My mother is an admirable woman. My first inspiration, my first ever best friend. She is a constant in my life. The eternal confidant. The hardest worker I’ve ever known, the type of woman willing to sacrifice countless hours for the sake of another. She is selfless in her compassion, beautiful in her humility, and doting in the most important of ways. She taught me responsibility, and humanity, and love. She was, for the better part of my life, everything I wanted to be.
But I am not my mother.
The hardest lesson I’ve had to learn is that phrase. Even though I could always say those words, knowing them very well to be true, there was an element of failure in the admittance. Was my mother not perfect? Was she not everything I should be? As a little girl, the thought of growing up to be just like her was a driving motivation, a valiant aspiration. But in holding onto that element of my childhood, I was holding myself back from growing up.
I say “is” that phrase because the thing is, I’m still learning it. It’s a constant struggle to accept those words. I am not my mother. I know that I’m not, yet somehow, in not being like her, I feel as if I am somehow something less.
I hold deep down an unhealthy idolization of my mother.
Growing up, I don’t remember a moment of my life where she was not working in some capacity. Helping out with the church or her parents, spending almost 50 hours a week at her job, cleaning the house, or raising my brother and me. It instilled in me my first value- always work at 110%.
She was the type of person who never let us see how tired she was. She did not cry in front of us for many, many years. As a child, it seemed as if she was the strongest person in the world. This instilled in me my second value- persevere.
These two things are critical to the building her up as the totem of my life. She seemed like a real superhero throughout every situation. If I wanted to be a good person, if I wanted to inspire people the way she inspired me, then I needed to emulate those critical details no matter the cost.
I’m willing to bet with just those two things, her faults are clear to anyone from an outside perspective, but it took my independence to realize that. There is this romantic nobility we seem to give to self-sacrifice, but we don’t often hear about the negative repercussions of it. Certainly not how it affects the child of a self-sacrificing parent.
Children already look up to their parents. It’s inevitable. At a young age, the parental figure is the only figure the child is dependent on. As they grow older, they start to shape perspective away from their dependency, but during their developmental period, children put all of their needs and faith into the figure that is meant to take care of them to survive. It’s instinct. It’s nature. So when a parent goes out of their way to continue to be that necessary figure in their child’s life, when they overextend themselves into something meant to be idolized… it distorts the perception of reality that the child is meant to develop independently.
I know. I’m being clinical. But it’s the only way I can produce the words that there is a fault in my idol. I literally cannot stomach giving her anything but credit. Blaming her, even indirectly, even allowing myself the room to say that it’s forgiven and human and not held against her, is a blasphemous act.
Yet, the more clinical I become, the more it appears as abuse. Perhaps in some form it is. But I’m digressing into territory that I’m not equipped for…
The only weakness my mother ever spoke of was her fear of public speaking. She confessed as I grew up that when she began working jobs that had her up in front of her superiors, she would be overcome with nausea and often vomit after meetings. The anxiety of speaking in front of a group was crippling.
But she “got over it.” And by got over it, I mean she was forced time and again out of her comfort zone until the anxiety became something she was numb to. She shared this with me in an attempt to encourage me that my anxieties and fear of people and crowds was something temporary.
As an adult, I can’t guarantee that her overcoming her fears is one-hundred percent fact. But as a child, this ability to “get over” something so debilitating only built her up more. I was “shy,” after all, and so was she, apparently. So the fact that she overcame something that felt so impossible to me at the time was near-godlike.
We always said that we were cut from the same cloth, my mother and I. Genetically speaking, quite literally, and it is biologically, too, as many of my health concerns are directly passed down from her. We both demonstrate the same anxieties and neuroses and habits, though there is the question of nature or nurture, as much of that could have very well been learned. But again- I’m being clinical.
Point being, my mother and I have always been under the impression that we are very similar people. But where the similarities end, it becomes very difficult to distinguish where either of us begin. I spent so much of my life attempting to emulate her that I never got to know myself. And I use that childish perception of her to measure my own character, my own success.
My mother can raise two children. I cannot.
My mother can work 50-hour weeks. I cannot.
My mother can sacrifice her feelings. I cannot.
“I cannot.” Why is it that I can hear those words from anyone else and assure them that it’s okay but not do the same for myself? Those words produce such a disconnect, such a dissonance to me. “I cannot.” I bear no grudges or ill will to those who struggle and use those words, but when I produce them, I am overwhelmed with the sight of my failure.
I know that I am not my mother. I don’t have any real desire to be, and I suppose… that’s the biggest sin of all.