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7 Things my Mom did That Blew Me Away

mother daughter relationship, Shannon Bradley-CollearyMother Daughter Relationships:

I was raised in the 70s, the era of the skyrocketing divorce rate (key parties?) and the afternoon martini cart (reference any Bewitched episodes; Samantha and both Darrens kept the Grey Goose flowing).

Whether it was the 70s or a young marriage or just in my mom’s generational lineage, there were various upheavals throughout my childhood.

Due to the Negativity Bias, a psychological phenomenon by which humans have a greater recall of unpleasant memories compared with positive memories, I’ve kept a running tab of all the ways my mom failed me during those early years.

They’ve taken on a mythic veracity, starring myself, the girl who suffered ignominies that could have destroyed her, but is like the Phoenix, ever rising from the ashes.

Which was all going quite nicely for me until a recent strange phenomenon that’s been cropping up.

My two daughters, who are 10 and 11, are showing signs of remembering, cherishing and polishing to a fine luster, all the ways in which I’m failing them (“You forgot the Spring Sing! I had no one to sing to! Even the moms with real jobs were there!”), rather than all of the ways I’m succeeding in being a good mom. (Do you girls know how long it took me to recreate Honeydukes Candy Shoppe in our breakfast nook?)

I’m just beginning to get a taste of my own medicine. Which is ill-deserved, an abomination, a miscarriage of justice, a … humbling moment.

This Mother’s Day I’m revisiting my stance on my mom and realizing it is ungenerous, to say the least, and maybe even assholic.

In the wake of my stepfather’s recent passing, my mom sank into a kind of grief that made her emotionally volatile for a little while and that scared me.

It thrust me back to the instability of my childhood and I was incapable of seeing the present situation for what it was, the bereavement of a woman losing her husband of thirty-six years whom she’d nursed for six exhausting, devastating years after his stroke.

I felt threatened and angry by my mom’s intense emotions. I couldn’t feel how this moment was different from moments in the past.

I was very hard on her, which could have caused her to explode, implode or completely pull away. Instead she did seven unprecedented things, which utterly surprised me.

1. When I asked my 70-year old mom to go to therapy for the first time she made an appointment.

2. When I asked if I could come to an appointment with her and her therapist she said yes, and she paid for it.

3. While we waited mute and tense in the lobby to see the therapist and a handsome man walked in and sat down opposite us, she still had enough goodwill to wiggle her eyebrows at me as if to say, “Now, there’s a hottie.”

4. When the handsome man’s right eye began to twitch and he started to drool copious amounts of fluid until a small puddle formed next to his lap on the leather sofa, she reached for my hand and shot me a clandestine eye-bulge to indicate we should make a run for it if he was packing a machete or scythe of some kind.

5. When we survived to meet with the therapist she asked my mom to set aside all of her guilt from the past and just listen to me, my mom did it.

6. As time went by and our relationship improved I worried my mom would stop going to therapy. She hasn’t.

7. Her grief is still a living thing inside of her, but the emotional volatility has gone. She’s more sober, more grounded and more loving than she has ever been and it’s because she has walked through the fire of a loss so deep it could have destroyed her, but she is like the Phoenix, ever rising from the ashes.

My dear mom, when I look at my hands I see your strength in them. When I speak, your voice comes out of my mouth. You are the only person I couldn’t run far enough away from, or get close enough to. You are and always will be my first love and on this Mother’s Day, you are my hero. I love you, Mom.

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24 comments

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  1. Rosie Carrillo
    Rosie Carrillo 9 May, 2014, 12:39

    How very beautiful! Happy Mothers Day to you, too!XO

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  2. Dani Shear
    Dani Shear 9 May, 2014, 14:15

    your piece brought me to tears, Shannon. beautiful piece…

    Reply this comment
  3. Brooke
    Brooke 9 May, 2014, 15:26

    Ooooh that was so sweet and beautiful Shannon!

