On Going to NY to Visit My Mother

Note: I wrote this blog three weeks ago while in New York visiting my mother. I haven’t had a chance to post it – or any other blog – because I was too busy getting ready for my son’s bar mitzvah…and then recovering from it! So, I’m posting it now with a few after-the-fact additions.

The air is humid and clammy – oppressive even – as the state suffers another day of a two-week-long heat wave. Actually, today it is not quite so hot yet, but that gift is due only to the fact that rain is imminent. The cicadas are loud, drowning out the chirping of the birds. I’m sitting on the screened in porch feeling as threatened as the rain.

My self lies at risk. Not my physical self but my emotional self. More specifically, my identity feels threatened every time I return to the home of my birth and into the presence of the only parent I have known since I was seven years old and my father died.

It’s strange how much influence someone can have over a 47-year-old woman. I pride myself in my independence and my strong sense of self. Yet, when I’m here I begin to feel like a child again, totally influenced by my mother’s opinion – one which today goes against everything I hold dear. She’s a lovely woman but with such a negative outlook on life. I have to struggle to stay positive and to not be brought down by her energy. And when her negativity is directed at me – or my two children – I find myself shrinking into the little girl I was so many years ago. I find myself questioning who I am and if that person is okay. I find myself trying my self as critically as she does.

Am I the only adult so affected by the opinions of their mother? When I am only talking to her on the phone it’s easier to stay centered and grounded in who I am. In her presence, however, it becomes so much more difficult.

I know I need to just let her negativity and her criticism just roll off my shoulders – and my psyche – but it isn’t always so easy. And I find myself getting angry instead and wanting to change her as much as she wants to change me. I want to shout at her, to make her see the error of her ways and views. Then I would be just like her…not that she shouts.

Maybe the trick is to feel compassion. She’s an 83-year-old woman who has lived alone ever since I left the house almost 20 years ago to go to college. She’s been a widow for almost 40 years. She’s set in her ways, and, despite her grumbling, she does a lot of nice things for a lot of people. She’s raised three girls by herself, put them through college, helped them when they were financially ailing, and supported them in the best way she knew how when they were down. Going back even further, her childhood was spent with an abusive father, and she escaped Europe without being killed by Hitler, although all her relatives with the exception on her immediate family died in concentration camps. She left her homeland to make a new life in Israel and then left that home for a life with her husband in the United States. And then he died and left her to fend for herself and her young family.

So, who am I to criticize her? Who’s to say I would be any different than she is if I had lived her life?

So, the key is to treat her as I’d like to be treated: To accept her for who she is. To not try and change her by putting in my opinions on her. To not influence her way of being or of seeing herself with my criticisms or negativity about her behavior and views. After all, when she does that to me, that’s when I shrink and lose my self. It doesn’t feel good to me, so why would it feel good to her?

She has a strong need to be right that I inherited. Being right in this case is best kept to myself. Trying to make her wrong is not better than her making me wrong. Someone once queried, “Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?” I’d rather be happy. And in the past, I haven’t been so happy around my mother. This time, I’ll try being happy rather than right, and accepting and compassionate of who she is. Maybe in return, I’ll find her doing the same. Isn’t that the Golden Rule? Treat others as you want to be treated? In either case, if I accomplish this new attitude, I’ll leave with my self intact.

Post Script: Easeir said than done. I was not so successful. I did not enjoy myself. My mother and I got into a fight. I left feeling angry, defeated, unable to follow through with my desire to visit and get along… I’ve still got a lot of learning to do on this front, a lot of practice to accomplish before I am successful at being with my mother and in her energy. I hope I can accomplish this before my next trip in November!

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