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Let’s Treat Mothers Like The Mortals They Are…

A conversation that went real deep real quick prompted me to air the recent episode of my podcast. I spotted a young woman I had met through a mutual friend in a cafe and went over to say hello. She had just come from visiting her mother who lived in the area and wanted to grab something to eat before she got back on the subway to go to her own place.

I don’t think she meant to share so much with a casual acquaintance she had just met a few days before at a friend’s birthday party. But, I was soon to learn that most of the conversations she had with her mother left her emotionally wrecked and she often escaped them having not bothered to eat whatever meal her mother had prepared or even stay longer to spend time with her father. I noticed she seemed shook within minutes of my “Hey, Girl. Nice to see you again.”

In short, this woman is destroyed each and every time she leaves her mother’s presence. The mother criticizes, judges and berates the young woman who has managed to reach her late twenties without securing a job that her parents can brag to their friends about, a husband that they can brag to their friends about or even a life as a single, middle class lady that the mother would feel justified all the money she and her husband had spent to send their only child to the United States to study at an elite university.

As she apologized for unloading her frustrations on someone with whom she had just become acquainted, I assured her that she was not burdening me. That I, like many adult children, have a complex relationship with my mother, too. This is normal. However, the more this young woman shared snippets of her interactions with her mother, the more I realized what she was describing was an abusive relationship with a manipulative bully.

“Maybe you should stop doing this to yourself and not communicate with her anymore,” I suggested. I was not surprised by her response.

“I can’t just stop talking to my mother.”

When I asked her why she could not stop allowing herself to be bullied by a woman who seemed to spend a great amount of their time together making her feel like crap, she supplied another unsurprising retort: “Well, she’s my mother…”

On the show, Gail Howell talks about how long she held on to the same ideal. I cannot just stop talking to my mother. I owe her my life. Though she is now making that life unlivable, I owe her my silent submission. By the time Gail found the courage to sever her and her mother’s relationship, she had spent thirty-seven years believing that she was obligated to deal with an incredible amount of emotional abuse and casual disregard because it was meted out by the woman she called mom.

I have often said the way we’ve created a special deity category for women who choose motherhood does more harm than good. It harms the children of the women who use the role as an all-access pass to treat the human beings they have birthed cavalierly. It also harms the women themselves as it takes away the very necessary accountability all humans must face when they allow their lesser selves to lead when engaging with humans who have been trained to believe a deity figure is above reproach.

Over the years, I’ve talked to women whose mothers have charged major purchases to their credit cards without their permission, repeatedly criticized them for decisions that it was their right to make and burdened them with “You need to do this for me right now because I want it done right now.” They all just let these things go, citing, “She’s my mother” as the reason why behaviors that would warrant a polite read at the very least should just be endured silently. The woman whose credit was nearly ruined by her mother took on a few extra shifts at work so she could pay off the debt her mother had created and never bothered to tell her about.

We joke about it all the time. “Girl, my mama be tripping, but ya know…that’s just how mamas are.” And around this time of year there is no shortage of posts touting “my mama is god on earth and I will fall at her feet until the day she dies” running all up and down the timelines of many women who want to initiate a conversation with their mothers about that cruel thing she did or those harsh words she said or repeated cruel things she does or harsh words she says that continue to hurt. Some of these women just want to say, “What you did was not cool.” Yet, so much of the culture surrounding mother worship makes it blasphemous for a child of any age to even make this, the most benign of complaints, against the woman who chose to raise her.

Yes, mothers choose a difficult job. The key word in this sentence is choose. I applaud anyone who chooses a path that is fraught with challenge because they feel it will give their life meaning and focus. However, the choice to mother should not be awarded such adulation that it becomes impossible to even fathom a woman’s child holding that woman accountable for poor treatment the same way she would demand accountability from a boyfriend who had treated her with similar disregard.

We do not need to demonize mothers just to remove the deity-like worship many cultures award them. They don’t have to be stripped of well-deserved applause and appreciation for their sacrifices in order to create a culture where their children are encouraged to reject them and their abuse in the same way they are taught to reject anyone whose actions repeatedly wound them. I propose we make mothers human. And afford them the same expectations for how they treat us as we do with others. How about we treat them as neither deities nor demons? Just mere mortals who made a conscious choice to mother. Mortals, regardless of lifestyle choices, are held up to the same expectations in how they treat others. Mothers deserve to be held to the same standard as the rest of us.

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