Woman must not be awed by that which has been built up around her,
she must reverence that woman in her which struggles for expression.
— M. Sanger
Sometimes, when I’m in a certain mood, I like to play a game. I like to pick someone, a friend, relative, co-worker, or acquaintance, and imagine what it would have been like if she had been my mother. Certain traits seem particularly appealing to me, and it isn’t always what one might expect. Physical and emotional affection are prized features, as well as being smart, open, direct, and assertive. What some may interpret as overbearing seems like the attention and interest for which I’ve always longed. A certain worldliness is also intriguing to me when balanced with integrity and compassion. Recently I’ve been watching the parenting techniques of one of my co-workers who has two daughters who are now in college. She seems to have a healthy balance of compassion while pushing them when needed.
I’ve been playing this game since my mom drifted further into her mental illness when I was a young child, and my ideal mom has evolved over time. When I was younger, my favorite mom was traditionally sweet, quiet spoken, loving, affectionate, and sacrificed all for her daughters. I spent many hours at my friend’s house secretly wishing her mom was mine. I never heard her raise her voice, and on the few occasions when she found the need to correct us, it was delivered in a firm yet gentle manner. She portrayed the role of the quiet-mannered wife in support of her boisterous and sometimes ornery husband. She didn’t work in her early years but eventually got a job in the mall in order to provide her girls with the extras. Since she had never learned to drive, we often picked her up from work and were surprised by little treats. I still get a warm feeling whenever I see her, and to this day my friend gushes about how wonderful her mom is and what it feels like just to be in her presence.
I went for several years after that feeling lost, without any real female role models. I felt more comfortable and trusting towards the males in my life – my father, brother, band director, minister, youth minister, and the many male friends I had as the result of being one of the few girls in the jazz band and hanging around my brother. Frequently I felt intimidated and uncomfortable around females, and except for a few, avoided close relationships with them.
When I met the man who would one day become my husband, I was intimidated by the females in his family. His mother was raising 8 children on her own, after her husband died at the age of 40. There were 4 girls and 4 boys, and the sisters all had strong, assertive personalities and were very traditional in their roles. I had always resisted and been uncomfortable with this type of female, and at first it was difficult to adjust. I felt like I needed to become like them but soon found that to be a rather unrealistic endeavor. His mom, a devout Catholic, was a mixture of traditional values and modern spunk. When I met her she was working full-time, raising 4 teenagers, and managing a household. I admired her greatly, and it was nice to turn to her for the kind of guidance I had never known. I have come to view the women in his family as treasured friends, while time has taught me to recognize and accept our differences.
A big shift came once I started nursing school in my 30s. I went from being around mostly men to being in a predominantly female environment. With this came exposure to many different types of women, and I have finally been able to form the bonds for which I have always longed. I’ve been taking bits and pieces of wisdom from all of these women, and feel a sense of security and identify that I had never known before.
I still have a great sense of longing each time I watch one of my friends having an every-day-moment with her mother, the kind that is often taken for granted. It isn’t like I never got to experience those moments with my mom; but the memories of the handful of times this happened have faded with time and left me missing her even more.