The Good Mother (Update)

by tamarjacobson

I cannot
remember the exact moment in my life when I decided that I would be a good mother. I think it might have been in my late teens, early adulthood. In
fact, I wanted to be the mother of all
. I had the perfect model in mind. It was clear to me that if I was
in touch with my child’s emotions, loved him unconditionally, and gave him
everything he needed or wanted he would have the perfect childhood and would
live happily ever after. I just needed to be present for him emotionally and then
all would be well. It was a simple, purist view of my self that blocked out
complexities of relationships, and did not take into account the fact that I
was young, human, and fallible. It was an omnipotent view that denied any other
person’s role in my son’s life as having influence or importance. I would be
solely responsible, and, thus, to blame for whatever happened to my child –
forever. Indeed, I would be a saint, modeling my feelings and behaviors after a
Maria-type fantastical stereotype – all-loving unconditionally and
self-sacrificing at all times through even the most challenging moments. I left
myself no space for failure or real life situations.

As I
write this, my mother is well into her nineties. Even though she is  no
longer able to walk, she knits and is still an avid reader. In fact, a couple of years ago she knitted me a blanket in pinks,
lavenders and greens with brown and peach colors splashed throughout. The blanket reminds me of her love for me even as she grows so
old. I look over at the blanket lying warmly, gently over our sofa, and think
back to my childhood. It was a complicated time in my mother’s life, and not
easy for me. Indeed, growing up my relationship with my mother had some rocky
moments accompanied by feelings of abandonment, exclusion, and longing.

When I
was young and beginning to process repressed early childhood anger and pain, I
decided I would be the mother I had always wished I had, and not model myself
after the one I had grown up with. As I have become older – with an
adult son almost forty, more and more I want to understand my own mother’s
motivations, struggles and challenges as well as the decisions she made, and I find that I am more able to forgive her for the pain she
caused me as a child. And yet, there is much to explore about how she considered herself as a good parent to her five children. After all, she did not
have an easy childhood either.

Long years ago, when I left Africa for Israel, my mother gave me a picture called the Madonna of the Lilies. It was an old-fashioned picture post card in
an artificial gold embossed frame, probably from the nineteen twenties or
thirties. A wispy, young woman in a diaphanous gown, who was standing in a garden surrounded by tall, white lilies, portrayed the Madonna in the picture. In her arms she
looked down lovingly at a gentle infant in swaddling clothes that she was cradling in her arms. My
mother had cherished that picture since she was a young child, vowing to be the
mother she had never had, but had always longed for. I had not always
understood why she gave me that picture but realize now that perhaps she wanted to
share her aspirations with me about wanting to be a good mother. However,
when I was in my twenties, struggling with the typical challenges young mothers
face with a first-born child, that picture represented a burden for me – a model of high expectations I had to follow. Indeed, the picture made me feel as if I had to strive to be
an even better mother than mine had been. As I look back now, I think
I might have felt those expectations from within me, rather than my mother actually had for me. Instead, I think she just wanted to share her aspirations
with me – woman-to-woman.

As I think about our different life stories, I realize that “good mothering” was an important feature we
both focused on, surely for different reasons, or perhaps similar ones. She was
always a harsh critic of women, who did not live up to her expectations and
high standards about being a good parent. I wonder, though, how she came to
terms with life’s complexities and the times she was unable to live up to her
own high standards of good mothering. On a past visit to see her in
Israel before she became bed ridden, she declared forcefully that she had
nothing to feel guilty about as a mother to her five children.

I, on the other
hand, am a harsh critic of my self, ridden with feelings of
guilt and regret about how I could have behaved or supported my now-grown
son better.
 And yet, I wonder how I have become more understanding and accepting of people who parent differently from me. Perhaps a combination of formal education as well as living and
working within a number of different cultures has helped me. 


Just in … from a colleague's email about this new blog:

Just wanted to let you know that this blog is exactly what I needed to share with an old friend today. She is the grandmother. She will be sharing your blog with her daughter. Thanks, Tamar!!