Friday, November 30, 2007

Mothers and Daughters, Redux

This is a portrait of a woman. One woman. And her impact on another life.

It's about my mother. This morning while reading posts with my coffee I came upon a post that made me stand up and take notice. The writer defined something so central to my mother's and my relationship (when we still had one) that I nearly gaped.

Funny that I couldn't define it before but sometimes when we're too close to something, it's difficult to see it clearly. It becomes blurred and far too long.

Anyway, my mother. Helene.

Helene was always beautiful and she knew it. She was interested in acting and singing which is probably why she was drawn to Los Angeles. She hounded my father relentlessly until he finally left his family, her family and all their joint relatives to head off across the country. Literally. From the east coast to the west. Helene was a very vain and very selfish woman.

Still, she wasn't happy. There was no Lana Turner story in her future, no matter how much she wanted it. She joined all the requisite groups, participated on the periphery of that world as much as possible. Just the same, outside of being hired for one commercial, she never made it big in Hollywood.


Anyway, I was five or six years old then and she must have realized that although her own dreams might not come true, she could make them come true through me. If I didn't show the appropriate interest, that is when the abuse would start. It would be communicated on no uncertain terms that I was a failure and a disappointment. She would leave pictures of the daughters of her friends on the mantle because they were "good girls". Mine was not there. You do the math. Helene was not one to mince words and when she was disappointed, by God, someone was going to pay.

If I, a tomboyish kid, didn't want to go to the Barbizon School and spend time trying on clothes at Mackie's Deb Shoppe, it could only be because I was an inferior creature who didn't understand fully enough what my destiny was to be. I was being belligerent and rebellious. Belligerent or rebellious children did not deserve to be loved.

I was a bookish, nerdy kid who had no interest in those kinds of things. Never a girly-girl. I would rather get lost in biographies and hike in the mountains. Well.. if you consider Bel Air to be "the mountains" but let's not quibble! :)

During the years at home, I withdrew more and more. I found comfort in my books, in the radio, in television. I spent most of my time away of school hiding in my bedroom. I lived for the times when I wouldn't have to appear for a family dinner, preferring to take my food to my room where I could watch TV away from everyone else. During the weekends, I would take long, long walks and then come home to my room.

I didn't want to be anywhere near that woman because of the relentless criticism for every petty, minor infraction. If I held a fork wrong.. or spoke out of turn. If I wasn't dressed right. If my hair wasn't combed correctly.

Silence was always safe. I wanted to be invisible. If I kept everything I thought, believed or wanted to say inside, I would be safe. I learned how to separate from my Self. All these things were happening to someone else, not me.. not the me I protectively wrapped in an unpenetrable bubble. Life took on a feeling of unreality. It was like living in a movie.

The result of that is that it took a very long time to learn to know what I wanted or didn't want. I automatically assumed that my own thoughts were not reliable, that I was not reliable and I should not trust myself. I often trusted the wrong people to guide me. They were people who wanted to use or hurt me.

When I got old enough to move out, I went out into the world totally unprepared. I moved into a small cottage in West Hollywood and while I felt as though I could finally breathe without having to withstand the onslaught of criticism from that woman, I didn't know the first thing about maintaining myself. I made a ton of mistakes, some of them life-altering and very hard to repair. I also discovered alcohol.

I say all of this because in the post I read this morning, the woman/mother writing acknowledged that her children are not extensions of herself. She would never allow herself to feel disappointed because her children might not like or value the same things she does. All I could say is "yay!" and privately I thought "you just saved yourself a lifetime of heartache, not to mention your kids" because the cost of trying to live through someone else is very high for both sides.

We all come to this planet with our own lessons to learn. We (according to my belief) agree to certain situations because that is what our soul requires to grow. I believe I chose my mother because it forced me to separate myself from that, to recognize that my life belongs to me, that I can trust myself, that I have everything I need.

But it was a hard road, harder than it needed to be. I still carry the scars from that mother/daughter relationship, the one where the standards were impossibly high, that I couldn't have measured up because I simply don't have the talents she required of me. The consistent sense of my own inferiority is something that will probably never leave. I've learned to make peace with it.

