Going to Therapy with my Mother

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“Don’t let your life be all about men the way mine has been,” my mom said on the long distance line as I sobbed about my latest tortured love affair circa 1991.

I was startled by her self-clarity. I didn’t know she knew that men were the monkey on her back.

I was an Adult Child. Which simply means that between the ages of 4 and 9 I managed my young mom’s emotions during her marriage to her second husband, who was emotionally abusive. When she cried I talked her down. When we had to pack up and leave in the dead of the night for my grandma’s in Santa Barbara I would say, “Mommy, you deserve better than this.” “I know,” she’d say, “I know.”

Getting out of that marriage cost my mother me. She gave me to my father through the divorce hoping one day to have me back. She couldn’t get a job right away, she struggled emotionally and then she met her last husband. While it was a much better marriage than her previous ones, it was still all-encompassing. My stepdad Guido loved me, but he really couldn’t share my mother for very long. One week, maybe two at a time, then tensions flared, nerves frayed, egos were bruised. So I never moved back in with her. To be fair at a certain point I didn’t want to. My peer group became more important to me than my mom.

In my generous moments I think that letting me go was the most courageous thing my mom ever did because then she had to face the battle on her own.

But still. I’ve never really let her off the hook. I play my little violin quite well. I’m playing it now.

Guido’s death brought us briefly back to our old dynamic of Adult Child and distressed parent. Which pissed me off. Never mind this time I am an adult and my mom’s going through one of the most difficult things a woman can face, losing a spouse after 34 years.

Tomorrow I’m going up to Santa Barbara to have a session with my mom and her therapist. Her first therapist, which she engaged when Gordon died last September to help her deal with her grief. And with me.

I’d been preparing my list of complaints as though cramming for the LSATs. I’d been grinding my axe, fine-tuning my speech, picking my nits. Then I talked to her two nights ago. She’d had the flu and didn’t tell me, sweating it out alone.

She didn’t say it, but I knew it was because she didn’t want to lean on me like she did when I was a kid.

I heard the quiet dignity in her voice as she described preparing for Gordon’s memorial service. She’s having a 2000 lb. stone moved onto their property that will be simply inscribed, “Guido, my love.” Picturing that stone in her yard melted – just a little bit – the one in my heart.

Mothers and Daughters. Holy shit. I have two of my own. Maybe one day I’ll say to them, “Don’t let your life be all about blaming your mother like mine has been.”

I’m proud my mom, at age 70, is willing to go to therapy to look at old patterns. And to learn how to deal with her daughter.

Wish us luck.

Shannon and Kathy circa 1969

Grateful to be going to therapy with my mother.

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  1. Deborah Stambler
    Deborah Stambler 14 March, 2012, 07:50

    What a lovely post. The mother-daughter relationship is so complicated. I guess all relationships are complicated, but there are so many layers and so much nuance to mother-daughter. I bet you get some groovy revelations about yourself as a mother out of today’s session. Can’t wait to hear the follow up.

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 14 March, 2012, 20:42

      It went better I think than either of us expected. This humbling journey through life.

      Reply this comment
  2. Joy
    Joy 14 March, 2012, 08:21

    I loved reading this. I really had no idea until you started your blog how her relationships impacted you. Now I wonder if Missy feels the same way! A mother/daughter relationship is complicated and it isn’t until your mother is gone, do you appreciate who they were. We are all struggling to do what we think is best for our daughters and try to have a life at the same time. Not easy as you will see. Good luck today! Love you!

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 14 March, 2012, 20:43

      Hi Aunt Joy — things went so well with my mom today. Melissa and I are both lucky to have moms that love us so much and want nothing more than to be in our lives. xo

      Reply this comment
  3. Jessica Gottlieb
    Jessica Gottlieb 14 March, 2012, 09:02

    Good for you for being open to all of this. Not everyone would be.

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 14 March, 2012, 20:44

      Hello dear Jessica — Oh believe me, I exact my pound of flesh from time to time. xo

      Reply this comment
  4. Jennifer
    Jennifer 14 March, 2012, 09:35

    It sounds like your relationship has been really painful and difficult for you, and for her as well. It’s never to late to hash out old pains and let them heal…I hope that your trip to Santa Barbara is good for you emotionally. Though it will be a hard process too.

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 14 March, 2012, 20:45

      Hi Jennifer — it went so well. I really love the woman my mom is working with. We’re so lucky we live in a time when this kind of help is available.

      Reply this comment
  5. Lisa Vitale
    Lisa Vitale 14 March, 2012, 11:48

    Wow, coming from another adult daughter with mother issues, this hits home. Unbelievable that your mother, at this late age, is seekeing out therapy. There’s something to be said about that for sure.