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  4. Kristi
    Kristi 10 May, 2014, 10:34

    Personally I think this post is pathetic. I, a child with many, many upheavals in childhood. A person who can claim to be owed everything due to my lack of parenting. Get over it lady!!! All I heard in your post was you ordering your mother to do things that suited you…maybe she wasn’t the best of a mother but she probably did the best she could at the time. Or maybe she didn’t. Either way, let go of it. Forgive. Move on with a relationship of any sort without putting stipulations on it. Set boundaries safe for you but love her for all her flaws because one day she will be gone. Look at yourself in the mirror. What is it you need to change about you that would make you more desirable to your relationship with her!!!

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    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 11 May, 2014, 09:37

      Hi Kristi — what to say? You sound really angry and judgmental. Good luck with that.

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  5. Kate Berman
    Kate Berman 11 May, 2014, 21:35

    Shannon-You are a recent –months, weeks ago –acquaintance. BUT I have known your Mom since I was 4 and she was 4 12 (she is always older than I am). We were out if touch for many many years, say 17 through 50 something (she was married to Guido when we caught up). I LOVE your piece. As an imperfect Mom myself ( hard to believe but humanly true:-)) you gave your Mom the opportunity to be real, to apologize, to be an imperfect but truly always loving personae in your life even now. With your grandmother living to close to 100–and she told me how much she loved you (and you were not there for her mistakes though I was) unless your generation does something none of us can imagine which would be perfection, give us the space to let us acknowledge our mistakes within a context of loving you. And sometimes doing you harm. Us, real harm and injury. Without evil intent but with real harm. Some children cannot bear these days for this kind of admission. Shannon, you give your Mom the opportunity to grow even older with dignity and veracity. And apparently your children are giving you this opportunity too. Xoxo Kate

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    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 12 May, 2014, 11:10

      Hi Kate — so nice to see you here. And I love that my mom and you got to reconnect. There’s nothing like those childhood friendships and knowing each other from our origins. My mom is in Italy with her art group right now and I’m missing her. She is such an amazing, warm, funny woman and incredibly strong when it came to nursing Guido. I don’t know how she did it. Parenting my own girls is humbling and makes me appreciate her all the more (I just hope neither of them turn out to be writers. Sigh)

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  6. Lucille
    Lucille 12 May, 2014, 09:38

    Thank you for my word of the day “ignominy”. And thanks for that wonderfully written homage to your mom who I, of course, adore, probably for all of the things that frustrated you as a child.

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    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 12 May, 2014, 11:11

      Oh Lucille I miss you!! When the dust settles the two of us need to drive up to my mom’s for a luxurious weekend of red wine, massages and laughter. Tempting, no?

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  7. Diane DuBois
    Diane DuBois 13 May, 2014, 00:00

    Kristi,
    Did you read Shannon’s tribute to her mother? She pretty much did everything you were asking of her. Forgiveness, gratitude, humility couched in humor that’s fairly transparent and self deprecating in the best way. Regret for being hard on her Mom, and…Love.

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  8. Kristi
    Kristi 13 May, 2014, 17:28

    I’m not angry in the least. I spent many years forgiving, living and let live, and taking care of myself and my family. I base my above comments on…1) “I’ve kept running tabs of all the ways my mom failed me during those early years. When I told my 70-year old mom, who’d sworn never go to therapy, that our relationship couldn’t continue unless did, she made an appointment. When we survived to meet with the therapist, who took my side…” The rest of the post was lovely.

    To comment on keeping tabs, quit. It’s in the past. Holding her wrongs over her head will only continue to make her feel guilt and wish she could change what she can’t. 2) putting a stipulation to go to therapy on her made her go because she loves you not because she felt that she needed to for herself. Therapy gives a person much different results when they go because they choose to and not because it was chosen for them. And 3) why did you feel the need to throw in that the therapist sided with you? Do you feel like a martyr and a need to let everyone know your right and you’ve been so wronged.

