The dilemma I am a 50 year old gay man. When I was young, I was cast in the role of the “good” boy, my mother’s antidote to my rebellious brothers. I behaved well, did well in school, and sought my mother’s approval and love. As a result, I hid my sexuality. She left me in no doubt that being gay was “dirty.” She often told me that I shouldn’t go see her if she had any concerns, as she wouldn’t be able to cope if all of her children were in trouble. I told her when I was 19. She tried to control the narrative, requesting that she not tell anyone until she felt the time was right. Relieved, as she told me she still loved me, I obeyed.
I don’t know if my mother’s love for me was conditional, because I didn’t taste it. I acknowledge that she worked very hard with four young children and a husband who started a business. I am still attached to many of the same behavior patterns as when I was a child. She just wants to hear that I’m happy, but no if i’m not. I smile regardless of how I really feel. So she doesn’t really know me and loves a vision of me that is not who I am. I wonder if I have the right, at this stage in our lives, to change a relationship with which she seems content.
Mariella responds You certainly have the right. It is not your responsibility as an adult to be forced to present a fictitious life to maintain the status quo with your mother. But while it can ease your frustrations having him with her, changing the dynamics can create insurmountable problems.
You have reason to feel frustration and anger, having had to compromise your sexuality and restrict your self-expression to “protect” your mother. But the consequences of that surely must have lessened as he got older and embarked on a life lived on his own terms? Philip Larkin wrote, “They screw you, your mom and your dad,” but as we age, we can also choose how much we allow their influence to prevail.
The complicated relationship you describe sounds like you’ve been in stasis for your entire life.
It is worth reflecting on why it is still a concern for you that she confronts the “real” you. Could it be that we overload parental bonding with high emotional expectations when parents are simply human like the rest of us? Love is a remarkable force, capable of inspiring extraordinary self-sacrifice and untold pain, but for most of us, our lives unfold on a more micro scale than epic tragedy.
My mother is so seized with debilitating dementia that, sadly, I am free to share indiscretions. All my life I have waited for only a nod that she noticed my walk uphill as I dragged myself from ignorance to self-taught, from poverty to self-sufficiency, from the smallest life to a sometimes awkward and public one. Now it is too late and you can barely follow your own thoughts, much less look beyond them. So when my brother recently revealed that he has a secret trunk of my press clippings, I was stunned. My mother has never mentioned a single article that I have written, an anthology that I have compiled, a program that I have done … and yet it has accumulated the value of my entire career. I offer it to you to highlight how common it is for us not to get everything we want from our parents, and sometimes not to get anything at all.
Your mother has developed a way of coping familiar to many, stepping away from emotional challenge rather than exploring her biases and feelings. Of course, you have the right to take her out of her fictional cozy corner and present her with the reality of your life and the price you have paid to keep her pleasant for her. But for what purpose? I guess all she wants is to know that you love her and that she doesn’t have to worry about you. Its faults are she failures and she is probably as aware of them as you are. What you will accomplish in such a confrontation is unlikely to be the outcome you envision, where she admits that what you have given her has been too little and what she expected of you has been too much.
Most animals are happy to raise their young only as long as they are completely dependent, after which the limit is complete. Anyone who has seen a dog with puppies will have witnessed the brutality of the moment when the mother loses interest. We, on the other hand, have become the most demanding species on the planet. We want lifestyle luxuries, emotional understanding, complicated interaction, and the most impossible to accomplish, closure. The most rewarding investment for your energies has to be in your own emotional life in the here and now, making sure that the bad habits you have been forced to adopt are not recurring themes in your relationships. Your mother has loved you as much as she is capable of and you are the majority to find fault with what you had. But to paraphrase LP Hartley, the past is a foreign country where they did things differently. For most of us, the change we can make is in our future.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism