It’s Mother’s Day, and my mother and daughter are here. My daughter graduated from college yesterday, which is why my mother is here. My daughter hasn’t looked for nor found a job yet, which is why she is here. We’re going to Disney as a graduation present for my daughter at the end of the month. She’s worked at one or more jobs since she was about 15, sometimes against my will, so I’m not terribly worried about her not looking for work yet. She also had the option of going straight to grad school, which she decided not to do. I’ll guess we’ll see. This isn’t much of a problem except for the blasted American dilemma of health insurance. As of June 1, she’ll be on Cobra. I’m grateful it’s an option and one we can afford for now. I’m anxious that there’s nothing more permanent or doable for the long term in place. And my son will hopefully be in the same boat two years from now, so the Cobra funds may be needed then. Yuck.
Anyway, after graduation my wife and I were able to make it to our home group AA meeting. The topic was anger, and at first I thought I’m really not very angry, rather I’m on a bit of a pink cloud from the graduation. As I thought about it though, I realized that I had had two flare ups of anger over the past two days. One involved my wife, and one my wife and mother. They were quick, insignificant flare ups, and they were brought on by the stress of the situation – trying to balance the wants and needs of all the people involved in the graduation. Lots of the group looked to me to ultimately make decisions about where we went and when and how. I was already stressed by leaving my dog (long story) and my utter hatred of spontaneity. Things went better when I told them to tell me where to be when, and to do their best to take care of the dog. My daughter ultimately decided what to do after the ceremony (there’s a concept, having the graduate decide) and I was able to go along and be pleasant and try to push my dog anxiety away.
So at the meeting I was able to say that although these anger issues were there that day, they weren’t serious. They didn’t threaten the relationships and all the relationships are pretty good.
At the diner after the meeting, to which my wife and son went with some people from the meeting, my wife told us how my mother had put me down during their car ride home from the ceremony. This isn’t surprising or new. I’m an only child. I’m not the most stellar specimen you’ve ever seen. I make plenty of mistakes, I’m average or below average in most ways. My mother has always put me down. Often, to others, she’ll talk me up. But not to me or the people close to me. She’s always liked my friends better than she’s liked me. She likes my wife better than she likes me. She likes my kids better.
What she told my wife about my faults was fundamental and cutting. She criticized the way I have mothered my daughter, and she blamed my daughter’s mental health issues on me.
Without getting into it too much, through the years of my daughter’s struggles I have taken her to doctors and therapists a-plenty. I have always asked them to please let me know if there was anything I could do better, do differently, stop doing or start doing. I am not mother of the year. I have never been. But …….. I really feel I’ve done a much better job than my mother. She has always criticized me. In all these years I have not answered her with a recitation of her own sins and lacks. I haven’t yet.
So often I hear people say that their parents did the best they could with what they knew or had at the time. I don’t believe it. I wanted my children and made them number one in my life. Still I could have done better. And so often real parents were bad, or wrong, or careless or dangerous. I don’t know why pop psychology says we must love and forgive. Resentment against my parents occupies hardly any of my mental energy, but it’s there, and I don’t see how getting over it or denying it would help any.
At the diner, my son said he knows he had never been physically hurt by me, and I’m very grateful that that is his picture. And not to derail this, the accusations are not that I was ever physically punishing or cruel. Even the example that my mother has at times shown my children, her grandchildren, has been very bad, and I haven’t said anything.
The AA program only goes so far in helping us parent, I think. But the legacy of behavior I have shown my children and given my children is so far superior to what I was given. Because of AA. My son said moderation would be the best example to give your children regarding alcohol, better than abstinence. I told him that I cannot show moderation, and my example may actually change his life one day.
As I had this conversation with him and heard what my mother had to say about me, and considered what she has shown me through the years, I am filled with gratitude for the program, for my children, for the power to break away from that diseased and sick example. My son, at 20, and my daughter, at 22, are so much healthier than I was at their ages. I was actually getting sober at 22, having spent six years in a drunken hell. I didn’t graduate on time, due to drinking. I stopped drinking then and I started having them then and I feel that their health and happiness have been made possible by AA.