These days, Helene and I don't have a relationship. That must be part of the agreement we made before we came here to live out this karmic dance. At the same time, it's a very painful road.. for both of us, I'm sure.



slouching mom said...

It's so sad when a parent needs a child to validate him or her in every realm, isn't it?

And sad that an adult (like your mother) might have such a diminished sense of self-worth that a child could have the power to confirm or deny it.


Powerful story, Chani.

Kikipotamus said...

Thank you so much for your honesty in sharing such a painful story. I am so sad for that lonely woman who lost her daughter when instead she could have delighted in her differences. She is her own worst enemy and we can't save her from herself, can we? Sometimes the most empowering gift we can give ourselves is the gift of leaving. I am happy you were able to move on and are working on healing those scars. It must be very hard indeed, undoing so many formative years of brainwashing. Hugs, K

QT said...

Thank you for sharing this story.

I was lucky enough to be raised by two people who loved me and wanted nothing more than to see me succeed in whatever I chose to do.

I can't say the road wasn't rocky - often, we had differing opinions about the appropriateness of my choices.

But I never doubted that my siblings and I were the centers of their universe.

I am glad you have enough distance now to see that you are a worthwhile human being in so many other ways, Chani. I have no doubt is has been a difficult road for you, with much damage to undo.

Ian Lidster said...

Our tales are mirrors in so many ways, my friend. The parallels quite amaze me.
Touching, poignant and amazingly honest. You have become the person you are, and that is to be cherished. And, probably without Helene, you would not have become such a human being.
And, I agree, such choices are always painful.

Wayfarer Scientista said...

That picure is a goregous opening to a sad story. I wish you peace with it.

Julie Pippert said...

The original post was beautiful and this post is very moving.

Chani, every single day I have to check my impulse to try to be what people want me to be instead of what I am, and work to believe that what I am can be liked or loved as I am. And it's okay if everyone doesn't like it.

That's due to parents not understanding that there can be no mold for who your child is.

Like the other mother, I do struggle at times with things, with disappointment.

But I try so hard to never let it be about anyone other than me.

And I try so hard to never let pride be about my approval.

"Do you feel proud of yourself, of what you did there?" I ask.

But my story can't touch Helena. I'm sorry it was that way. I'm glad you grew away to grow into who you are and found your own way and place. But yes, I'm sure it's got pain.

Moving, so moving, this post.

Using My Words

Sienna said...

That was difficult and painful to innocent child that wasn't permitted to just let their own beautiful and individual light shine.

.....and now you've got this brilliant glow happening, more power and peace to you.

That aint easy though, there's a lot of trudgy damn road to get to there, eh.

I'm only 7 to 9 hrs from Thailand, flight specials at anytime might be $200 to $500ish (Oz).


heartinsanfrancisco said...

Is that a picture of you and your mother? If so, you are both beautiful.

I always made it clear to my children that I did not need them to represent me to the world, that they were their OWN representatives. I would like to think my expressing that helped to free them to be themselves, all of whom in my view surpassed me in different ways. They are so much more wonderful than they would have been had they been mere imitations of me.

My own mother also tried to turn me into another Shirley Temple, but instead, she got a rebellious tomboy with twigs in her tangled hair. I'm pretty sure she was always disappointed, but she survived, as did Helene.

It was never up to you to make it up to her for things she felt she had missed in her life. Your only responsibility was to live your own life as YOU. It's sad that you had to do so with undeserved shame and guilt, and sad, too, that she is missing out on the beautiful person you have become despite everything.

meno said...

The putting pictures of other children on the mantle is chilling.

My mother cried actual tears one time when i wouldn't take care of my fingernails properly (i was 11) and said, dramatically, "Some day you'll be sorry."

Odd women those.

Odat said...

What a powerful story! I too share that road...only it was my older brother I had to leave behind....I'm sorry you had to suffer that relationship...but it appears you've come thru the darkness out into the light....good for you!!

flutter said...

and how maybe we too, as adults can accept our parents as what they are instead of what we wish they were?

