I Am My Mother's Daughter

But I am not my mother.

I often have a hard time conversing with anyone who isn't a close friend. Oh sure, I can be pleasant and make small-talk but when it comes to having meaningful conversations or storytelling I start to clam up. I have to remind myself that I'm allowed to take up a little space in this world and that I am worthy of someones time. I've become aware of the erroneous belief that no one could possibly be interested in what I have to say for more than a minute. I'm usually on the lookout for cues that I'm boring them.

I'm pretty sure I know why I am this way. I blame it on my mother. (And her mother too for that matter.) My mom is a terrible listener. She just doesn't care much about things that don't affect her directly. Oftentimes while I talk she'll mumble "uh huh," half-listening as she busies herself with something. She usually comes across as apathetic, distracted or bored. The only time she seems enthusiastically engaged in a proper discussion is when she's drinking, but then it's usually all about her anyway. She can and does feign interest for acquaintances but she doesn't even pretend to care for those closest to her. Don't get me wrong, she does have her merits, but the art of conversation certainly isn't one of them.

There was a time when I had a lot of bitterness toward my mother for displaying, what I considered to be, a lack of maternal affection. I'm still hurt occasionally, but mostly I'm saddened by her self-imposed isolation. We all know that it is impossible to change what we can't acknowledge so I hold little hope that she will experience healing in this area of her life. I can see now that her distant, disinterested attitude toward me has nothing to do with my value as a person and everything to do with her own intimacy issues.

Nevertheless, that attitude formed within me a very warped perception of my place in this world. It's an attitude that must be challenged on a regular basis. I become uncomfortable when someone shows me guenuine concern and attention -like somehow they missed the memo that I'm not that important. The words "don't be foolish" (i.e. emotional) are imprinted on my soul and I have a hard time expressing tenderness. As a child my tears were shunned so I placed a high value on stoicism very early in life. I liked being the kid who didn't make a scene, who was incredibly brave and could take it on the chin. I didn't tattle when violated and secretly hobbled off with embarrassment if I got hurt. I built impenetrable walls around me. I showed no weakness. I made myself as invincible and invisible as possible.

My mother's disapproval of vulnerability and childlike behaviour were quickly integrated into my own personhood and became self-perpetuating. Unconsciously, she was teaching me how to protect myself from life's disappointments. But I am not a child any longer and I need not project my mother's shortcomings onto the world at large.

There is a woman at our church whose voice cracks with emotion whenever she gets up to pray and share about her experiences. Oh how I envy her. I have a friend who weeps for me when I share my struggles. Oh how I thirst to tap into that well. Every once in a while a gush reaches the surface but I become self-conscious, even while alone, so it quickly recedes.

Awkward as it may be, I am learning to speak my truth, stretch my spirit, give and receive love. I often feel phony, but my desire is genuine. Usually I'll find myself wallowing in shame, embarrassment or guilt after a very normal display of emotion. I must remind myself that it's okay to feel.  

Yes Michelle, it's okay to be hurt and it's okay to express joy -you aren't foolish; you're human! Not only that, there are people in this world who actually want to hear your experiences and share in those feelings. People do care.

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