Tag Archives: dysfunctional families

7 Very Important Things My Not-Very-Healthy Mother Taught Me

by Kassandra Lamb

Waterolor beautiful girl. Vector illustration of woman beauty salon

This post is part of the Beauty Of A Woman Blogfest V sponsored by one of the most beautiful women I know, inside and out, August McLaughlin. And because she so bravely shares of herself to help and inspire others, I’m going to be a little more revealing in this post than I might otherwise be (no, not that kind of revealing; get your mind out of the gutter 😉 ).

And since this coming Sunday is Mother’s Day, I decided to talk about my mother.

I’m sure I’m not the only sixty-something woman who’s had to grow past the not-very-healthy role models presented by our mothers and the mixed messages our generation received about what it means to be a woman.

My mother was not a very strong person, emotionally, and she was a product of her time, coming of age in the 1940’s. She codependently let my father do whatever he wanted, in the interests of “keeping the peace” and “staying together for the sake of the kids.” My father wasn’t a bad man, but what he wanted was often misguided and almost always self-centered. He unintentionally caused his family a lot of pain, and she let him do so.

But putting aside that major flaw, my mother was a wonderful person in a lot of ways. And she taught me several valuable lessons. Some of these she taught me directly or by example, and some I learned by witnessing her bad example and doing the exact opposite.

1. She taught me to make the best of a bad situation.

Not that I would stay in a bad marriage like she did, but she showed me how to look for the way around obstacles without butting your head against them.

I didn’t appreciate this lesson for many years. In my youth, I tended to follow my father’s obstinate head-butting style.

His style of dealing with problems at work got him fired or “asked to resign” from so many jobs I lost count. Her style was to smile, make friends with, and eventually cajole her rivals into seeing things her way. As a result, she rose to director/dean level at the college where she worked, and she did so after having spent the first two decades of her adulthood as a stay-at-home mom.

2. She taught me to smile.

My mom laughing

Not in a false or fake way, but to genuinely be cheerful even if life isn’t completely going the way you would like it to.

I look back now and realize that much of what allowed her to be so cheerful was downright denial. But nonetheless, I grew up with a mother who often had a smile on her face.

She had a good sense of humor, which to some degree skipped a generation and showed up again in my son. What a delight it was to watch them interact!

3. She taught me to talk about my feelings with my friends.

I didn’t get just how miserable she was in her marriage until I was about fifteen years old. Gradually, during my teen years, she and I shifted from mother and daughter to friends and confidantes.

Looking back, I realize it wasn’t very healthy for a woman to share with her daughter how unhappy she was with the girl’s father. But in this case, I found those revelations validating. It wasn’t my imagination that my father was hard to live with.

When we went shopping, we’d sometimes pretend to be sisters. We frequently bought things (well, she paid for them), coats or pieces of jewelry, that we would share. I still have one of the pendant necklaces we bought on such an outing.

Was this a sick blurring of boundaries? Definitely. But this experience taught me to open up and share when I was hurting, something that would serve me well for the rest of my life.

I’m especially grateful for this lesson when I see female friends struggling to ask for what they need emotionally. The misguided message of our youth was that women should always put others first, which often translated into believing we were not worthy of support ourselves. But I learned, through my mother’s example, to ask for support.

4. She taught me to love shopping, and to cherish a bargain above all else.

shopping mall

A shopping mall at Christmas time was heaven for us! (photo by BazzaDaRambler CC-BY-2.0 Wikimedia Commons)

Seriously, retail therapy is almost as good as the best counselor out there! (This coming from a retired psychotherapist.)

But my mother was very frugal. The only thing better than finding the perfect purse, dress, sofa, drapes, etc. was finding it on sale, with an additional X percent off.

One of the items we bought and shared was a pair of earrings that were little shopping bags, with “Shop Til Ya Drop” on the sides. I wonder what happened to them…

Today, shopping for clothes or pretty things for my house is preferable, of course, but I even find grocery shopping or running to Home Depot for bags of mulch a reasonably pleasant experience.

5. She taught me to be a good mother-in-law.

Unlike all too many mothers, she was not the least bit jealous of nor negative about the girlfriends and boyfriends my brother and I brought around to the house. She welcomed all of them–the sluts and the nerds, and the sweet girls and nice guys.

And she welcomed the people we married into the family with open arms and a generous heart.

Thanks to my mother’s legacy, it wasn’t hard for me to realize what a wonderful person my daughter-in-law is.

6. Ironically and indirectly, she taught me to put my child first.

wailing newborn with his grandmother

My newborn son (36.4 years ago) with his grandmother; he’s wearing a sleeper that says #1.

At some point in my adulthood, she told me that my brother and I were the best things that had ever happened to her. Not an unusual admission by a parent, but it actually surprised me.

Why? Because she had thrown us under the bus with my father more than once.

Her own father was a well-meaning but spineless man, addicted to get-rich-quick schemes. He couldn’t hold a job (sound familiar), and finally my grandmother tossed him out on his ear. (She was a strong woman.) My mother was twelve at the time.

For the next decade, she received eloquent letters full of empty promises (we found them in her papers after she died). But she saw her father rarely, and then not at all.

Her desperation for a man who would actually be there in her life was so great that she would do anything to keep her man, including ignore the damage he was doing to her children.

My son and I lock horns occasionally. (We both inherited a trait from my father that my mother called stubbornness. I prefer the term determination.) But when my son really needs something, I will drop everything to be there for him and his family. I surprise even myself sometimes by the ferocity of my reaction when he is in need.