Anonymous said...

You have had a hard road. It's never easy playing the dance of the daughter. I still have my mom in my life, but it isn't easy. Personally, it sucks, professionally, she is amazing.

Anvilcloud said...

More's the pity that some people, like Helene apparently, never grow, never figure it out. But you've come a long way.

Rima said...

That must have been so hard for you growing up, Chani. What a hard thing to go through during just those formative years when the thing a child needs the most is unconditional love and nurturing.

I, too, believe that souls choose the life situations into which they enter. In a way, it is a blessing that your outlook affords some solace in the recognition that there is a reason for the difficulties you endured (and continue to endure.)

Jan said...

I am so sorry. You and I would have possibly been friends, except that we would have been so quiet and reading so much, we'd never make the effort. My dad was an alcoholic and raged, so that's the parent who had me hiding.

You are taking care of yourself, and that's how you'll grow on this journey.

SUEB0B said...

I had a relationship with someone who was like Helene, but it was when I was an adult. Nothing I did was right or good enough...and it was so hard on me. I almost lost myself. I can't imagine how difficult it would have been to have that type of relationship with my mother, when I was a child. You are an amazing survivor.

Mary said...


Helene is probably clueless and still immersed in herself?

You, dear, are a survivor. You understand human nature.

I am sorry you lived so isolated but look what you are doing now! You enlighten a large audience with your insights.

I appreciate your talents. You are good enough.

JCK said...

This was hard to read. I admire your brutal honesty. It must be very difficult to not have a relationship with your mother - yet, maybe easier, too. The photo is exquisite. It speaks.

Snoskred said...

Just the other day I was watching a Dr Phil. It was about two parents who were pushing their kids - one to be in those outrageously offensive child beauty pageants, and one to be a country singer. It made me cringe.

At least if I had decided to have children I would never have made that mistake. I would have let my kid try anything they wanted to, and I certainly would have encouraged them to try new things at least once to see if they like them and want to do them more seriously.

Dr Phil always says it takes 1,000 "atta girl's" to erase one negative comment. Maybe for you this is what blogging is - getting some of those atta girls that you deserved so long ago. I'm sorry I haven't been here to give them as often lately, things are a bit insane in my world right now and I don't have the time to do all the things I want to do at the moment. :(


Journey Through Life said...

I'm so sorry to read your story. You seem to have a very clear understanding of it all now. I admire that. I admire that you got through it, that you learnt the lessons that you needed to and that you acknowledge what you still want to work on and also that you accept the way things are.
You are such a strong woman.

Angela said...

Mothers and daughters - what a cosmic and constant dilemma we usually set for ourselves. I have truly forgiven my mother and it has provided ME freedom. But, you know, it took a long effin' time.

storyteller said...

Wow ... it's amazing what telling the truth of our experience does for ourselves and others! The details of your personal story differ from mine, but the effects on my life strikingly similar. How many of us were "marginalized" by parents who "didn't get us" and did what they could to make us "behave" as they wished?

In retrospect, I know my mom loved me and did what she believed was "right" given her own life experiences. Being the youngest in a strict Dutch household couldn't have been easy for her. Finding herself with two kids and a sick husband for several years added to her challenges. And getting pregnant with and having me may have been the final straw!

Fortunately, my dad recovered his health eventually and apparently my arrival on the planet was somehow "instrumental" in his recovery and return to work.

The blessing in MY life was that HE provided primary care for me in the first 4 years of my life while he was recovering. A sensitive, gentle soul (raised on a farm in Kansas) who loved me just as I was always, he counter-balanced Mom's "control issues" just enough, that eventually I learned to love & accept ME just as I am. Of course, I was in my mid-40s when that process started and over 50 when it coalesced.

I'm grateful I finally confronted Mom with these issues. We had some rough years ... with much misunderstanding and turmoil, but eventually worked things through so that our last few years together hold positive memories for me even now :)

Life gives us what we need to learn and grow doesn't it?
Hugs and blessings,

KGMom said...

