- I was stressed about everything being perfect when my mom came to visit.
- Things didn’t go well, and after her visit, I didn’t speak with her for nine months.
- We eventually apologized to each other. Truth is, I missed my mom.
I frantically shoved toys into closets, dusted and mopped for the first time in months, and then stood back and assessed my small townhouse with dread. My mother was arriving soon, and everything had to be perfect. As I glanced down at my 3-year-old daughter, she looked into my eyes. “I want my bibi,” she whined.
“No, baby,” I responded. “You’re a big girl now.”
I never wanted to take her pacifier from her — it was her comfort object, and I had my baby blanket until I was 24. When I started dating my husband, I’d get it out before we went to sleep, put my thumb in my mouth, and hold it to my nose. He called it the “rope thing,” a knotted, gray-green, shredded piece of fabric.
I knew I had failed to meet her expectations
The doorbell rang, and I opened it to see my mother — her lacquered nails looped around her Louis Vuitton suitcase. She stepped inside and pushed her designer sunglasses up, swooping her highlighted hair out of her face. She looked around. I held my breath.
“It’s beautiful,” she said. And I knew that, in some ways, she meant it, but in others, she had already picked up on many issues she’d bring up later to help us out with.
I felt our townhouse itself wasn’t up to snuff compared with my lawyer sister’s home, where my mother got her own bedroom and bathroom. Here, she’d have to sleep on the couch. And I knew there were already several ways I had failed to meet her expectations in the three years I’d been a mother, from caving in and getting an epidural to struggling to breastfeed to not having a college savings account set up for my daughter.
She called me a bad parent
To say the visit did not go well would be an understatement. Nights were hard, to say the least, for my daughter — now that she didn’t have her pacifier. She cried for hours. She howled. At one point, she picked up a lamp and threw it at me. All the while, my mother sat downstairs and listened, coming into the room now and then to offer suggestions.
I know now I should’ve given my daughter her pacifier back, but I didn’t want to lose the progress we had made. I also didn’t want my mother to see me backtrack, to see me fail at yet another aspect of motherhood.
Later, I found out my mother called one of my sisters as she drove home, distraught over my daughter’s “behavioral problems.” My body flooded with shame when I heard. Everything tightened. I felt nauseous, my mind spinning and devolving into narratives of self-loathing. And then, on the eve of my 33rd birthday, my mother and I fought, and she brought up the visit. She demanded we take our daughter to therapy.
Our exchange culminated in her telling me, “You both suck as parents. You don’t appreciate your baby.”
We didn’t speak for months, but I missed her
I didn’t speak with my mother for nine months after this exchange. At first, I was numb. I always knew that a part of her felt this way, but for her to say it out loud was shocking. Then, I was angry — not just at my mother but also at the world and its expectations that all parents need to be perfect.
All these suffocating expectations suck the joy out of motherhood: the smell of our children’s hair, the sound of their laughs, the warmth of their skin. All this policing and shaming drown the good parts of parenting out.
Then, I missed my mother. Every time I had to skip a good song she had introduced me to. Every time I looked in the mirror and saw her features. Every time I had good news and wanted to tell her. I realized that she — too — was subject to the poisonous judgments she hurled at me. And the line between trying to help new mothers and judging them is often blurry, a thin tightrope to walk that is not helped by the anxiety and doubt new mothers carry.
So I called her, and I told her I missed her. She apologized. She said she was angry and didn’t mean what she said.
My mother has done so much for my family. She stayed with my partner and me in our one-bedroom apartment for three weeks before my daughter was born, fixed up our garden, bought us a birdhouse, and made us salmon dishes. My daughter loves her “mimi,” who makes her waffles and bacon every time we visit, buys her extravagant gifts like L.O.L. dollhouses and Barbie Dreamhouses, and introduces her to the same good music she introduced me to.
I know my mother tries, like I try, like we all try, every day to be good — and if I want a better world for mothers, for grace to be extended to mothers of all kinds, then it starts with me.