The Two Faces of My Mother

Photo provided by author; photographers unknown

My mother and I had a complicated relationship that I’ve wanted to write about for some time, but not only did I not know where to begin, I also don’t want to “trash” the dead. Further, the notion of maternal love is largely positive in our society, and anything that goes against it seems taboo.

I’m going to state the facts, and I most certainly am not doing this for self-pity. I think our relationship has a lot to do with my self-image, and possibly my anxiety.

I didn’t have the kind of mother I wished I had, the type some of my friends had or have become — involved in their children’s lives within healthy boundaries, showing affection, approachable, and a whole host of other traits I can’t even think of at the moment.

It’s my guess that this won’t be the only post I write about my mom — in fact, I recently wrote about how she always saw me as an embarrassment. But today I want to talk about her public and private personas — she was a creature of 2 faces.

As you can see on the left side of the photo, taken maybe a few years before her death, my mom is dressed in a traditional Filipino butterfly dress, no doubt for one of the many events she attended and/or planned. She has a bright smile on her face, and looks radiant.

On the picture’s right side, taken on my 2nd birthday, I’m blowing the candles, and she’s holding me back to keep me from falling into the cake. Most parents, I’m guessing, would be happy at their kids’ birthday parties. Instead, she looks way more reserved than she does in the other picture — she’s barely smiling. I didn’t see the birthday pic until I was gown up, and I always wondered why she looked so put-upon.

As an adult, I learned that she had one face that she showed to extended family; her immediately family; friends; and co-workers; and a different one at home. People loved my mom.  She was active in a lot of organizations like church choir, Jazzercise, professional organizations, you name it. And yet she didn’t have time (nor desire?) to visit with my sister and me (our brother lived out-of-state). She only called or texted when she wanted something. She was too busy with her life, which didn’t include her kids.

When we were growing up, it was the same thing. She was absolutely charming outside the house, and people loved her. At home, however, she was always yelling at my dad, siblings, and me for one reason or another. I can’t speak for my brother and sister because I don’t know the exact nature of their relationships with our mom, though I know it was rocky between her and my sister. But that isn’t my story to tell.

As I read through the entries in her online memorial book, I had no idea who her friends and co-workers were describing, because it sure didn’t sound like my mom. They said she was welcoming, and “fun to sit and talk with.”

In my experience, my mom was dismissive. In the post, Life Scripts, Bipolar & Childfree, I described how, when my husband and I were considering adoption, I was hoping to have a heart-to-heart talk with my mother. What transpired was me telling her, “We’re thinking of adoption. What do you think?” I was so hoping for my mom’s opinions and advice. Instead, she said, “If you want to adopt, then adopt,” and literally walked away. I was looking for a serious conversation, but she certainly didn’t “talk with” me.

Another friend described my mother’s “thoughtful, affectionate ways.” I don’t remember ever cuddling with my mom. With my dad, yes; but not with her. Also, they never hugged me. And it wasn’t after they divorced when my siblings and I were adults, did she and my dad tell me, “I love you,” at the end of conversations. I never heard this growing up. I always, and still think, that’s weird. And somehow, not normal. But I also thought that’s just how it is in Filipino families. Maybe I’m wrong.

When you were a child, and now, as an adult, do your parents say, “I love you”?

via Daily Prompt: Creature

41 thoughts on “The Two Faces of My Mother

  1. I’m sorry it seemed hard for you. Parents can certainly show one side of themselves to the outside world and another at home. I had that sort of thing too, amplified with alcoholism on the parents’ part. I never heard I love you growing up from my mother certainly, although today as an elderly person she has loosened up and says it on the phone, so I do too. I certainly never had the kind of family that gave safe hugs so I never became someone who hugs easily except with an intimate partner or spouse. I did not have children, so can’t tell how I would be at that. I am nice with the multiple/DID friends I have when they are being littles, but then again my health would probably make me be impatient aftre a while if I had nonstop demands on my time. Parenting can b3e so hard, and yet not doing it well has such sad consequences.

      1. I think it’s sad when folks have had suffering, but it can give us more compassion sometimes and reasons to understand each other, so that part is good.

