The Erratics

The Erratic Parent

I think my mother was right when she proclaimed that my sister and I ruined her life. Had she remained childless, responsible for nothing beyond her role as the beautiful wife my father admired and adored, whose every whim he satisfied, she might have lived out her days as an extravagant drama queen, brilliantly articulate, the life of the party and the envy of every mother she met.

But she had children, in the unquestioning way married people did in the 1940’s, and she found motherhood an impossible task. Based on my memories, I believe she was bewildered at best, and constantly appalled at having to put someone else’s needs before her own. I suspect she survived by considering us not as separate people but as extensions of herself, cumbersome and irritating but providing opportunities for living vicariously.

And live vicariously she did. It was a given that we would excel at whatever she had us undertake. Our successes were hers, and as a result of never learning to listen to my own desires or exercise my power to choose, I became unable to formulate goals for myself. I remain to this day more capable of defining clearly what I do not want than of formulating exactly what I do. A case of false self, the result of that early deprivation of agency.

When I had children of my own, I was terrified. I wanted desperately to give them a different experience of childhood from the one that had marked me. My husband tried to comfort me. We looked out the window of our flat at the children in playground below on the day we brought my daughter home from the hospital, and he said: See – it will be fine. Most of them live.

I was not reassured. I knew that it was simplistic to define my parenting style as merely the opposite of what I had experienced. I read everything I could on parenting and I seized upon D. W. Winnicott’s concept of the ‘good enough mother’. This British paediatrician and psychoanalyst thought that having a ‘perfect’ parent would not prepare a child for the harsh realities of the world. Having a parent who stuffed up regularly, picked herself up and corrected her mistakes, would give a child resilience and a footing in reality.

I loved the idea of a good enough mother; I tried resolutely to be one. I knew I would be capable of stuffing up regularly. It seemed perfect.

So when I stuffed up, as we all do, I admitted it, I talked about it with them, ad infinitum I admit, and I endeavoured to do better. I reminded myself, or rather my children reminded me every day, that they were individuals.

I delighted in the fact that they knew who they were and what they wanted, even when what they wanted was only going to happen over my dead body. Now that they are adults with families of their own, as I watch them make their way in the world with grace and conviction, I think that maybe, just maybe, I pulled it off. Maybe I’ve been a good enough mother.

No Comments

Leave a Comment

Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)