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The maternal myth


My mother wasn’t into mothering. It’s not that she didn’t love me and my sister. I truly believe that she did…er…does. It’s just that care-taking wasn’t her bag. She’s not a nurturing, selfless kind of person. I’ve accepted that. I’ve moved on to bigger and better psychological traumas. I’m not bitter, really. I understand my mother’s limitations.

My mom did the best she could with what she had. (My husband says that too often I forgive major personality flaws using this line of reasoning.) But it’s really true. We’re all out there trying to do the right thing, trying to love our kids, manage our families, support our spouses, earn a living. It’s not easy. And we all excel at different tasks. My mother’s talent wasn’t mothering. In fact, she never kept a common house plant alive for more than ten days. But she’s great fun at a party. She’s charming and bright, and although she claims not to clamor for the limelight, she’s a source of unending drama and Lucy-like antics for all of her friends and family.

I realized something today though that I think can change me forever. You see, I walk around in the story that I’m her. I live in the myth that I’m not a good mother, just like my mom. I tell myself I don’t give enough, love enough, sacrifice enough. Ironically I only figured this out because of our new puppy. I mean I always feel loads of self-disappointment when it comes to parenting. I’m like a petri dish full of rapidly reproducing guilt particles. But I saw something today that was rather stunning.

I’ve never had a pet. (Big surprise, mom never wanted the mess or hassle). So in my never ending quest not to be her, we adopted this 3 month old pup who I feel more responsible for than both my 6 and 9 year old sons put together. I can’t seem to leave her alone for more than an hour during the day. This makes living my life more than difficult. So some days, like today, I take her with me all day. We go to the doctor, the therapist, the theatre. She sits through rehearsals, meetings, karate classes. And by the end of the day we’re both exhausted.

Tonight I went to take a bath and unwind and I felt this horrible guilt. I wasn’t spending the evening totally with her. Maybe she was let down. Maybe she was disappointed. Maybe she needed me and I was selfishly soaking in a tub of hot lavender water. Suddenly it hit me. This message of “you’re not giving enough” is the loudest, most consistent loop that plays on incessantly in my head. I hear it with regards to my kids, my husband, my work, and now my dog.

Maybe that idea of always falling short comes from the reality I experience in relationship to my mother. She has truly never been enough for me. My model of maternity is one that is always lacking, always just a few cards short of a full deck, a few fries short of a happy meal, a can short of a six-pack…well, you get the idea. But just because that’s what I know doesn’t mean that’s what I have to live.

I do a lot for my kids. I love them immensely. I play with them. I laugh with them. I spend time with them. But there’s always more time, more energy, more effort. If I keep focused on the time I’m not with them, I’m doing myself a disservice. It’s the same with Maggie, (the puppy.) She knows she’s loved. And my job isn’t to be everything to her at every moment of every day.

Maybe my mom wasn’t enough for me. Maybe her limitations taught me more about how to disappoint than how to meet expectations. But I’m a grown up now. And it’s up to me to decide where I choose to focus my energy and efforts. I can look at the kids and think, “I wasn’t with them from 8 to 4 today.” Or I can sweep them into my arms when I pick them up at school and love them more than I’ve ever loved them. What’s disappointing about that?

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About gettrich

Debra Rich Gettleman is a professional actor, playwright and journalist living in Seattle, WA with her husband Mark and two amazing boys, Levi and Eli.

2 responses to “The maternal myth

  1. Don Simmons ⋅

    Well written, by a talented and honest woman. I can relate in some instances, as my mother passed away when I was sixteen. Like Debra you grow up and decide on how you love and show your love to your spouse and children. When and how you focus your life to love, and to show your love to those arouynd you, especially your children, and even your pets, if you have one.. You also must not forget to love yourself, take time to relax and refresh yourself. The family deserves a Mom who is rested, but eager to join the fun and good times with the children, and for sure her husband.

  2. Good post! Thanks for being so open and honest. I always thought my mother was the perfect mom and homemaker. I still pretty much feel that way. My struggle was feeling like I didn’t quite measure up to her. Yes, my family knows they are loved but still, sometimes I have a tendency to feel a little guilty for taking time for myself. However, if I don’t take that time for myself, I begin to feel irritable. It’s all a balancing act.

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