          1. I used to be sort of critical of others because of the way I was raised–it made me competitive in some ways, since I had not been treated so well and thought that others would prefer others instead of me, so I always looked for ways that I was ‘better than’ others. Getting older and ill and all that has made me see how people just do their best and everyone wants happiness and sometimes wer have no clue how to get it. That’s buddhism 101, and it seems right to me.

            1. I’m *very* competitive because of how I was raised. My mom wanted perfection, and to this day I’m trying to achieve that. I just keep telling myself, “progress, not perfection.” However, I never saw myself as better than others; if anything I usually feel “less than.”

              1. Isn’t it sad how we get messed up? I had a sort of combination of better-than and less-than. It especially messed me up in romances, especially if the person would cheat on me or look at other people when we were together. So much unnecessary stress and sadness for everyone.

                1. Yep. Because there was always drama in our household growing up, the relationships I had were always full of drama. Even my current relationship, although thankfully individual therapy and couples counseling have helped tremendously.

                  1. Yup, same here. I find that eventually hormones settle down, and that helps too. I am so glad you have a decent therapist/s. That helps so much.

                    1. Yes, thankfully, we’ve had great therapists. Ugh, I’m going through perimenopause now, so my hormones are all out of whack! It certainly isn’t helping my depression.

                    2. Yeah, I found that hard too. Good nutrition and healthy lifestyle really helps. I have always been so glad that I never became a drinker like almost everyone else in my family. I would look and feel even worse now, plus have spent tons on booze!

                    3. I know what you mean. I’ll have a drink every now and then, but I used to party-hearty in my early 20s. I left that lifestyle behind when I was diagnosed at age 25.

                    4. I think it’s so smart to understand that things can make life worse: food, drink, drugs, not enough water, too much partying, whatever.

                    5. Good for you. I was really addicted to sugar, as we’ve said recently here I think, but eventually that fell off too–it became more monthly, that maybe sometimes at certain times of month i would want chocolate and sugar, and the rest of the time eh. I have several excellent organic chocolate bars in the freezer that I don’t bother with somehow, and yet sometimes I love them and eat them. *shrug* It’s just individual bodies, I guess. I do know that the less I eat sugar, the less I want it, after a few days of it getting out of my system.

                    6. That’s awesome that you broke that habit! I’m not looking forward to the withdrawal symptoms, but you do what you have to do if you want to change.

                    7. I think that nutrition advice from some reliable sources online can be really helpful (and advice from unreliable spam merchants is worse than anything). I know that the supplement chromium picolinate makes it easier. Maybe it’s worth looking up to see if it would help you.

                    8. Actually, a nutritionist left some great info in the comments of the “Sugar Addict” post. She, too, mentioned chromium. I’ll have to make sure I can take the supplement with the other supplements and medications I take.

                    9. Great. A good nutritionist is a really helpful resource. I only take Tibetan medicine, and so it is all prescribed by the same person so he knows that it’ll work together–I take four kinds a day now, and it wears me out to get it all right, but it seems to genuinely help towards things like regenerating nerves and helping with the brain damage and epilepsy. It seems much easier than western stuff where everything has side effects and whatever else.

                    10. Yeah, it’s hard. I sort of start to choke to death for no friggin reason except my brain shuts my throat, so I am getting used to trying to survive that. Sometimes I get temporarily dead, but so far I have come back from being dead a few times. I guess it’s like any other partime job you have to do…!

                    11. I sort of hate it, and the first time it completely sucked to be dead up on the ceiling looking down on the body, and it was bad when it happened in a restaurant once. I am so glad I figured out what to do–a singing teacher once said that asthmatics can’t exhale, so once when it was about to kill me I smashed my torso against the wall and that grunted out air and allowed things to start to get back to okay. It is tedious and painful and the scraiest friggin thing ever, but the times it has happened since then I do that sort of thing and it works out at least okay.

                      I’m Tibetan Buddhist and they beloieve that it helps to have a calm mind when you are dying, so this has helped me face that some day I’ll die for real from something and stay that way as far as this body goes, so I get less freaked in general. On the bright side, my tarot clients love it and feel I have more insight as a result. *shrug* Whatever works!

