mom privilege

Three different blog-post ideas bubbled up as I drove to and from a movie this afternoon. Clearly, the stifling effect of wrassling with seven authors’ essays mapped into two papers has passed. (They were due Friday at 4pm.) As I’m driving and mulling this sentence, I think: it’s like facilitating Girl Scout Brownie meeting. All wits on deck to get this across the finish line!

Now that they are (across the finish line, that is), I’m released for writing in a spring-loaded way. Thank heavens!

I got to see RBG with a crew of young teen Girl Scouts. It’s a straightforward biopic; go see it. But I don’t think the movie got this thought-chain started. Or if it did, it was a reeeeally remote link—maybe through thinking about the ways the world has been changing since I was little-little, to my mom’s feminism and then to my mom. As Eve, and as “my mom.”

Thinking, too, about a friend’s queries as we hung out Thursday, catching up with each other. My A surprised me last weekend, arriving on a Saturday and hanging out through Monday; B we spent the weekend with at the tail of April. I spoke of time together with each, doing and saying nothing in particular but savoring their presences. My friend asked whether our time flowed easily or was more troubled—lately her unscripted time with one of her daughters feels difficult, a stream full of rocks and unexpected holes. I replied that time with each was moving like friend-time, a more peer-like flow of connection. She said she’d been wanting to talk with her daughter about the difficulty, but…

But.

My mother and I have been on friendly footing for about 25 years now. She tells me I’m one of her friends; certainly our interchanges feel that way, with their mix of affirmation and investigation. We trade ideas, fashion assessments, activities, family news… the same things I talk about with my dearest friends. But I don’t choose to be blunt with her the way I’m blunt with those friends. Or even my sister, sometimes. There’s something about the dynamic of being a daughter that time does not overwrite.

On the flip side, no matter how friendly and easy-going my time with each girl is, I still routinely bite my lips. They are independent (for the most part), thriving, and I want to affirm their effectiveness. It’s funny how, then, little statements, little questions, demolish that sense of effectiveness when said by The Mom. “Have you thought about…” from a friend means exactly that. One considers it, or throws it out, and that’s the end—no harm, no foul. “Have you thought about…” from a parent is a command. Whether one is 20 or 50, one drops everything and sorts out the idea, out loud. “Well, yes, I have thought about that a little bit, and I don’t think it’s a factor, because….” In a friend-conversation one might go there. In a parent-conversation, one always does, the first time.

It’s a weight of privilege. Heavy—outsized?—impact, no matter how trivial the topic. “I don’t like that dress on you; it doesn’t flatter your middle” becomes entangling like Shelob’s web when said with mom-privilege. Frequently whether either party intends it to or not! That, in fact, is one of the unfolding gifts of middle age and my friendship with my mother: seeing the ways I have had trouble hearing what my mom says in the way she wants to have said it. I am sad for my friend and her daughter: simply saying, “Hey, talking together seems difficult. Is there something we haven’t been tackling that’s getting in the way?” might not be something her daughter currently can hear as love and wistfulness.

Like in all cases of privilege, the responsibility lies with me, The Mom. To listen more and talk less. To c-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y consider the array of impacts my speaking might have, and select my words accordingly. To pile up twice as many instances of affirmation than critique, no matter how gentle or even helpful that critique might be.

We may be becoming friends. But I’ll always be a mother. And a daughter.

Comment (1)

  1. JOY DURRANT

    Well said! It’s a journey to transition from a parent of a child to a parent of an adult. For me, being an encourager now works best.

    Reply

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