    Best of luck to you both!


    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 14 March, 2012, 20:51

      Funnily enough my mom has her own “mom” issues. My grandmother is coming up on 99 this July. And they’re still a work in progress.

      Reply this comment
  6. Julie (Ginger)
    Julie (Ginger) 14 March, 2012, 12:17

    Thank you for sharing this. I’ve struggled with my own relationship with my mom most of my life. And I dread passing that on to my daughter as well. Good luck on your therapy and I hope it brings some healing for both you and your mom!

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 14 March, 2012, 20:46

      Thanks Gingersnap — My mom and I have had a long road. And we’re on yet one more leg of the journey. Funny how you can never get close enough to your mom, or far enough away.

      Reply this comment
  7. Silvia
    Silvia 14 March, 2012, 13:46

    You are so brave sharing your personal path with us, I wish you all the luck on your trip to Santa Barbara. I hope you both find the peace you are looking for and you deserve.

    Reply this comment
  8. Megan
    Megan 14 March, 2012, 16:16

    I wish you both a good experience and a new beginning in your relationship.

    Reply this comment
  9. NBK
    NBK 14 March, 2012, 16:53

    I wish you only the best! I two have a tough relationship … my mom and I have our moments. I can not get into details … but my lack of self esteem mostly as a child and teen was because of her non existent one. and now as an adult my mother competes with my accomplishments. and to top that off I don’t like my father. I do everything with my kids to be different … it is hard!!! so glad you can both embrace going to a therapist and hope you find the peace you need someday!

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 14 March, 2012, 20:49

      Hi NBK — thanks for you kind thoughts. It’s been a really good day. My good friend Jenna says, “Just when you think you’re got it all figured out the universe throws you something new.” I thought I had it all figured out with my mom, but with the death of my stepfather and the transition that requires another layer was revealed. I feel grateful she’s willing to jump into the fire for me. What a woman!

      Reply this comment
  10. Adrienne
    Adrienne 14 March, 2012, 21:24

    I am a firm believer in therapy for everyone, whether you think you have “issues” or not, it is always nice to have an impartial mind to bounce things off of. I wish you and your mom the best.

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 14 March, 2012, 22:12

      Hi Adrienne — I think everyone can benefit from therapy too. As long as the therapist isn’t nuts.

      Reply this comment
  11. Wendy
    Wendy 14 March, 2012, 21:44

    Oh man. I so totally understand this. The Adult Child role (just thinking back on my 3rd grade self and my relationship with my mother is giving me huge anxiety right now!). I went off to live with my dad too – though for different reasons – of which I still blame her for all these years later. On top of blaming her for not getting her shit together to take care of her children.
    Now her health isn’t great and I feel like I’ve stepped back into the Adult Child role. She’s like dealing with a toddler. Oh my. Good for you meeting her therapist. I’d just rather keep those worms in their can.

    Reply this comment
  12. Jamie
    Jamie 14 March, 2012, 22:02

    Wow, you are a great daughter!

    Ugh…The mother-daughter-relationship …part of the reason I breathe a sigh of relief I only have boys (although, I’m stealing your girls-you’ve been warned)

    It’s always complicated, but honestly, it is a really amazing bond.

    Oh and two not-so-serious thoughts from this post:

    1. To be an Adult Child is way more desirable than to be an Adult Baby: http://jezebel.com/5798077/the-weird-world-of-adult-babies

    2. That is your mom in that picture? *whistles* no wonder you’re such a sexpot.

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 14 March, 2012, 22:13

      Okay, that adult baby was simply terrifying. And who is this woman enabling. I feel completely sane now.

      Reply this comment
  13. Becca
    Becca 15 March, 2012, 01:50

    Life is not perfect we made mistakes but once we realize its wrong we are regretful about it.

    Hope everything went well..prayers for your mom.

    Reply this comment
  14. Jill @ Mommy Inconsistent
    Jill @ Mommy Inconsistent 15 March, 2012, 07:46

    I absolutely love that picture of you and your mom. Would love to see a today pic. Glad to hear it went well.

    Reply this comment
  15. Vanessa
    Vanessa 15 March, 2012, 15:35

    I just hope I get the chance to have a mother daughter relationship one day. I would love to experience what I have with my mom with my own daughter one day.

    Reply this comment
  16. Caryn B
    Caryn B 16 March, 2012, 02:15

    Beautiful, raw, honest post….I think everyone could actually benefit from therapy…it’s great to just have a space to talk and air things out….

    Reply this comment

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