“Your homework for this week is to write about the things your mother taught you,” my psychologist advised at the end of our session.
Memories have been resurfacing and along with them rage. I am incensed that I was never protected from some of the things that happened to me.
“Well, she taught me that I needed to sell myself out for love.”
“That’s a good place to start; see what else comes up.”
I mention it to my husband.
“Well, I could name a few off the top of my head. I’ve tried to retrain you on a couple of things, like that you don’t have to ask me every time you want to buy something.”
“Well, I always thought that only the breadwinners hold the power (except that I have an income too, so that doesn’t make sense). Do you mean that I don’t think women have rights in a relationship?”
“She is a good martyr, your mom.”
There’s all the things she’s said to me about not being loveable; and that I should have stayed with my cheating husband, because any husband is no better than no husband; and all those insinuations that I can’t possibly keep a man with the way I behave.
“She’s taught me that love is very conditional, and that if I assert myself, I may very well lose what I have.”
“I keep telling you I’m not that shallow,” my husband chides.
He keeps proving it to me too.
Really, what she has been suggesting is that I am nothing without a man. I have no social value, no reason for being without a ring on my finger. Holy cow, that is warped. And sad.
It’s not that I blame my mother for any of this. She grew up in poverty, was raised to get married, have children, be subservient. She didn’t know any different. I, on the other hand, grew up in a time of more opportunity for women. So why am I still so impacted by her?
Mom has always made excuses for the bad behaviour of men in our lives, as if they are beyond reproach. She has denial down to a fine art. When confronted about my father’s abuse, she’d say it didn’t bother her, he was just under a lot of stress. When my uncles and cousins would drink too much, she’d say that their wandering hands and tongues were just them being boys. When I told her I broke up with a boyfriend because he almost raped me, she accused me of being a prude and told me he was a good catch.
Not once did she say: “You don’t have to put up with that behaviour! Value yourself! What you have is sacred. Your love and your trust have to be earned.”
Or any other bit of advice that might have set me up with healthy boundaries.
I am angry because I didn’t know I had the right to say “no”; was confused about where the line between love and abuse existed; was grateful for the scraps I received; and set myself up for failure time and again.
I am fifty-eight-years-old, and only just now realizing that all this. I guess better late than never.
Sure hope I haven’t neglected to teach my daughters right from wrong where their self-worth is concerned.