7. She taught me to be strong and independent.

Again, not by being a role model for those traits–she was anything but those things–but she gave me permission and encouragement to be confident in myself. My stubbornness frustrated her when I was a kid and a teenager, but later she admitted that she was pleased to see how strong and independent I was. She was proud of the adult I had become.

And for all her flaws in raising me, once I was an adult, my mother and I were best friends. She’s been gone for thirteen years now, and I still wish I could pick up the phone and call her to talk about whatever’s on my mind.

I love you, Ma! Happy Mother’s Day!!

Please head over to August’s website to find the links to the other posts in this blogfest about the Beauty of a Woman. Some of the posts are serious, some are fun but all are interesting and well worth your time.

How about you? What did your mother teach you, for better or worse, about being a woman? (Note: I will be traveling this week, so there may be a delay in responses to comments.)

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

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Are You a Bah, Humbug Person?

I hate to say it since I love the holiday myself, but Christmas is not for everyone. Some people just barely tolerate it, some flat out hate it and some find it incredibly depressing. And the fact that everybody else is so gleefully looking forward to it just makes their lack of pleasure in it that much more pronounced.

Is blue your favorite color for Christmas lights?

If you dislike Christmas, or know someone who does, here are some tips for handling the Christmas Blues.

#1: Stop feeling bad about not liking Christmas. And especially stop feeling bad about yourself for feeling that way. First of all, you can’t control how you feel, only how you act (I know I do harp on this idea, but it’s true!)

Secondly, I am quite sure you came by your negative feelings about Christmas quite honestly. Perhaps you’re not as fond of Christmas as you once were because the people you once shared it with are gone. Even though I still love Christmas, I don’t get nearly as excited about it as I once did. It’s never been quite the same since my mother died. I didn’t realize how much her enthusiasm was the driving force behind everyone else’s pleasure, not until after she was gone. I’ve had to adjust to the new normal for the holidays, that I am now the matriarch of the family. *shudder*

Or perhaps there are unpleasant associations to it because of experiences from your past. You are not alone. There’s a reason why “A Dysfunctional Family Christmas” is one of Saturday Night Live’s all-time favorite skits.

#2: Establish new holiday traditions that feel right for you and your family.

This really helped a friend of mine overcome his bah, humbug reaction to Christmas. He grew up with an alcoholic and abusive father. The holidays were just an opportunity and excuse for his father to get more drunk, more often. This tainted the traditions of Christmas since Dad was already sucking down beers over the stockings’ exchange in the morning, and by the time the turkey was served, he was beyond belligerent.

When his children were young, my friend and his wife lived in the country, with several cut-your-own tree farms nearby. They started a new tradition that the family would go together on the weekend before Christmas to pick out a tree. It became quite a ritual. The kids would spend an hour or more running around, trying to decide on just the right tree. Once it was cut down and paid for, while the tree farm staff tied it to the roof of their car, they would huddle around drinking hot cider and trying to decide if this year’s tree was better than last year’s.

Now the decorated tree didn’t remind him of his parents’ fighting anymore. It reminded him of the fun his own family had picking this tree out.

If you don’t have a family and/or it’s impractical to be with family who live far away, this may very well be why you aren’t all that into the holiday. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, you are being bombarded with images of happy families celebrating, while you’re looking forward to a lonely day.

#3: One approach can be to think of the Christmas holiday as just another day or two off from work, like Memorial Day weekend or Veterans’ Day. Breathe a sigh of relief that you have the time off and do what you would with any other day off. Lay around the house in your jammies and read a good book, or even catch up on household chores or gardening.

#4: Travel. If you’re part of a couple but neither of you feel strongly about Christmas with your extended families, give each other a nice vacation, like a four-day cruise (or longer if you can afford it) to the Bahamas. If you’re single, find a friend or acquaintance in the same boat (no pun intended) and take that cruise, or go skiing in Colorado for a long weekend.

#5: An old standby is to volunteer at a senior center or soup kitchen serving Christmas dinner to those less fortunate. This can provide a sense of camaraderie and belonging with your fellow volunteers as well as a sense of satisfaction in the altruistic task.

#6: If dealing with extended family is what makes Christmas so hard, you can do one of several things. One option, if you’re not up for a family scene because you just didn’t show up, is to officially declare either Christmas Eve, or maybe the weekend before or after Christmas as your Christmas. Then Christmas Day itself becomes just another obligatory visit with the annoying relatives. (You may notice that nowhere in the Bible is the date of Christ’s birth mentioned. Biblical scholars don’t believe Jesus was actually born on December 25th; this date was chosen by the early Church of Rome because it was a pagan holiday they were trying to supplant.)

If you’re single, perhaps you have a circle of friends with whom you are closer than you are with your family? Then make them your ‘family of choice’ to celebrate the holiday with. Again, you may want to do this on a different day, so everybody can appease their biological families by showing up for turkey. But in your mind, make the day you gather with friends your “real” Christmas.

#7: Keep in mind that it’s one lousy day out of the year and this too shall pass! Again, it’s okay to not like Christmas.

Are you a bah, humbugger or do you love Christmas? Do you know someone who struggles with depression or loneliness over the holidays?

(Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington Mystery series.)

Our blog will be on semi-hiatus over the holidays. We will have a couple light posts on Christmas traditions in some interesting and warm places, so our readers can do some vicarious traveling. Posts on more serious topics will resume mid-January.