When Daughters Have to Be Strong for Their Mothers.

*Disclaimer* This piece is not in relation to shouldering of responsibility by children nor toxic or abusive relationships between daughters and their mothers. 

I knew I had to write about this the second the idea popped into my head, and yet still it feels like a betrayal to write about it. I can start off by saying I love my mother. She is my whole world, and I legitimately don’t know how I would survive without her. I can’t even imagine a life without her in it. She’s funny, and kind and is the type of mom that will love you to the point of embarrassment. She can cook like nobody’s business and at times will ride for her children until the wheels fall off. And yet, over the last 3 or so years a part of me has come to resent her. It bubbles up in my chest and chokes me. It ties my hands behind my back and cages my empathy. And the more I think about it the angrier I get, and not at myself for feeling this way but at her. At her for being anything other than what my mind has built her up to be. A super mom.

As small children our parents seem larger than life to us. Superheroes that can do anything, with superhuman strength, speed and eyes in the back of their heads. They provide for us, hold us when we’re scared and fight off the villains, real and fake. Our mothers though, take on a role that our fathers can only aspire to be. They’re the backbone of the family, they’re the glue that keeps us together and the constant in our lives. We all lean on her, she’s the rock through a storm and the unwavering champion on our darkest days. And despite these being the thoughts and convictions of a child, the reality is, we never grow out of this. Society won’t allow us. Whether you have a mother in your life or not, society tells us over and over again, that a woman isn’t a good mother unless she perpetuates and lives up to all of the above mentioned characteristics. We’re shocked as a society and community when we hear about mother’s who have “failed” their children. Those not “strong” enough to be just that, strong. Those who choose to leave, who have addictions, who have traumas that they can’t hide. Men on the other hand, can stop being fathers at any moment, and we’ll shrug it off, chalk it up to men being men and move on. We expect the mother to stay when this happens. To be resolute in the face of abandonment, to pick up and continue on with life. A mother must be able to do it all. Raise children on their own, provide a roof over their head, work a full time job, keep the house clean and all while never taking a break. And let the father be in the child’s life, we’ll then there really is no excuse is there?

So what happens when the facade falls away? When a woman, is simply that, a woman. When the cracks begin to show? Is it really like a superhero movie. Superman takes off his suit, puts on some glasses and we realise its Clark Kent this whole time? Batman takes off his mask to reveal Bruce Wayne standing beneath it. The illusion breaking. We realise they’re people just like the rest of us. If only mothers were afforded that opportunity. But the reality is they are not. Being a mother is a 24/7 job they say. So what happens to the woman behind the title? Does she just cease to exist? And what if the weight of the world becomes too much to bare? Do we just stand by and watch as she becomes crushed beneath it? Sometimes I wonder if the story of Atlas was really about the story of a mother. Forced to hold the world on her shoulders for all of eternity without ever being able to take a break. Even if a woman is a “deadbeat mother,” She is still not able to move away from that ideology of motherhood. I don’t know how many times ive heard the comment “how can a mother give birth to a child and not want them?” I’ve often asked myself the same question, a question that’s rarely asked of men. And it’s because we expect men to be weak when it comes to any kind of human connection. Boys will be boys and men will be men. They need time to grow and change into the man we need them to be. And when they can’t, or when it takes longer than it should, well…. A woman will be there to hold things down until he can. 

It’s that similar way of thinking that then gets applied to daughters. And what are future daughters? Future mothers. This idea of a never ending supply of strength and endurance is applied to little girls and grown women alike. We oftentimes shoulder some of that weight. We help to raise younger siblings, we cook, we clean and sometimes we pay the bills. We’re the first ones to get kicked out and the last ones to receive understanding, empathy and second chances. Unlike our brothers who are given time to grow, learn and change. It is a never ending cycle of pain and endurance, passed down from mother to daughter through generations, across class and race lines. And at some point our mothers move the world off of one of their shoulders to make room for us to slide under and take the remaining weight onto one of ours. I hear it time and time again, from generations of women. This underlying resentment that they have towards their mothers for having to shoulder the world alongside them. And the resentment is even more present when they are forced to take the entire weight of the world themselves. 

