For years, I have been hearing that motherhood would give me a greater understanding of my own mother. The comments always come from women who mean well. They come from women who had moms who baked them good luck brownies and helped them plan their weddings.
They aren't women like me. They didn't have a mom like mine. Because now that I'm a mother, I find my own even more confusing. And the more confused I am, the more I worry.
How am I going to be a good mom to my daughter if I don't know what it's like to be the daughter of a good mom?
I'm sure there were happy moments in my childhood. There are photos of them. Toddler me surrounded by other toddlers at birthday parties. Toddler me in a bathing suit surrounded by cousins. Toddler me with my Christmas presents.
More from The Stir: 20 Qualities of a Good Mom
But the memories have faded, clouded over by the others. Flinching when my mother walked by, fearing there might be a wooden spoon in her twitching hand, ready to whack out at my bottom for some imagined wrong. Having the phone book thrust in my hand with the order to find an adoption agency who would take me "off her hands." Being pulled out of bed in the middle of the night to make her coffee or wash her dishes.
Hearing her refer to the size of my rear end as "two axe handles wide."
The last time she hit me.
We weren't a "let's go shopping today, honey" kind of mother and daughter. We didn't do each other's nails. We never played Barbies.
Sometimes she hit. She always yelled. And I shut down. I ate myself bigger and puked myself smaller and tried to draw as little attention to myself as I could until I escaped.
And oh did I escape. I grew up, and I found a man who loved me, and we got married, and I got pregnant.
During my pregnancy, I got radio silence from my mother. She refused to talk to me. She ignored the invitation to my baby shower. She declined the invitation to meet her granddaughter in the hospital.
In the years since, our relationship has been as it was when I was a child -- minus the hitting. She sticks to emotional abuse these days, and I to shutting down and drawing as little attention to myself as possible. At times we go for long periods without speaking, her way of punishing me for slights real and imagined now that she cannot wield that wooden spoon.
I have come to realize that my mother does not know how to love me, but I wouldn't call that "understanding my mother." I don't understand her.
Not as a mother who loves her daughter fiercely and with everything inside of her. Thoughts of my daughter one day wanting to disappear, wanting to escape, wake me up at night. Gasping for breath, I run to her room to reassure myself that she is still there, that I have not chased her away, that I have not destroyed the chance I have been given by the universe to get this right.
I know I have the chance to do for my daughter what my mother did not do for me. The only trouble is, I'm not quite sure how to do it.
So I do the only thing I do know is right. I do the very opposite of what my mother did with me. I love my daughter.
Was your mom the kind of mom you don't want to be? How are you managing?