Chani--it makes me very sad that you do not have a relationship with your mother, though I certainly understand why.
I was blessed to have a wonderful mother who allowed me to live my own life. She is now dead, and I miss her every day.
In turn, I made sure that I allowed my daughter to live her own life by her own decisions.
We have a wonderful relationship now and I trust we always will.

Christine said...

this story at once breaks my heart and also makes me so angry. how could a parent do that do a child? i can't imagine. but there are all kinds of people in this world, and helene sounded so selfish and insecure.

you survived this abuse. i am so glad you are here with us now.

heartinsanfrancisco said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Janet said...

The picture is such a juxtaposition when compared with the content of the post. My heart hurt for you, reading this. I can't but wonder what demons your mother was harbouring to treat you that way. Or maybe I'm naive and there is no reason. Either way, I'm so very sorry for your pain.

Molly said...

You've done it again Chani....The mother/daughter relationship can be such a complicated one. Your story is a tribute to the resilience of the human spirit. But how I wish your mother could have valued you for your intelligence, individuality and sensitivity. I wish she could see the amazing woman you became. Her loss, I guess.

crazymumma said...

Wow. How lonely Chani. And how very narcississtic of her.

It can be the hardest thing to step back from one's children and just let them 'be'.

But it is a step that must be taken.

jstele said...

Some people were not meant to have children as they are too attached to their own ego. As a "product" of them, these narcissistic parents feel like their children are another aspect of themselves. They can't discern the fact that their children are separate people. So they place all their responsibility on their children to create the life or be the person that they wish themselves to be.

As children, we're still developing our sense of self and need out parents to guide and empower us to take on the world and thrive in our lives. When I think of parents like this, I get the image of a mother bird clipping the wings of her offspring. The world is cold and Little Bird needs to fly to find warm shelter and food. But it is difficult to do so with wings that are torn and broken. At some point, the wings may heal. But through that period, Little Bird suffers and is extremely vulnerable because he has no center of strength and power.

It's really sad when these things happen because it can make you lose faith in the idea of family. True security comes from within, but as children we need our parents to provide that security and empower us to create our own security so that we can do that for ourselves.
A lot of children withdraw because they don't feel safe in this world. The only way they know how to protect themselves is by escaping it. It can also make one hypervigilant. The last thing a child need to worry about is setting their parents off.

Sometimes Saintly Nick said...

A poignant tale that has me thinking of what could have been, if only….

TIV: the individual voice said...

Such a beautiful mother and daughter. Such a sad story. But you seem to be on such a resilient journey of self-healing that you inspire others.

painted maypole said...

i used to watch these mothers and their children at auditions when I lived in LA. It is scary. I am so sorry she put you through it.

We ahve always been very clear that we will not do that with our MQ - even though she is quite a beautiful girla nd several people have told us we should. No way. No child should be forced to deal with such judgement and rejection. Only crazy adults like myself. ;)

Carla said...

Wow. This was a tough one to read. I cannot imagine a mother choosing her dreams and desires over a relationship with her daughter. She missed having a relationship with a very beautiful person.

~summer~ said...

I have two main thoughts when I read this: one is "how sad for her mother" and second is "how beautiful a perspective you have developed on this".

It is sad for your mother because she missed out on an opportunity to delight in you for who you really are. She sought happiness through you, rather than with you. What a tremendous loss for her.

And for you, you have such a healthy perspective. I do recognize it took you a long time to come to this place. But here you are nonetheless. You do not frame this experience as something that was done to you; rather, it was a karmic choice, a lesson that needed to be learned. It's sort of like you were traveling to get some place (wherever that place is) and the route you chose to take was not the one that was direct and easy and beautiful, it was the desert path rife with scalding sands and venomous threats (and the occasional delicate cactus flower, I'm sure). And though looking back, if you had known there was another route to the same destination, you might have taken it. But you didn't know then what you know now (besides you were walking the path in your mother's footsteps, without much choice in the direction taken), and the steps that you took and things you saw are all part of the book that leads you to the page you're on now. And what a nice it is!

~summer~ said...

what a nice page it is!