It is my anecdotal observation that many women spend most of their lives in an ever-shifting evaluation of how good or bad their mothers were and how their moms messed them up. It is one of those low-level obsessions that are not enough to interfere with our productivity but enough to hinder quality of life unawares. Here is an excerpt from Anne Lamott’s Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith:
“I’ve spent my whole life trying to get over having had Nikki for a mother, and I have to say that from day one after she died, I liked having a dead mother much more than having an impossible one. … I prayed to forgive her but didn’t—for staying in a fever dream of a marriage, for fanatically pushing her children to achieve, for letting herself go from great beauty to hugely overweight woman in dowdy clothes and gloppy mask of makeup. It wasn’t black and white: I really loved her, and took great care of her, and was proud of some heroic things she had done with her life. She had put herself through law school, fought the great good fights for justice and civil rights. … But she was like someone who had broken my leg, and my leg had healed badly, and I would limp forever.”
I have some thoughts on that—first of all because I have a mother, and secondly because I am a mother. Forgiving a mother, I am thinking, is not of a different species from forgiving another human being. A mother is just more convenient to be mad at, because if you can blame her for your life and bad character, it pretty much covers everything you need a reason for. And it is also more challenging to forgive her because it is a fact that you are influenced by your mother in ways that continue to surprise you into your 50s. It was at that late age I realized my contempt for long hair on “women of a certain age” was totally my mother’s voice—and that I can choose not to think that way anymore.
But the main thing I want to share is that this time-consuming, mental real estate-squatting, pathologically reworking judgment of our mothers isn’t working for us, and it’s time to stop. And we are able to stop because we have the Holy Spirit in us, if indeed we realize that, which sometimes we forget:
“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16)
Forgiving mothers—forgiving anyone—is done by making up your mind once and for all that they are people and sinners just like you (Matthew 18:32), and then refusing to dig up the corpse of your grievance again. And if it tries to pop back up, you remind yourself of your commitment to keep it dead. I’m not saying it isn’t hard. But who ever called you to easy?
And then you hope that your children will do the same for you.