I really started to think about this when I was watching Love & Hiphop LA the other night. One of the members of the cast had asked the question “why do I have to be strong for my mother? Isn’t it her responsibility to be strong for me?” I can tell you I don’t know how many times I had and have thought this myself. Since when did I become the shoulder to lean on? The arms to cry in with the strength to endure? 

My mom was always the strongest person to me. I aspired to be like her. If only I could become half the woman she was. I took pride in the fact that she had the strength to walk away from my father when she caught him cheating. That while 6 months pregnant, with a 4 year old and new house she packed his bags and ended a marriage to a man who did not and would not love her the way she deserved. I watched for years after that as she stayed the pillar in my life, always fighting and choosing her children when their father would not. Not backing down from her convictions and closing the door on any man who could not or would not meet her right where she wanted to be met at. Even now as I write this I get chills from knowing that my mother was this woman. The sense of pride that swells my heart. But then that resentment builds up. Knowing that as of late that is no longer the mother that is presented before me. Instead I am met with a woman who weeps over the loss of a man, who bends to his will, who is seeking out love, who breaks down when she is stressed and who seems so much smaller to me now. She’s no longer the giant she once was and instead is the fragile woman who looks as though she needs to be scooped up and held. And im angry at her for it. I resent her for becoming this person. It’s like a bitter taste in my mouth. The empathy I once had for her has disappeared and I can’t bear to hear her cry. And not because my heart aches at the thought and sound of it but because I can’t stand the weakness in it.

I disgust myself just writing that. Admitting that this is how I feel about the woman who birthed me, who has fought for me, who has loved me deeply, it makes me sick to my stomach that this is how I repay her. So I wanted to understand why I felt this way. What turned me into this person? The type of person who feels this way about their mother. And the more I thought about it the more I realized that what I was really mad about was that my mother was being a human being. Here this woman was, morning the loss of a love, who was learning how to compromise, a woman who was looking for what we all look for, intimacy, companionship and support, a woman who had shouldered the weight of the world for an eternity and had finally felt the weight in her bones, so much so that she has now is crying out in pain. The illusion wasn’t that she isn’t a real mother but that she isn’t only a mother. She is a person with feelings, who has struggled much more than she ever should of had to. She’s still the same woman who left a cheating husband with a toddler while pregnant, I just wasn’t privy to the tears. She didn’t weep in front of me because as a 4 year old watch my world explode, she couldn’t show how devastated she was. When she stood her ground with men, she couldn’t explain to a 9 or 11 year old that she wouldn’t budge because her heart couldn’t take the pain of another heartbreak. When she was worried about what bills to pay and how to feed her children, she couldn’t confide in a 14 year old. And when she needed to sob, when she needed a shoulder to cry on, how could she turn to the daughter who was running into her arms to do the same?

As children we don’t know who are parents are. We know nothing past the fact that they are our parents. And even as we grow older, begin to have a deeper understanding of the way the world works, we still look to them to be the parents they were when we were scared of the dark and believed in Santa Clause. In the movie “Otherhood” this was made extremely evident when Angela Bassett’s character asks her son to name 10 things he knows about her as a woman. He couldn’t name one. And even after, when the heart warming ending to the movie comes, when he is “finally” able to list 10 things. They are ALL in relation to her being his mother and his father’s wife. The whole premise of the movie itself is that these 3 older women can not function without being mothers. As if they have no identity outside of it. No hopes and dreams or even hobbies or passions.

It continues the same narrative of women not existing outside of motherhood once they become a mother. When did we as a society decide that women cease to exist the second we add a title to them? When did we decide that even when their children are grown, when the facade of childhood whims and beliefs start to wash away that mother’s can’t also evolve. Can’t they break the illusion to? Can they take off the mask, get out of the suit and be the woman behind the title? Or is that only for men in comic books?

I asked myself, what are we to do when daughters have to be strong for our mothers? We do it. We do it without resentment, we do it with compassion and we do it with empathy. We all share memes that say “check on your strong friend,” and you have to ask yourself, is that just for online? Do you only apply it to the friendships you’ve made, or does your mother get to be checked up on to? I know my mom sure as hell does, and im sorry that I ever doubted that she did.

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