    People aren’t perfect and sometimes very far from even doing a decent job at life and parenting. We as children and parents have to learn from our mistakes and grow from them. I don’t know what you’ve been through, nor you me. On Mother’s Day of any day, post how nice it is that you and your mother have reconciled and how much you care for her. This post has obviously gone viral. If I were your mother I would feel extreme sorrow for how I wronged you and public humiliation on my lack of parenting.

    That is my opinion. I guess coming from an experience where I too had problems in my youth with my mother, I have forgiven and let go. My mother, who is 77 is beautiful, loving and giving. I couldn’t ask for a better grandmother for my children. As far as her absence in my childhood….it is what it is. I’m who I am today because of it. I have set boundaries as an adult that she does not cross. I don’t dwell on it and love her for who and what she is now.

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  9. Kristi
    Kristi 13 May, 2014, 17:32

    And as a side note…I went to therapy to deal with my feelings and my loss. I didn’t ask her to because her problems are just that, hers!! I have truly grown!!

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    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 13 May, 2014, 22:53

      Kristi — I’m glad you’ve truly grown. But it seems you weren’t able to detect that I told this story at my own expense. Not my mother’s. I don’t need to go into the details of what happened that precipitated my ultimatum because then the story would be at my mother’s expense. By telling the story the way I have I am trying to say that I’ve gained perspective and have come to have a great deal of respect for my mother’s strength and gratitude for her willingness to mend fences with me, whether she needed to or not. The funny thing about writing a story is that as an author you have one intent, but every reader is different, and filters the story through the lens of their own experience. The way this story struck you is very different from how it struck other readers. I was trying to write this story in a self-deprecatory manner, but it definitely didn’t register that way for you. I was gently making fun of the girl (me) who “kept a running tab” not exalting her. Anyhow, let’s agree to disagree and perhaps you can move on to another blogger to dole out your helpful advice. (yes, that’s a bit of bitchery. I’ll own it.)

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  10. Grace
    Grace 14 May, 2014, 10:27

    “You are the only person I couldn’t run far enough away from, or get close enough to.” This captures the mother-daughter dynamic so eloquently and succinctly, love it. Thoroughly enjoyed your self-deprecating tribute to your mom. Thanks for writing and posting it.

    Reply this comment
  11. Molley@A Mother Life
    Molley@A Mother Life 19 May, 2014, 19:04

    it’s a complicated relationship, the mother/daughter one, thank you for sharing this story. Some days I struggle to speak to my mum, other days I can talk for hours on the phone.

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    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 19 May, 2014, 21:40

      Molley — thanks for this and I know exactly what you mean. Lately I’ve wondered how my mom puts up with me. xo

      Reply this comment
  12. Tam Warner Minton
    Tam Warner Minton 20 May, 2014, 08:49

    Humbling? Yes, I imagine so. My relationship with my mom was quite difficult, but I survived. Actually, all of my relationships with my mothers (mother in law, bio mother, adoptive mother) were difficult. I never felt “well mothered” if that makes any sense. If you don’t want to be blamed for screwing up, don’t become a mom, that’s for sure!

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  13. Angela
    Angela 26 May, 2014, 06:03

    Dear Shannon, I’m just catching up on my blog reading and just read this post. Mother-daughter relationships are truly complex and highly emotional and sensitive. Thank you for sharing your self deprecating views and being so honest. It’s wonderful to read when relationships are repaired and salvaged, it gives me hope regarding my own relationships. My childhood was filled with violence, anger and pain, however, I continue to see my parents regularly and though I can’t forget the past, I can see that my parents did the best that they could. I try and nurture their relationship with my kids, my parents are loving and supportive grandparents for which I am truly grateful. I really hope you won’t let toxic commenters keep you from sharing your honest and well written stories, hopefully they will go away.

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    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 26 May, 2014, 11:46

      Angela — you are so kind to come to my defense. I will keep writing for people who are like you! And I think it’s wonderful that you’ve been so generous with your parents to allow them to be great grandparents. My mom was only 23 years old when she had me and I was 36 years old when I had my first child. Had I had mine when she did I’m sure I would have made a lot of the same mistakes. And she is truly a magnificent grandma (and now mother to me). xo

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