Opinion | The lies mothers tell themselves and their children (2023)


Continue reading the main story

To view


Continue reading the main story

guest post

Opinion | The lies mothers tell themselves and their children (1)

to go backElise Lorning

Mrs. Loehnen is the author of the forthcoming book About Our Best Behavior.

I learned in a party game that I'm not wanted. One Christmas I came home from college and went to a family gathering with my parents. After dinner, we played a game in which the husband answered honest questions on behalf of the wife. When it was my parents' turn, the host asked my father, "How many children do you want when you get married?" My dad asked my mom and said bluntly, "Zero. Definitely zero." She nodded calmly. the people in the room laughed uncomfortably.

His direct answer irritated me, though it didn't surprise me or anyone else in the room. Low frustration and resentment, combined with an unshakable, petty skill: she persuaded us by completing a must-do list that included subordinating what she wanted to our needs. But that doesn't mean she's going to like it.

Lest you think my mom is a monster, she's not - in addition to being shockingly honest, she's curious, smart, and has a loud, melodious laugh that inspires laughter in others. She loved me and my brother even though she refused to kneel at the altar of motherhood.

Had she been a mother herself, perhaps her parenting would have been different, but she felt the ache and pain of her mother not wanting her - in fact, actively hating her. As the oldest of seven children in a poor family in Iowa, my mother took care of her siblings whose parents lived with a lack of food and opportunities. My grandmother was generally not interested in her children and was often cruel to girls in particular. My mom went to a defunct nursing school, met my doctor father at the Mayo Clinic, and signed up for her dream: upper-middle-class life in the West with horses and kids. Of course she doesn't want Children or large pets, but this is a safe choice and she can handle it.

Unlike her mother, my mother did not shy away from the reality of work. She read all of the parenting theory, attended all of our extracurricular activities, and picked the right school for us. It manages our existence like air traffic control and makes all these efforts invisible. She's good at it, but it's not who she wants to be. As an adult, I understand and respect that; but as a kid, she wanted mommy and me costumes, stuffed animal showers, and kid's get-togethers as a way to express her happiness on paper. I hope that she, like other mothers, is at least consciously expressing her love for her children in ritual and public ways.

My brother and I went to boarding school in high school, an unexpected turn of events for two Montana kids. My brother was in a hurry to leave, so I followed him. Feeling homesick, I remember asking my mom to send a love package.

“What’s in the care kit?” she asked.

"Oh I don't know, can you send me some cookies?"

"You want me to bake cookies and ship them all over the country? How about I send you some money and you go to the grocery store and buy some cake mix?"

My mother was a mother of agreements, an agreement she made with my father but never with me. Instead of giving me her joy in my presence, a joy she couldn't fake, she gave me what she wanted: a chance. Unlimited opportunities.

I watched her sit at the dinner table, reading Ms. She grew up during second wave feminism, when women had choices and didn't. This made my mother's ambivalence about motherhood even more poignant and obsessive: that my mother's life could take a different, more ambitious path.

As a child, I felt his jealousy and longing when he questioned the women who "did something" in their lives. She sees herself in these important female figures. Although she is marginalized as a support worker for the next generation, she considers her talents and intelligence equal or superior to theirs. She is difficult to be her mother's jailer. My mom gave me everything and I didn't get anything she wanted in return. This is a difficult legacy.

I tried to repay my mother's sacrifice with good behavior, to make it worth the destruction of her unfulfilled ambition: I was a successful child, I won awards, I won praise, I did well at adult dinner parties. I want to embody my glory in her and make her talent sacrifice worth it. I wanted to earn her the title of "Good Mother" for what I had accomplished, and although she blatantly insisted that my accomplishments were mine, she didn't much care for the title.

But I do not care. As Carl Jung said, nothing affects a child's life more than a life their parents never lived. A life my mother didn't live is reflected in mine. It's probably no coincidence that my mother is an avid reader - my brother is a book editor and I make my living from the written word. Like her, I have children - but I want my own.

I have both undercorrected and overcorrected in this anxiety that I inherited from my mother and grandmother. Most of what I give my kids is affection, concern and a warm hug before bed. I have excellent paid help with many of your practical needs. I'm very happy with them. They participate in zero extracurricular activities and have no table manners. I don't know if he goes to college, let alone if he goes to college. I devalued what my mother gave me - structure, scaffolding - to give my children what I couldn't: a relentless insistence that they were needed.

I used to think that my rush to prove and claim to be a "good mother" was a childhood hangover. But as I became more and more of a mother and weighed myself against who I was as a mother, I realized that her ambivalence wasn't just a family, but a cultural trait: I had it too. You can love your children so much and hate being a mother. You can hold your baby down to the bone and still proclaim how miserable motherhood is, at least in America, where there is no paid family leave or quality child care and the culture insists that "nice women" must gamble their entire lives online.

While my mom sucked it up and watched the tricks for the most part, I ended up taking the benefit. Not only did I break up, but I was upset because I felt like I was being ripped in two. That anger was the flame that my grandmother and possibly her mother ignited. My mother turned her anger into a constant fire in the kitchen, but it raged inside me.

My emotional freedom was built on the fire of my mother's honesty, her willingness to express outrage when so many women felt compelled to lie. Although I suffered a few times as a child, mainly because she was different from other mothers (although, I insist, it was not that uncommon), she created a coherent story for me. Turns out, the narrative was less emotionally turbulent than some of my friends, who could feel but couldn't articulate their mother's frustration and anger. They try to deal with this anxiety with their own good behavior, not realizing that they are the collateral damage of their mother's anger, not the source of it.

It's none of their business. This ambivalence comes from societal expectations that you must love being a mother and love your children. Some women mix and match easily, but that's not the case for many.

Elise Loehnen is the author of the upcoming book "on our best behavior” and host of the podcast “Pulling the Thread”.

Original image by George Marks and Jiojio/Getty Images

Times committed to publicationseveral lettersto the editor. We would like to know your opinion about this article or one of our articles. here are someponta.Here is our email:letter@nytimes.com.

Follow The New York Times opinion section atFacebook,Twitter (@NYTopinion)EUInstagram.


  • 1092


Continue reading the main story


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Fr. Dewey Fisher

Last Updated: 06/01/2023

Views: 5269

Rating: 4.1 / 5 (62 voted)

Reviews: 85% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Fr. Dewey Fisher

Birthday: 1993-03-26

Address: 917 Hyun Views, Rogahnmouth, KY 91013-8827

Phone: +5938540192553

Job: Administration Developer

Hobby: Embroidery, Horseback riding, Juggling, Urban exploration, Skiing, Cycling, Handball

Introduction: My name is Fr. Dewey Fisher, I am a powerful, open, faithful, combative, spotless, faithful, fair person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.