                    12. That sounds terrifying! I’m glad you found a solution, but how do you know when it’s happening? And when it *has* happened, did your heart stop beating?

                    13. Oh, well I clearly choke to death–it’s horrible and obvious and I can’t breathe and make horrible sounds and all that, like in any film where people choke to death. You start to black out and die since no air is going in or out. The first time up on the ceiling was so creepy since I still felt completely panicked even though the body down there was dead but I still wanted it to work out well. I do not know about heart not beating. That time when I was out of the body sounds like when people die on operating tables, so maybe it stopped then. It did when I got electrocuted, and since then the blood pressure on both sides of my body is different by about 30-40 points. Left side is about 100 over 60, and right is about 54 over 30 or 25. I was in the hospital last year and they kept thinking it was them measuring it wrong, so I had them do it on both sides every time, and every time it was a big gap. Bodies are amazing.

                    14. I guess I should have noted that when you mentioned choking earlier. I’m sorry. Bodies are amazing, indeed.

                    15. Yup, they all do their best. Sorry for the semigorey details. Oddly, it seems folks are posting a lot of details of death and accidents online today that was not pleasant to read, and now I have been contributing to it. Odd energy in way–sorry.

  2. Your mom was beautiful, as far as I can tell you look a lot like her. My mother and I had issues too. I never got the hugs and I love you I needed, that every child needs. I was so shocked to see other families are different, especially with my husband’s family. Crazy, how people put on a different face outside their home. O one knows what goes on behind closed doors.

    1. We have that in common, and I had the same experience with my husband’s family! His parents call us once a week (they live out-of-state), and have always said they love us.

  3. I no longer have a relationship with my father but I can’t remember him telling me he loved me. My mother, on the hand, and I have a close bond. She tells me often and shows it as well. My dad had a face he presented and a face that was. I blame that for why fear of judgement cripples me. I was always compared to someone growing up for not measuring up. I wasn’t what he wanted as far as being a feminine girl. I have undoubtedly grown past my image issue’s, it is the mental, inner critic he planted that struggles. Life with him around was never a good time. I am so grateful for my mother. She did her best to balance everything out. He did the same to her, with the criticism. Perfection has been something I’ve aimed for and still do yet I know it isn’t attainable, another hard defect to break but I acknowledge it as an issue therefore I’ve recognized it.

    1. Sounds like your dad was a lot like my mom. I still have that inner critic, too, and the need to be perfect. My therapist keeps reminding me that it’s progress that counts, not perfection. I’m trying to let that soak in my brain.

  4. This post was a big step towards healing and I am proud you found the confidence to publish it. Great job Barb.

    1. Thank you so much! I’m actively taking the steps to healing, with the goal to be forgiving my mother. I’m working closely with my therapist on this, however, because I couldn’t do it on my own.

      1. It will require a therapist for me as well. I have begin actively looking for one tomorrow. I am hoping to find one I click with off bat instead of having to switch due to personality conflict.

        1. I totally know what you mean. When I first started seeing a psychiatrist, I had no idea that you could see someone else. Fortunately, I hit it off with my therapist when we met. Again, that’s another post lol! I’m sending you lots of love and light that you find someone you have good chemistry with right away <3

  5. I was taught that in recovery and I try to remember that when considering my accomplishments.

    1. My therapist’s specialty is addiction counseling — that’s how I met her, but that’s another story for another time 😉

  6. I’m so sad to read this… and I know to much about how much it hurts. To not hear I love you or Bering hugged as a child makes big scars!!! And anxiety can come from that to. Two faced ppl is everywhere. And often they suffer from something themselves . I really hope you’re having a good life now and ty for sharing you’re stories❤️

  7. My mother & I have a very close relationship, always have. I had a very estranged relationship with my father though. He sounds more like your mother. The only difference was he was a very bad alcoholic, he made my brother, mother and my life hell growing up. My sister was golden child an was treated as such. I never understood why. It was a very hard relationship. When he passed, I did not attend his funeral/memorial because of the pain he caused.
    I don’t know too many families that fit the perfect mold… I don’t know if there is such a thing.

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