

      A lot of therapists make their bread and butter with endless deconstructions and reconstructions of our childhoods, but whatever they were, they made “us” and we seem to be OK – and almost certainly more interesting because of the quirks.

      Happy Mothers Day to us.



    • I, too, had a difficult mother and as she has aged she still rages sometimes at me but all in all she was happiest working after she broke out of the child taking care of mode. I once even asked my dad if my mom wanted kids and he said absolutely so I am taking that as a sign. My Mom had a very hard childhood as her dad was sick and died when she was only 19. She lives in denial as her era stressed. Today I still visit and just talk to her sweetly as she lives in a very confused mind now. She did the best she could for that time period. But, having just met you Debra, I can tell that you still got empathy, caring and a greatness of spirit. I salute you on Mother’s Day. Your parents did something right as you are a joyful, hard working Mom and friend.



    • Thanks for you comments everyone! I suppose the key is just accepting and appreciating the mother you had/have, not the one you wish you had/have. The next logical step from this story is to start appreciating a feminist before her time… stop blaming her for not being interested in mothering. I’m getting there… slowly…


      • Judy N

      • May 14, 2012 at 11:44 am
      • Reply

      I relate to this so much, eapecially the part about choosing mother’s days cards. The way out for me (including years of therapy) was mothering others and especially my daughter. But I bet you’ve been there too.


      • Gail Bennett

      • May 14, 2012 at 11:48 am
      • Reply

      I had a very difficult and abusive mother who told me she loved me for the first time when I was 18. My sister and I used to talk about trying to find a Mother’s Day card for her, she was never there, etc…… Finally we both had to end the relationship with her as she is soooo “Toxic”. My mother expected it all on Mother’s Day and couldn’t understand why we didn’t shower her in flowers etc. Oh well! My mother is the most dangerous person, to me, a psychologist told me this once and I wish I would have taken it more seriously, for what she did to be was the Ultimate Betrayal!



    Leave a Comment